When you avoid the mud, you reduce the dust... Mud can have serious environmental impacts: Mud carrying runoff of sediments and nutrients from manure can get into streams , ponds and wetlands. This can be detrimental to fish, shellfish, and aquatic wildlife. You don’t have to live near a creek or lake for this to have a negative impact as nutrients and sediments can also cause problems for ground water, a special concern if you are on a well.
Mud and dust create unhealthy environments for our horses. Mud harbors bacteria and fungal organisms that can cause diseases such as abscesses, scratches, rain scald and thrush . Mud is a breeding ground for insects , especially mosquitoes and filth flies. Mud in the winter becomes dust in the summer. Exposure to dust can cause inflammation and constriction of airways, and decreased lung capacity and function. Dust aggravates equine health problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (often called heaves) and pneumonia, and increases the risk of developing infections by overloading the lungs’ primary defense mechanism.
These horse-friendly tips can help you unravel the mud and dust problems on your horse property:
Create a sacrifice paddock to keep your pastures from becoming overgrazed, particularly during winter. This area should be on higher ground, away from ditches, creeks, or water bodies. Surround this area by a grassy buffer such as lawn or pasture to act as a filter for contaminated runoff.
Use footing such as coarse washed sand or crushed rock to help cut down on mud problems in the winter months and reduce dust in the dry months. Popular choices include hogfuel (chipped wood), gravel (crushed rock) or sand. Hogfuel has the added benefit of helping to break down the nitrogen in the horse’s urine and manure.
Pick up manure in your sacrifice area every 1 to 3 days. This is important for your horse’s health because it reduces parasite reinfestation.
TARP THE MANURE PILE
Turn your manure pile into compost . Store manure as far away as possible from streams, ditches or wetlands to avoid potential environmental impacts.
MANAGE SURFACE FLOWS
If surface water runs into your barn or paddocks, look for ways to divert this water. Possibilities for dealing with drainage issues include French drain lines, water bars (like a speed bump for water runoff), grassy swales and dry wells.
Install rain gutters and roof runoff systems on all barns, sheds and outbuildings to divert clean rainwater away from high traffic areas. This will reduce the amount of nutrients (from manure and urine) and sediments (from soil) washed off into surface waters. This also has the added benefit of substantially reducing the amount of winter mud created in your sacrifice areas. In municipalities where it’s allowed, capture your roof runoff to water native plants.
PLANT NATIVE TREES AND SHRUBS
In muddy areas, plants can reduce the amount of water buildup and runoff around your horse place. A mature Douglas fir can drink 100-250 gallons of water per day. Evergreens have an added advantage in that they keep on using water in the winter when deciduous trees are dormant. Plants that might work in wet areas include willow, cottonwood, and red osier dogwood. In dry areas, additional native plants can provide windbreaks against blowing dust and help reduce erosion.
Cross fence pastures and rotate horses to prevent overgrazing and soil compaction. Compaction of the soil makes water infiltration and root growth difficult. Poor pasture management results in reduced quality and quantity of grass, increased soil erosion, nitrogen runoff (from manure and urine) and weeds. It also increases feed costs because of the reduced pasture productivity and potentially increased vet bills if your horse eats toxic weeds.
Reducing the amount of mud and dust on your horse place will create a healthier place for your horses, a nicer place for you to enjoy, a prettier picture for you and your neighbors -- and a cleaner environment for all.
Alayne Blickle, a life-long equestrian and reining competitor, is the creator/director of Horses for Clean Water, www.HorsesforCleanWater.com, an award winning, internationally acclaimed environmental education program. Well-known for her enthusiastic, fun and down-to-earth approach, Alayne is an educator and photojournalist who has worked with horse and livestock owners for 20 years. She teaches and travels throughout North America as well as writing for equestrian publications. She also runs an environmentally sensitive guest ranch in Southwestern Idaho, www.SweetPepperRanch.com .