Helen Lloyd-Bisley, general manager at http://www.farmtechsupplies.com outlines all of the essential points for creating the perfect paddock for your horse, including tips on fencing and maintenance
Where to site your paddock
Here's some tips to help you identify the right site:
- High ground: Ideally, you want an area with good drainage away from boggy and wet patches, so high ground with a gentle slope is preferable.
- Avoid the risk of run-off: Minimise run-off of urine or manure into streams and wetlands by ensuring your paddock does not pose a threat to water courses.
- Close proximity to your yard: To make it easy to care for your horses, it makes sense to have grazing close to your stables and manure heap.
- Space: As a rule of thumb, you require 1 acre per horse for grazing. However, if you are supplementing the grazing with forage, or using the paddock for short periods of time, the area should provide enough space to run and frolic – approximately 10-metres X 30-metres.
- Soil conditions: Even if you have a well-drained site, in wet weather and with heavy traffic it can become churned up. Consider whether you need to provide some hard standing or add a layer of gravel, wood chip or sand to to areas such as gateways, to improve drainage.
There are various options, including temporary solutions such as electric fencing, and more long-term fencing choices.
If you’re creating an within a field, such as to restrict grazing for a good doer or a horse or pony that's prone to laminitis, electric fencing will allow you to move the paddock to a different place if you wish. Alternatively, if you require a more permanent boundary, post and rail, timber or even plastic fencing are all possibilities.
Electric fencing is a practical option for horses as it's portable
Whatever you choose, the sturdiness and strength of your fencing will depend on how stable your fence posts are. A post hole digger and post knocker can make a real difference when putting in the fencing, and make this back breaking job a lot easier.
Depending on the hardiness of your horse or pony, the position of your paddock, you may need to provide a shelter. A shelter provides protection from wind, rain and cold, as well as shade and flies in the summer months. In many cases this shade can be provided by trees and hedges, but if the site is exposed you will need to provide a purpose built structure.
Maintaining the perfect paddock
There are several jobs you can do throughout the year to keep your paddock maintained. These include:
- Topping: Use a topper mower to encourage regrowth and also discourage unwanted plants like thistles and nettles. Regular topping will help you turn areas that have become overgrown with thistles, docks and nettles back into grassland.
- Rolling: This is a job for spring, especially if the paddock has become badly poached. Use a roller when the ground is firm enough. If it’s wet and muddy, hold off on this job – otherwise you risk compacting the ground.
- Harrowing: Another job for the spring, this gets the air circulating in the soil, removes dead grass and evens out lumps and bumps. A drag harrow or framed harrow is perfect for this.
- Improve the soil: For grazing purposes there are various ways to improve the soil conditions to maximise growth. A soil analysis is essential for identifying what nutrients your soil lacks and achieving a neutral PH level.
- Reseed: If the ground has become poached in winter, it will need some TLC and reseeding may be necessary. This is a job for late summer, providing time for the seed to germinate and gain a foothold before winter.
- Remove droppings: Horses won’t feed in an area that’s been soiled, so if droppings are not removed regularly the available grazing becomes limited. Removing muck will also keep flies under control, minimise run-off and is a vital part of your worm control programme.
- Check fencing: To keep your horses or ponies safe, fencing must be secure. Check it regularly for wear and tear, such as rotting fence posts, and also for damage caused by horses chewing or rubbing against it.