Paddock Footing

Olivia   December 16, 2016   40 Comments on Paddock Footing

Eugene and Nilla got fresh sand added to their paddocks this week. East coasters will find this as baffling as the whole no turnout thing, but a lot of the paddock barns in our area don’t do shavings. Some barns use shavings, though it’s often at an extra charge. There’s a lot more variety in this so I’m not saying it’s a hard and fast rule out here, but It’s not like the East Coast where every barn has shavings. The really expensive barns in this area that keep horses fully inside do use shavings. But most of the barns aren’t like that.

Most stalls are matted and the paddocks are dirt. At the barns I’ve been to and looked at in this area, the paddocks are usually set up by the boarder. Because of this, individual paddocks can be very unique. I’ve seen some that just have roofs, some where people have built sheds or barns for stalls, some people get clever with used stuff like old bathtubs for feed troughs instead of buying expensive plastic tubs. Most paddocks here are either dirt or gravel. Boarders can add their own gravel if they chose to.

I know the East Coaster in me was appalled when I first arrived here and was told our horses would be living on rubber mats and gravel. But it works out really well. Their hooves are dry and almost never get any thrush. It’s actually a great footing for barefoot horses. Every fall we add new gravel and that gets us through the rainy season.

Yes, that's an actual stream running through our paddocks

Yes, that’s an actual stream running through our paddocks

When we first brought Eugene home, he was a bit skinny. Not in the way of a starved horse, but there was a hint of ribs and his hip points were rather sharp. We worked hard getting his weight up (lots of supplements, extra hay, rice bran, etc) and he’s now in much better shape. While Nilla and Shasta never had a problem laying in their gravel (they’re fatties), Eugene was getting scrapes and sores on his hips.

They're really hard to see except in person

They’re really hard to see except in person

To keep him from wearing holes in his skin, my barn owner picked up some sand for his paddock. And Nilla was insanely jealous. I really wish I’d though to get some video of this, but she would stand at the fence between their paddocks and paw. She’d also try to roll as close to the fence as possible where some of the sand had drifted over.

I don’t generally like putting sand in their stalls. It’s a lot more expensive and there’s a risk of sand colic. Even though they get fed in their stalls in hay nets, I see them eating enough leaves in their paddocks to know their ingesting some. But the mule was just so jealous so we got her some sand too. And she absolutely loved it. Nilla’s favorite activities are eating, rolling, and lying around. I’ve been asked if she’s colicing because she spend so much tie lying down at shows and clinics. She particularly loves to eat while lying down if possible.


Our original batch of sand wasn’t very deep, but the batch that got put in this last week is nice and deep and Nilla is so happy.


She’s so freakin’ cute. I’m curious: what kind of footing do your horses have? Sand, gravel, shavings, pasture, straw?

40 thoughts on “Paddock Footing

  1. Sara

    Mills looks so happy in her new sand. Mine are out on grass and with how dry it has been it has been great.

    When we were in WI they had a grass pasture but it was all snow dec-April then a muddy deep mess until June. It was gross. I’d prefer sand to that.

  2. Teresa

    Snow. Mine have snow.
    Sorry- it’s -28 with the windchill right now which we rarely get and never in December so I’m a little bitter.

    My stalls are rubber mats with shavings. Turn out is a small paddock that’s just dirt. This paddock opens into three larger fields of grass.

  3. Megan

    omg nilla is the cutest animal ever. her little ears. she loves her sand!!

    our stalls are rubber mats with shavings and then they’re turned out on grass. typical east coaster!

  4. Emma

    D’aww Nilla looks so satisfied haha! The whole idea of a paddock barn is honestly more alien to me than the type of footing, tho I see that it totally makes sense for the region. My horse just gets a grass field, no special footing

  5. Laura

    Nilla is so cute in the sand! My guys get shavings in their shelter, which they like, especially when everything else is buried in snow. The other 3 seasons they have a bit of everything in their field – sand, clay, mud, grass and shavings in the shelter. No actual gravel but I need some to firm up the ground around my barn. (maybe this spring).

    1. Olivia Post author

      I wish mine could have unlimited access to a field. Gravel is great for boggy spots though. I think I’ll end up using it a lot when I move back to the east.

  6. hayflinger

    Gosh, Nilla is so adorbs!

    The ponies have railway tie raised platform under the open shelter (which I sometimes wish was enclosed, but it was there when I moved in, would be hell to pull out of the ground – if we even could since it’s cemented in – and if I ever left, I can’t take it with me) with mats. If it rains for more than a few days, I’ll toss half a bale of shavings down, but most of the time it’s just bare mats (Mitch is good and doesn’t poo on them, Jet on the other hand … *incoherent babbling and swearing*)

    In the paddock, it’s usually just dirt. Occasionally we get sand brought in if I go in with barn mates for a load delivery. Didn’t get to it in time before the rain though. One thing I’d like to do is get decomposed granite or lime filings, lay that in, and try to make a run off/drainage slant and then put sand in top of that. Maybe that’ll happen this summer.

    1. Olivia Post author

      You could always self enclose your shelter. We did that at our previous barn with plywood. A few of the boarders put up tarps wrapped around the sides of theirs.

  7. Stephanie Peck

    I feel like Nilla and I have a lot in common, haha!

    Moe and Gina are out on pasture all the time, unless the weather is going to be spectacularly bad. At night, they always have the option to go in their stalls, which are bedded with shavings. I will frequently find shavings in their tails- I think they go in and curl up in the evenings!

  8. Christa R.

    Nilla is so cute! Mine have straw over a stone dust base in their stalls (I wish I had mats!). They are in drylots for winter right now which are dirt.

  9. Megan

    Interesting! I was actually wondering about sand if TC moves to a bigger paddock- just in the essence of softer footing (which is maybe better for his leg) and not having to give him shavings. Right now he’s got about 2/3rds of his paddock set up with blue rock/mats over it, and then the rest of it is dirt and a bit of gravel. The dirt part gets real muddy, but I don’t like the idea of him being 100% on mats so he gets a bit of mud, I’m lucky he doesn’t like to roll in it!

    That picture of Nilla is SO CUTE! I also got asked a lot whether Rico was colicking because he’d always lay down all day long.

    1. Olivia Post author

      Ours love to roll in the mud spots. That’s why they’re always so gross. I’d recommend the sand for his paddock if you want the softer, but the gravel is great for keeping them dry and it’s like 1/4 the cost.

  10. Sarah

    Mud currently. Oh so charming. Copper is bedding down in round bale remnants that he and the donkeys didn’t polish off. The ground is frozen right now so there isn’t a lot of laying down happening.

  11. Lola

    Gosh Nilla is cute. My horses are outside 24/7, so they get hard dirt in summer, mud in winter! Their feet cope just fine though.

  12. KateRose

    I’ve heard gravel is great for barefoot hooves, it really toughens them up! My horses are all turned out in 20acres+ (sometimes a full quarter section depending on the season) so it’s just grass/dirt/mud/random badger holes etc.

  13. Nicole Sharpe

    Murray’s paddock has a gravel base somewhere way down there, topped with a truly delightful combination of dust and composting hay that gets blown in there when our barn staff blows out the barn and lazily just blows the hay into his paddock. This is just fine in the dry months and actually keeps his paddock nice and soft for napping, but means that it is an intolerable and completely disgusting mess whenever it rains.

  14. Stubborn Together

    Because I have a pony that is close to, if not, metabolic I am so jealous of the gravel/sand paddocks!! Grass is amazing and lush around here but just too dangerous for many horse’s to eat. My previous barefoot hoof trimmer actually made nearly an acre paddock that was completely gravel and sand with different types of gravel throughout. It’s where she kept her horses that couldn’t handle the grass or were coming back from major hoof problems such as thrush or founder. It was amazing and I hope to do the same someday. Right now Katai is in a paddock that is dirt but grows a bit of grass. Luckily it’s not enough to effect her and of course for about 4-5 months of the year it’s snow like it is right now.

    1. Olivia Post author

      I’ve heard that actual snow is good for their hooves. Not sure if that’s true or not. When I boarded back on the east, the horses were in a dry lot most of the day and only let out on the grass a bit.

  15. Dom

    Actually, I wish more barns would do this in the area. We met with a dept. of ag. consultant a while ago to talk about pasture conservation, and one of the things that came up were designated dry lots for bad weather. Stone dust seems to be the way to go in terms of keeping the dry lot… well… dry. I would love to add sand or stone dust to the front part of our pasture (where the horses stand around most often, and where the mud gets really bad). I imagine that using shavings in the paddocks would be super expensive and would lead to a lot of thrush and related problems. I love this entry and it looks like Nilla loves her sand!

    1. Olivia Post author

      I like the gravel and sand in the paddock now that I’m used to it. I just wish they had shavings in their stalls for lying down in. But I will probably bring the whole gravel/sand paddock idea back to the East with me. It’s so much better than mud.

  16. Stacie Seidman

    That picture of Nilla in her sand is the cutest thing on the internet right now. Hands down.
    My paddocks have sand also. My stalls are matted and have shavings, but my horses are also in them 20 hours a day. The mats have foam mats under them so they’re nice and squishy.

  17. Micaylah Strukelj

    What a cute happy mule! <3 My favorite set up was at the last boarding barn I was at. Stalls were matted with shavings and outdoor runs were gravel that got raked daily. So clean and everything drained just perfectly. Riesling's current stall is matted with shavings (that I suck at keeping clean) and his paddock is all dirt (or in this case, frozen poop and snow). I have to admit I hated the idea of gravel at first but it really is fantastic. I might get some added to my paddocks in the spring.

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