The mud is so. defeating

I purchased a 10-acre boarding facility in Western Pennsylvania (AKA the cloudiest, dreariest, dampest place on earth for 6 months out of the year) in June. The previous owners slacked on upkeep for the past few years so we had a lot of scrambling and 911 catching up to do. One of the things that we didn’t really get to before the winter season was mud management and I am absolutely kicking myself for it now.

We have 4 horses out on a “sacrifice” area that is almost an acre and it’s our biggest mud problem. They have - of course - almost immediately churned up any hint of grass and turned the entire area into a sloppy, muddy mess that’s at least fetlock deep. I think that at this point the “mud” is mostly poop. We just didn’t have the setup to pick the paddock leading up to this. Western PA has a notoriously thick clay base and I think between the poop and the clay, water just simply is not draining out of this paddock. I suspect that this “soil” has likely morphed into something else completely that more closely resembles pure crap.

The previous owners also used this area as a sacrifice pasture, however; they kept their horses in for 20 hours a day between the months of November to March, and now I’m beginning to understand why.

We did manage to create dry areas in this paddock with some Lighthoof panels and that’s where the hay feeders are. Thankfully, they now spend most of their time on these dry areas but when they have to slop their way to and from their stalls/water trough, I just cringe.

Is there anything we can do now to try to help the water drain/dry up some mud (lime?), or something we can start doing to prepare to revive this poor paddock once we get some hopefully dry weather in late spring? I already took a “soil” (LOL) sample to send off to our AgExt office. They’re probably going to wonder why I just sent them a fecal sample.

I feel so defeated.

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The only thing that fixes mud is the liberal application of money.

You can get temporarily relief by spreading crushed granite or gravel, but it’ll just disappear into the mud.

Since you probably can’t get equipment in there right now to scrape up the mud, I would look at this kind of panel that you can set on top of it right now, and pick up later to reuse:

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Just commiseration from Southern Central PA. When it freezes up and you can get equipment in I’d drop a lot of 3/4 minus or even just crusher run on the traffic areas. Indeed it will disappear in to the mid but will get you through spring. I’m doing that for a gate area that even with low traffic and no prior issues is getting gross. It’s weird to have such warm nights.

Over the summer hire an excavator for a permanent fix (and a liberal application of money). If you guys get along I might actually make a smaller area you can up with so far as manure. An acre is a lot to pick. @Libby2563 has a drooling worthy setup.

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What do the other nine acres look like? Could you choose another area to use for the winter and abandon the acre of mud and manure until spring, then bring in equipment to haul off the manure buildup and address the drainage? If you spend money on gravel now, you will be paying to have it dug out and hauled off when you address the area properly later.

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We fought mud and high rainfall for many years. We gave up and sold it and moved to a semi arid area, with water rights and unlimited water availability. And it was cheap to buy, because it is away from civilization and crowds of humans, which is a bonus imo. Water is the new gold, but not when it falls out of the sky.
My horses now live outdoors, year round, in a herd. I roll a round bale out on the snow with the tractor. We make our own hay, and sell the excess. We have so much land that my retirees just move from one grazing area to the next in spring, summer and fall. There is no mud “issues”. In spring, during “break up”, there are some wet spots for a few weeks, and a pond forms, which everyone gets into, pawing and splashing, having a pool party. I no longer buy loads of sawdust to use as horse toilet paper, nor do I spend multiple hours per day cleaning stalls. I no longer spend a thousand dollars a month to have all the manure and dirty bedding hauled away. Instead, the small amount of manure that we do collect out of the summer paddocks is considered valuable, and is used on the farm for various purposes.
With horses not being kept in stalls due to incessant rain and mud, we harrow manure in as fertilizer, and have no issues with problems that plague stallbound horses like ulcers, navicular, or impaction colic. Horses stay relatively fit even when not in training, as they run together at will, and play.

So there you go. That was how we solved the problem that you are facing. If you want to keep horses, do it somewhere that is good country for keeping horses… Semi arid. Otherwise, you will be beating your head against the wall, and spending more money than you can afford fighting the elements. And your horses will pay the price of this. BTDT.

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This is so funny because I had lunch with a friend today and we were talking about the %^$#@ mud. I told her yeah, you could have a place with no mud but it would be a case of $500,000 to buy the farm and $500,000 in geotextiles, stone dust, gravel, french drains and heavy equipment rental to control the mud.

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“Liberal application of money” LOL if that isn’t the truth. UGH.

I’m not against mud entirely, I know it’s part of having horses in this area, but I think that having the horses out much more + the land not being properly managed/limed/fertilized over quite a few years is really working against me right now.🥲

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ohhh I hear you. When I bought my farm, it was my first experience with heavy clay. There had been no animals on farm in years, no fencing, and fields had been plowed. Farmer who had been leasing was supposed to plant grass but failed to do so. Moved in in the late fall, fence went up in December - so more like early winter, and mud followed very soon after. It was awful and I felt like the worst horse owner ever. I tried wood chips - they work for a week then make it worse. I tried stone, it works for a couple weeks then disappears. Nothing really helped. Keeping them in when it’s wet as much as possible does help but maybe not a good choice if you have high energy horses or ones that don’t like being inside.

I think you might just need to embrace the mud for this season and keep telling yourself it will never be this bad again. The horses will survive it but your hatred for mud may never go away.

I still will complain about mud and my friends give me a dirty look as they remind me what it was like. I’ve spent a good share of money in stone, but not nearly as much as mentioned above- I found a local guy who has his own stone pit and does this kind of work on the side. He’s really nice and will adjust stone sizes for what I need to fill in the base, then I get the small fines from the quarry for a topcoat. I also angled it where I could, to keep the water draining from the well-used areas. I used geotextile in the main use walking to/from barn/paddock areas but once inside the gates of the paddocks it’s just very thick layers of bank run gravel and it’s holding up surprisingly well. I try to keep to a smallish annual budget of stone now to keep it up in areas that are already “stoned”. One area topped off this year, next year in a different spot topped off kind of thing. I have more places I’d like to add stone but I try to do it a little at a time now. It’s not bad now compared to what it was, I really shouldn’t complain, but I really hate mud so I will. lol the hate is real, and it is in me now.

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I suppose I couuuuuuuld, but with how quickly this area became a disaster I’m worried I’m just going to make another disaster area that I’ll have to deal with later LOL.

We did a test patch of about 8" of limestone dust to see how it held up and literally three days later it was just about eaten up by the mud/poop. I’m so glad we tested before going for it.

At least we have the two Lighthoof dry pads for now. I hate winter.

HIJACK!!! :astonished:

OP:
I had pretty good luck with geotextile in my drylot.
Excavator dug down 9", laid the geotex, then topped with road base gravel < stones from less than an inch to fist-sized.
This was 10+yrs ago & drylot only gets muddy where Stoopid Me told excavator geotex wasn’t necessary at the gates that lead to pastures from the drylot :weary:
My Bad.
My other Problem is the area just outside the stall doors at the back. Horses have free access 24/7/365 & that becomes an ankle-deep(for me, fetlock for them) morass.
It extends about 6’ out from the stall doors.
There was initially an incline from the stall door sills, but that disappears beneath the yuck.
I’ve had it dug down to the fabric twice & fresh gravel laid, but it returns to muck when wet weather arrives.
Neighbor is going to use his tractor blade to scrape it as soon as ground is frozen or dry enough.
I’ve wondered if hoofgrid might solve the problem, but cheaper would be better.
Ideas?

Honestly, thank you for saying this. I board other people’s horses here (it is a very low-key place with pleasure riders and foxhunters) and I have shed literal tears over the condition of this paddock and striking a balance between keeping horses safe (out of slippery, sticky, horrible mud) and sane (turned out at all). This particular herd is all pretty high-energy dudes.

After reading through these wonderful responses I think I might just have to MUDdle (heh) through the rest of this season and be prepared to revive the earth and create a smaller, more manageable dry lot situation for next year.

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So just basing this off of what we did for our Lighthoof/grid dry areas (I will post photos later)…we scraped the area as flat as we could (while being horrifically muddy) and put down fabric and then a Lighthoof grid on top, but the panel isn’t that big, so the fabric extends out about 3-4’ on each side. We then surrounded it with railroad ties and filled it in with modified 1A limestone, which in our area is crushed limestone mixed with stone dust. So far it’s working fantastically, but I will say that at some points where there is fabric only and no grid…the mud is pushing the fabric up and eating the stone.

So I would say if you can put down a grid, definitely do that. I just bought one of these, which is exactly what Lighthoof is but wayyyyyy cheaper and bigger.

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I don’t know… I know this is popular some places, but I just don’t think it’s worth the muscle. My landlord at a farm I rented used to dump several loads of hogsfuel around the barn and by the gates every winter. Swore it was necessary.

It was wonderful for a few weeks. But eventually the mud would overtake it, leaving an even deeper, mucky mess. And it was hard to get it all scraped out before the next winter, so the mud just got deeper and deeper every year with all the extra organic matter.

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Aww thanks! :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: I do love my dry lot. Including the fence/gates, Nelson waterer, and shed with electric it cost as much as my arena, but they’re my two favorite (inanimate) things so it’s all worth it. Here are a couple recent pics:


I got those hay feeders this year because my youngster is too chicken to stick his head in a Hay Hut with the TB shark roaming around—can’t blame him for that actually.

My dry lot doesn’t have any geocloth but does have two strips of geocell (non-horse-specific since it’s cheaper) across the grade. It has been a big help in preventing erosion. It’s been 6.5 years and I haven’t needed to add any footing or do any rehab or grading. I did add my own gate pad to the “winter paddock” by scraping away the topsoil with my FEL and filling the hole with stonedust.

Construction pics of the dry lot, including geocell:

Pics of my amateur gate pad construction and how it has helped:

And for good measure, write-ups on the various grids I’ve used:

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Right, I said it was a temporary fix and the OP only needs it to last till spring of this year at which point they are going to scrape the area anyway. And wood chips are the 100% best way to add organic matter to depleted areas to rebuild topsoil so they can reuse it for that.

Organic matter = mud but it also = good healthy grass-growing pasture.

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I bought my place 5 years ago and have added crushed granite to the runs and sacrifice paddock twice. I will have to do it again this spring. I have also rerocked my driveway with a deep layer of granite gravel two years ago. It was so deep that I hated it. It has sucked into the mud though and is, at the moment, perfect. I expect that in two years I will have to rerock the driveway again! You stay on top of the mud if you add stone dust or crushed granite every other year. Not just a dusting, but a few inches of it.

I USE my sacrifice paddock, because the other problem I have is having to overseed the pastures every year…I don’t want to keep them off a pasture for a whole year.

SivaJ, you are my hero. I love the utility of Lighthoof panels but as you say, these are bigger and cheaper. Thank you.

And, I know Lighthoof says you can put their panels down on top of mud, but, I dunno.

I have gone with scraping, gravel, and screenings with no geotextile fabric and even no stabilizing grid, and that has held up pretty well in a non-clay area of New England. It is nice to not have to worry about being swallowed whole by the mud after you slip and fall in it doing night check. And to be able to walk across a paddock in winter dressed for your indoor job and wearing pretty shoes, and not worry about it.

Aaaaaand in case anyone needed it, here’s proof that you can’t save them from themselves:

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I pretty much give up and pray for freezes. As long as they have some dry spots to go, I just ignore it and I never clip legs which helps with not having skin issues

:+1: That is certainly more affordable!
And the 8X27 would probably cover at least the 2 larger stalls.

Can I ask how long your geotex/hoofgrid/limestone has been down?