Innovations in Confinement Area Horse-Keeping

Innovations in Confinement Area Horse-Keeping

Paddocks, runs, sacrifice areas--you name it--provides horses with exercise and socialization while preventing your pastures from becoming overgrazed.

Photo: Photos.com

Construct horse-safe, aesthetic, and eco-friendly confinement areas on your horse property

The confinement area, perhaps better known as a sacrifice area, has become a cornerstone of modern horse-keeping. It’s crucial for housing horses with metabolic concerns and preventing easy keepers from becoming obese on pasture. It’s also a necessity for horse owners with limited land. Further, this area gives pastures a break from continuous grazing, which can quickly turn lush fields into muddy, dusty, and weed-filled swaths of land. Fortunately, when it comes to designing and setting up a confinement area, innovations abound to help keep it from becoming a muddy, smelly equine prison. 

Kelly Munro recently purchased Grateful Pine Farm, a 17-acre commercial horse property in Snohomish, Washington, that’s home to 30-plus horses. Munro, a dressage and trail rider and Norwegian Fjord breeder and trainer, has owned and worked on a variety of horse properties. When she and her husband moved to Grateful Pine, it mostly consisted of overgrazed pastures, filled with weeds in the summer and mud in the winter. This scenario is “neither good for horses nor environmental health,” she says. 

Munro and her husband are making what she calls “horse-centric” changes. For instance, Munro is building a unique paddock system to accommodate all the horses on her small property. “I believe that quality turnout time is one of the most important things for horses, so we want to create really healthy, enjoyable turnout spaces for each horse that are usable year-round,” she says. 

The reason conservationists refer to these turnouts as sacrifice areas is because we are giving up the use of that small portion of potential grazing land to benefit our pastures. Owners most commonly confine horses to sacrifice areas during the winter and early spring—as well as in the summer before pastures become overgrazed.

Track Paddocks for Horse Health

Many confinement areas are drab, muddy, and boring locales for horses to loiter. But do they have to be this way?

For Munro, the answer is an emphatic “no.” To spruce up the paddocks at Grateful Pine, she has split each one into two parts. Come spring, she’ll seed the back half as pasture: “We will keep horses off of these grassy areas while they are getting established, as well as during winters, so the grass on the property can regrow.” 

The front half will become the sacrifice area with a rain garden in the middle. Rain gardens are shallow depressions in the ground stocked with native plants that capture and hold rainwater—like a mini-pond that drains over time. They help control surface water runoff and resulting mud. In essence, Munro will be creating a small track paddock.

“I think track paddocks are the greatest innovation in confinement areas,” says Helen Jones, a horse owner and resource planner for the Kitsap Conservation District, in Poulsbo, Washington. She’s been designing farm plans for horse and livestock owners for more than nine years. 

If you’re not familiar with them, track paddocks are large, long corridors that circle the perimeter of a pasture or property. Their purpose is to encourage horses to move freely and behave naturally. 

Author Jaime Jackson brought attention to this new way of looking at confinement areas in his book Paddock Paradise, A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding. Jackson’s ideas draw from his observations on how the horse’s natural instincts, as exhibited in the wild, stimulate and facilitate movement, which he believes helps keep a horse physically and mentally sound. He believes track paddocks also promote fewer vices, healthier hooves, and overall improved health.

A track paddock is generally set up with permanent fencing on the outside and temporary fencing on the inside. But you can shape a track paddock any number of ways, including circling around a building or arena or weaving through a trail course. The possibilities are endless. (To view a slideshow of track paddock designs, visit TheHorse.com/36801.)

Story continues in the January 2016 issue of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care. Subscribe now and get an immediate download of this issue. Learn more ways to make your confinement areas horse friendly, including track paddocks, enrichment opportunities, footing options, and controlling odors.

About the Author

Alayne Blickle

Alayne Renée Blickle, a lifelong equestrian and reining competitor, is the creator/director of Horses for Clean Water, an award-winning, nationally acclaimed environmental education program for horse owners. Well known for her enthusiastic, down-to-earth approaches, Alayne is an educator and photojournalist who has worked with horse and livestock owners since 1990 teaching manure composting, pasture management, mud and dust control, water conservation, chemical use reduction, firewise controls and wildlife enhancement. She teaches and travels North America and writes for horse publications. Alayne and her husband raise and train their reining horses at their eco-sensitive guest ranch, Sweet Pepper Ranch, in sunny Nampa, Idaho. She also authors the Smart Horse Keeping blog.

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