Mud creates an unhealthy environment for horses. Mud harbors bacteria, fungal organisms and other pathogens that cause abscesses, scratches, rain scald, and thrush.

The effects of repeated wet/dry conditions are damaging to hoof structure and can cause general unthriftiness. Mud is a breeding ground for insects, such as cullicoides (“no-see-ums”), filth flies, and mosquitoes. Insects are not only annoying; they can carry diseases and can cause allergic reactions. When fed on muddy ground, horses can ingest dirt or sand particles with hay, leading to sand colic, a very serious digestive order. Plus mud creates a slick, unsafe footing, increasing the risk of injury--for horses and humans!

And every horse person knows that mud is inconvenient and unpleasant. Mud makes everyday chores difficult. Odors, flies and just the sight of mud lowers the desirability of a property for customers and neighbors.

Once soil and manure has mixed with water to make mud, it can easily be carried into nearby streams or lakes. Sediment can smother trout and salmon eggs, destroy habitat for insects (a food source for fish), and cover prime spawning areas. Many pollutants, like the nutrients in manure, are also likely to attach to soil particles and be carried into the water.

stall mats

French drains, a deep trench filled with drain rock, can be a useful technique for keeping clean rainwater out of your paddock and reducing mud.
Photo by Alayne Blickle

What You Can Do: Direct and Slow the Flow

If you already have gutters and downspouts on barns and out-buildings and footing in confinement areas but rain is still flowing into confinement areas you may need to consider installing some type of drainage system to divert away surface water flowing towards your barn.

When tackling drainage think "slow the flow." The best and easiest way to reduce surface water is to slow it down. Many times just slowing water down will allow it to infiltrate back into the ground--perhaps all that’s needed to solve a drainage issue. This also helps recharge the natural hydrology of your property including ground water.

Each of these techniques can be useful for keeping clean rainwater out of your paddock and reducing mud:

  • French drain lines
  • Diversion ditches
  • Water bars (like a speed bump for water runoff)
  • Swales (gently sloping depressions or grass-lined waterways)
  • Dry wells

Divert the clean surface water away from your high traffic areas to someplace else on your property where it can soak back into the ground. Possibilities include an unused corner of your pasture, a well-vegetated woods, grassy swales, or other well-vegetated areas.

Never divert to an existing water body as the amount of added water can drastically and unnaturally change water levels. When water levels go up quickly, that increases turbidity and important fish habitat is often ruined or destroyed.