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Learn About Paddock Paradises

Pasture Management Using Tracks

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A photo of a day old filly foal standing in a green pasture.

Your pastures may need a little help to stay green and healthy year after year.

Photo: 2008 K. Blocksdorf

Responsible horse owners have always looked for ways to keep their horses as mentally and physically healthy as possible. We know that horses benefit and are probably happiest, when allowed to live in a large pasture, with herd mates as many hours of the day as possible. Because it's been convenient to section land off in squares and rectangles, we tend to make our horse's pastures and paddocks into squares and rectangles too. However, in a natural setting, horses don't live in geometrically shaped areas. They wander, following the lay of the land and are forced to walk over rough ground, wet areas and hilly terrain as they seek food, water and shelter. Paddock Paradises attempt to mimic this natural wandering tendency, utilizing the landforms and features in your own pastures.

What Is a Pasture Paradise?

The first pasture or paddock paradises were developed by Jaime Jackson, former farrier, as he attempted to fulfil the natural needs and tendencies of his horses. Instead of building square or rectangular areas for our horses to live in, Jackson suggested a 'track system' that would encourage horses to move through the various features and terrain within their pastures or paddocks as they moved between their food, shelter and water sources. This means horses can be routed through rough areas that will toughen their hooves, wet areas or creeks, also good for their hooves, hilly tracks that can help build muscle as well as forcing them to travel further, enhancing fitness.

Why Would You Build a Paddock Paradise?

Horses have to travel further, especially in small pastures in paddock paradises, which may benefit their overall health. Hooves may be healthier as horses walk through damp and rocky areas. Tracks can be set up to avoid lush grass if laminitis and obesity are a concern. If horses tend to fence walk or pace a certain area, eroding it badly, the track can be designed to route the horses away from that area.

When horses live in a square pasture, they tend to stand in one spot and travel in straight lines to their feeds, water and shade or wind breaks. Some areas of a traditionally pasture will be unused, while others will have badly damaged and compacted soil. Paddock paradises help maintain the health of pastures too, because the tracks can be moved before damage to any one area happens.

How to Set Up a Pasture Paradise

How to set up a pasture paradise is limited only by your budget, imagination and land features at your disposal. And while you may be somewhat limited by budget to bring in features like rocks, pasture paradises aren't expensive to build if your perimeter fencing is already up. Generally, you can set up tracks with electric fencing. Using the fencing to build lanes to build your tracks, you can route your horses through or around any area in the pasture you wish. The lanes should accommodate more than one horse as they travel abreast, so that no horse pushed into the fence.

Calculate how much you'll need by diagramming your existing pastures accurately. Draw in all natural features such as creeks, ponds, sloughs, hills, rocky areas, rough areas, places where the grass grows rank and mark existing paths the horses already use. You may also want to draw in any areas the horses habitually trample that you may want to re-rehabilitate and rest.

Once you have all the measurements and features drawn in, start designing your tracks, routing them through the areas you want the horses to travel and around those you wish to avoid. While your diagram is a starting point, you will no doubt find once your horses start using the tracks, you'll want to do some fine tuning. And, if a pond dries up, or a bit of unhealthy pasture becomes useable again, you can alter things as needed.

Once you have a general layout drawn, you can calculate how much electric fence tape and portable posts you'll need. Pick a nice day, and with diagram in hand, and start building your lanes.

Need More Ideas?

The descriptions I've given here are very general. The book, Paddock Paradise: A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding by Jaime Jackson is the definitive guide to the technique. A lot of tips can be found by reading forum and blog posts by those who've implemented a Paddock Paradise and lived with it for awhile.

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