Like you, here at Sweet Pepper Ranch we are always working on some project. This week we’re working on drainage issues that need to be resolved before we begin putting in trees, shrubs, lawn and other landscaping around the barn and horse facilities.

Once we finished building our new guest barn this winter, Matt and I kept a careful eye on surface flows around it. During heavy rains we watched where rainwater drained from and to, where it collected, and what problem areas were occurring. We found that roof runoff from the guest barn traveled directly downhill to the main barn and ended up in Felix and Bob’s paddocks (aka, “Lake Bob” and “Felix Ponds” as we fondly referred to them).

Environmentally speaking, the golden rule on horse properties is to “keep clean rainwater clean” by diverting it away from paddocks, buildings, manure piles and high traffic areas. When you do this you keep nutrients and sediments (from manure and mud) out of surface waters and reduce mud on your property. The best way to deal with surface flows is to allow it to infiltrate back into the footprint of your property, helping to recharge your aquifer and the natural hydrology of your property.

Because we now live in a desert with annual rainfalls of 10 to 12 inches we don’t expect to deal with perpetual heavy rainfalls as we did in Western Washington where yearly rainfalls were more than four times greater (40 to 60 inches/year). What we are doing to disperse the guest barn’s roof runoff is building a grassy swale that will send it towards the back of the property, away from paddocks and high-traffic areas. Once it's vegetated, grass plants will slow the flow, allowing water to soak into the ground. Trees and shrubs planted in this area will also help use rainwater.

Creating a grassy swale to channel roof runoff rainwater away from horse ddocks

Creating a grassy swale for our new barn so that roof runoff from the barn runs to the back of our property and not down slope into the other barn.

During one of your next big spring rain events, watch around your barn and horse areas to see how surface water flows on your property. If water travels into your paddocks and high-traffic areas, here are some options to consider for dealing with surface flows:

  • French drain lines
  • Water diversion bars (like a speed bump for water runoff)
  • Grassy swales
  • Culverts
  • Ditches
  • Dry wells (a large hole in the ground filled with rock. Water drains in, filling in the spaces between the rocks).
  • Native trees and shrubs. A mature Douglas fir tree can drink up to 250 gallons of water per day. Plant water-loving shrubs like willow or dogwood to intercept flows or soak up excesses.

Each of these techniques is useful for keeping clean rainwater out of your horse areas and thereby reducing mud, keeping your place chore-efficient and your horses healthier and happier, too.