Is your track ready for winter?I'm sure most of our followers know now, but for any newbies to AVL, the majority of our tracks remain unsurfaced.We chose not to surface our tracks for a number of reasons. The biggest reason for this, was not being able to figure out what the best, most cost effective and easy to maintain surface is... And then we realised…
What surface is good for horses with sore feet?
Good ground for cantering, hooning and playing?
Won't cause sand colic if they eat hay from it?
Is easy to maintain and poo pick?
Provides a soft place to roll and lie down?
Provides enrichment through short tuffs of grass to forage?
Is cost effective and won't break the bank?
Is natural for horses, insects and wildlife?
The answer is… earth!!
Good old good God given mud and dirt!
The only catch is that for some of the year, during winter, it becomes mud. So what can you do to manage this?
Many of us can't afford to surface all or most of our track but you don't have too.Hopefully by now you have already implemented a hard standing area. This should be big enough for all of the horses to fit on at once and mooch about with ease. Your water source and shelter should also be on hardstanding for winter, as these will be high traffic areas. Remember horses on a mainly hay diet will consume more water than a grass fed horse, so the water source will be visited even more frequently.In the winter my best recommendation is to move all of your hay feeders onto your hard standing. This means that the horses are not forced to go out onto the unsurfaced areas of track unless they want to, thus creating less mud and not forcing the horses to go out into the mud. There is nothing worse than seeing horses stood eating from a hay feeder in knew deep mud, and it does their ligaments and skin no good at all.I am a huge advocate for track systems (can you tell?) But they have to be done right. I see alot of people get it wrong and give tracks a bad name, saying that their horses have to live on a muddy track in order to not get laminitis. This is not the case, and with better management you can stop deep mud from developing.On frosty or drier days you can put some hay stations back on the track, or spread small loose piles of hay about for a bit of enrichment.Having the hay on the hardstandings also means this is where the majority of the poo will be, making poo picking much easier for you. Situate the winter hardstanding close to your muck heap to help yourself and staff from a labour point of view in the dark winter months when poo is wet and heavy.Lastly, don't use machinery on the unsurfaced areas in the winter. This will create alot of mud and mess and is not necessary when the hay and poo is on the hardstandings.Another plus side is you can use the horses to your advantage to remove the grass - the best time of year to reduce grass growth is winter. The horses will kill off alot of the grass by churning up the top layer, meaning that you will have much less grass for the following spring. I monitor this closely though, and so far we have never had mud deeper than my ankle.Having the hay on the hardstandings will reduce the amount of movement when compared to movement for the rest of the year when hay is spread round the track, but it is only for around 2 months of the year and still far better than stabling or living in mud, in my opinion.Your first winter will show you what areas you may want to concentrate on surfacing first and what works well.
Remember that winter is not forever, and make sure you are well prepared with good management in place.If you need any additional help to advice, I have consultation slots available.