Sacrifice Area Footing - WWYD?

I’m renting a small 5 acre farmette - split into three paddocks. I have three horses (soon to be down to two when one goes out on lease this weekend). The fields are the low ground and don’t drain well. One paddock has had standing water forever apparently - the landlord planted “water loving” trees to try and help and apparently it has, but it is what it is. I can easily fence that off. I’m in VA so of course the clay doesn’t help the drainage issue. With it being winter, we are of course getting rain and/or snow which then melts and the pastures are soggy. The horses are tearing them up and I want to preserve them as best I can. The area where I’ve placed their trough and roundbale, about a 50 x 30 area or so, is all mud at this point. I am planning to tape that off to make a sacrifice area that the horses can go into while the fields are soggy. My landlord kindly ordered a load (~20 tons) of bluestone gravel (about 1.5"-3.5" for me. I have geotextile fabric on the way and will lay that down this week before he spreads the gravel out this weekend. I’m not in love with the horses standing on the gravel though and am wondering what I can/should do to finish the project out. A few things I’m considering:

  1. Ordering a load of pea gravel or 3/8" bluestone to put on top
  2. Placing carpeting on top (this seemed crazy to me, but more than a few people have recommended this?! Has anyone here used carpeting?)
  3. Placing stall mats in key areas (such as around the round bale).

Can you all tell me what you’ve done and had success with? My budget is limited, but I also want to be smart with the improvements.

Can you top the gravel with a layer of stonedust or screenings? We just had sacrifice paddocks put in and did a thick layer of 1" clean gravel topped with 4" of limestone screenings. It took a few weeks to set up and harden, but now it’s a smooth, flat surface with just enough give to see shallow hoofprints.


About 10yrs ago I did the footing in my sacrifice area just as you described:
Excavator dug down 9", laid geotex & then dumped & spread what he called “roadbase” on top.
The top layer is stones anywhere from an inch or less to fist-sized.
Over the years I have picked up a lot of the big rocks & laid them along my fenceline.

Horses have never had a problem standing on the gravel, WTC across the surface & all are barefoot.
It has fixed the issue I had with boot-sucking mud everywhere, except at the gates.
My Bad for not having at least the gravel spread there.
Some shallow-rooted weeds & grass have come through the top layer, but they get eaten down & doesn’t affect the drainage.

Yes, this is what I would do. I have a large stonedust dry lot that I love. It’s a breeze to clean too, compared to picking shards of manure out of gravel. As with any other stone footing you’ll want to clean it regularly so that the manure doesn’t mix in and ruin the footing.

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Umm, how much more is your landlord willing to pay for after the load of gravel?

And at what level are you willing to pick up the tab to improve someone else’s place?

The carpet idea really worries me. I can envision hooves shredding the carpet and carpet fibers being ingested along with hay. Particularly the long plastic strands of the backing material.

Stonedust isn’t terribly expensive. Obviously it will vary by area (maybe a lot) but a few years ago I got 10 tons delivered for $265. If I were in the OP’s position that would be totally worth it.

Definitely add stone dust or screenings depending on your local options. Sounds like the landlord is willing and able to spread it. That’s a win. The material cost for 2” 50x30 would be totally worth it to me.

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For 4 inch coverage and the surface area to be covered, approximately 30 tons of stone dust/screenings will needed. The maximum hauling capacity of tandem axle dump trucks by weight is 15,000 pounds per load, so 2 dump truck load deliveries will be needed.

It would be a good idea after spreading each load it to rent a plate compactor to run over everything.

Stone dust drains very poorly, so the end result may hold water for a while, like a shallow pond, unless the surface can be graded to allow water to flow away.

I have compacted stone dust over gravel. Drains beautifully (not even an issue) so I don’t worry too too much about ice, and is holding up nicely at two years, except where horse has his rolling spot and has worked his way down through the stonedust to the gravel. I know how frustrating it is to spend money on a place that’s not yours, but, for how much easier it makes it to keep the paddock clean, and how much easier it is to walk on smooth firm footing instead of 8 inches of variously frozen post-holed muck, especially in the dark, I have found it to be completely worth it.

The horses in the neighboring paddocks, which are deep in mud, trip over the frozen post-holes and stand huddled on the stallmat outside their stall, like they’re on an island. There is no way to clean their paddocks, at this point, until late Spring. My horse’s paddock is easy to move around on safely, and I can rake up the poop and dead hay in a few minutes. I hated spending the money, which of course I’ll never see again, but I don’t regret it.