April showers bring May flowers and— mud season. For most equestrians, mud season is where the winter blues really start to kick in. Mud means a lot of extra work, especially if you keep your horses at home. Boots are constantly sucked off your feet, thrush infections need to be treated, and grimy blankets need to be changed. But when you’re right at your wits end, remember: you’re not alone!
Here are my tried and true tips to surviving mud season.
When your boots start to leak….
…wear your husband’s boots until you can grab yourself a pair of sloggers!
When my hardworking barn boots started losing their waterproofing and the lining came loose, my only other option sat right by the doorway. Noah’s pair of size 11 muck boots! While you’re at risk of looking like a toddler in their parents shoes, I found several benefits.
I never had to worry about getting my toes stepped on. Not only because of muck boots reinforced toe, but also because there was so much room in front of my toes I felt like I was wearing flippers. The chances that either of my thoroughbreds would be able to step on my toes were slim to none.
More surface area is better for trudging through the mud. Now I don’t know if there’s any real evidence behind this, but those big boots were like snowshoes. I felt like I was a bit more on top of the mud, instead of sinking into it. It still threatened to suck them right off my feet, but I think I was able to move around a bit better.
When the run-in becomes a swamp…
…invest in asphalt millings!
Before we moved in, the farm was basically abandoned for a year or two. Thanks to the minimal presence of humanity, a lovely groundhog took up residence in the barn and run-in shed. Tunnels ran underneath the run-in shed, to the point where if a rainstorm flooded the holes, the tunnels would collapse along with the ground under the run-in shed. It’s not pleasant to think you’re standing on solid ground when a foot falls several inches.
I filled in the holes and tunnels as quickly as I could, but we still wound up with the ground of the run-in shed several inches below the surrounding paddock. Now every time it rained the ground didn’t collapse, but it became a pond instead (thanks a lot groundhog!).
I was sick of it, the horses were sick of it, and I knew it would only get worse. So I bought several hundred pounds of asphalt millings. Dug out the shed some more, lined it with weed cloth, and dumped all the millings into it. I used bricks to line the front of the shed and to separate the millings from the surrounding dirt/mud.
It worked great! The total cost for the millings and materials was $80, the footing in the shed was now an inch above the surrounding ground, and it drained really well. One thing to consider: this may not be an option for a horse with thin soles. Asphalt millings are a bit harsher than pea gravel, but softer than your typical gravel driveway. My horses are both barefoot and don’t mind it, but any sensitive feet will become tender pretty fast. I also don’t recommend using any sort of shavings for bedding on top of it. The small flakes fall into the nooks and crannies between the millings and you lose a lot of drainage.
When the grey horse’s tail turns into dreadlocks…
…start practicing your braiding skills!
Buzz has the thickest tail of any thoroughbred I have ever seen. I swear, when it’s all brushed out it’s twice the size of my thigh. Unfortunately, this also means it collects small branches and mud clumps until it forms dreadlocks. That can’t be comfortable for him, although it doesn’t stop him from rolling in the mud.
I like to use almost any leave-in conditioner or detangler that I find at the pharmacy for my horses. If it’s good enough for human hair, it’s good enough for them too. It also tends to be a lot less expensive, which is just more proof for my theory that any time you put the word “equine” in front of something the price triples. After spraying it down with leave-in conditioner, I brushed it out and braided it, tying it off with my own hair tie.
For now, it seems to be working well. The tail is staying detangled, neat, and remarkably less dirty. The odd side effect is that now he looks like he has a bit of a lion tail. For the future I’m going to look into buying a tail bag from Cactus Tails. I really like how you braid the bag onto the tail and, of course, the fun colors don’t hurt.
When the paddocks need a break…
…time to start changing your management routine.
The sad truth is that I only have a 1 acre paddock. We have plans to expand it to 2 acres in the next few years, but for now it’s what I have to work with. Last summer and through the winter I let the horses roam free across the whole thing with no breaks for the pasture. The horses loved it, but now I’m left with ground that looks like it’s been recently tilled. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get grass to grow this summer.
Mud season is a particularly dangerous time for our pastures. The melting snow and heavy rains leave the ground soft and waterlogged. Our horses’ sharp hooves till it easily, pulling up roots that would previously absorb the water and creating even more mud in the process. My solution is to rotate the two halves of my pasture. Two weeks in the upper paddock and two weeks in the lower paddock. This way the grass will have some time to recover and grow some deeper roots.
Another option I’m exploring is to create a dry lot next to the barn. Eventually I’d love to have a small rectangle with stone dust footing where the horses can hang out on dry land on particularly rainy days. Not only is it good for their hooves, but the pastures won’t be subjected to the weight of two horses when the ground is wet and soft.
When you start to lose your marbles…
…count your blessings!
Mud season sucks. There’s no way around it. Equestrians across the United States dread the early months of spring when everything is brown, grey, and wet. But when you really feel like the mud is sucking away your sanity along with your boots, take some time to be grateful.
After all, there are a few good things about mud season. The flies usually haven’t come out of hiding yet, so we get a few more fly free months. Nothing is as happy as a horse rolling in the mud. Even though it adds work to my grooming routine, it makes me so happy to see my horses absolutely loving the mud, as long as they have a dry place to escape to!
There’s something cleansing and purifying about the rain. Remember, in just a month or two, we’ll have blue skies and green grass. We just need a little rain to get there.