Monday, August 18, 2014

"Paddock Paradise and the Track System For The Health Of Your Horse"

Howdy Friends,

Horses love to move about. Jamie Jackson, after years of studying and observing wild hoses not only gained a vast understanding of the natural way of the horse, and their feet which he was instrumental in bringing to the horse world, but he also learned how horses move in the wild. He put his observations on horse movement, travels, health and habits into his book he titled, "Paddock Paradise," I highly recommend it. You can buy his book here on Amazon – in it he clearly explains his observations and details how anyone, anywhere, can create a track system for their horses. You can also make a lot of friends on the Paddock Paradise facebook page who have implemented this practice for their own horses. (Photos for this story provided by Paddock Paradise FB)
One of the many things Jamie observed, noted and proved, was that horses left to their own choices in the wild, move in regular tracks. They have well established routes, or tracks, for grazing areas, watering, resting, foraging and even playing, and they don't graze in lush grass, they nibble and browse, while moving. It is these known facts that he incorporated into his idea of Paddock Paradise, and many folks have adopted. I believe it is the most natural and healthiest way to house and keep a horse.
Great track system - notice how you can add fun little obstacles to keep them thinking.
The track system goes hand in hand with maintaining a barefoot horse's feet, strong, beautiful, and healthy. Movement is a key ingredient to the barefoot paradigm, and nothing I have ever seen encourages movement like the track system. Lush grass, lazy grazing is as unnatural to a horse as couch potato sitting and gorging is to humans … but we lazy humans force it on our horses, and then wonder about a plethora of health issues. Stalls, barns and shoes are a human convenience, not a horse first philosophy.
A simple example of a track system
Many times folks say, "It looks too inconvenient or expensive to set up." To that I say, in the long run, and even the not so long run, it will be far less expensive than vet bills, injuries, and anguish – the person's and the horse's – and missed riding and competing dates due to injuries. Yes the track system works for shod as well as barefoot horses … and folks who know me know I believe every horse should be barefoot. One very wrong answer to the "too much grass" syndrome is to confine their horses in stalls, use frustrating grazing muzzles, small paddocks or "sacrifice" lots. Rubbish all. None of these things are either natural to a horse, or healthy to their bodies or minds. Let the horses roam at will, I say.
Just roaming along, because we can.
Paddock Paradise, or the track system, incorporates every aspect of a horse's natural and instinctive urge and desire to be on the move. Explained briefly, the track system is a track 10 to 20 feet wide inside your already existing big pasture, (which may have too much grass) with various footings such as dirt, pea gravel and rocks. Also incorporated within the track are wide places for play, sleeping and rolling, as well as various hay feeding stations and watering locations, and run ins, strategically placed to encourage movement. Many folks add mud holes, streams and bridges to help their horses overcome issues, or just for fun.
Hay feeding stations and water should be scattered about to encourage movement.
Your track can be any design that fits your land, plan, and budget. I once saw a terrific track on an acre and a half rocky, grassy hillside that offered long winding trails instead of just a useless hang out spot.
Many folks, when they set up their first track, simply use step in posts with electric fence, easy and very affordable, and if the horses escape the track, they're still within the original pasture. Of course the original grass pasture can be opened for limited grazing with far less risk of over eating and all the health problems associated with the high sugar content of most pasture and field grasses.
Here is a good example of a field that is conducive to creating all sorts of health problems, but can easily be turned into a Paddock Paradise by simply running a track system around the border full of entertaining obstacles, watering and feeding stations.
Another common rejection to creating the track system is, "We have all this grass and we can't afford to not use it." Some folks then bale it or even graze a few cows on it. Sometimes it takes years for the symptoms of sugar related health issues to show up in horses, but don't be fooled, eventually symptoms are likely to occur – often not connected to the true cause of too much grass and not enough movement.
Bottom of my mare, Kessy's, foot - She roams her Paddock Paradise all day and all night.
The Paddock Paradise, and track system is the easiest, best choice for maintaining a healthy horse and healthy hooves. Combined with proper all forage diet, limited vaccinations and very limited chemical de-worming (I recommend fecal counts, have not wormed Kessy chemically for 3 years, I do use herbs though), the track system will create rock crushing hooves, and a happy healthy horse.
Don't forget to make a wide soft place for napping.
For the health and happiness of horses everywhere it is my hope many more people begin to see horse care from the horse's perspective.

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry


  1. Dutch, how do you keep your netted hay from becoming sour in hot rainy weather?

    1. Horsdoovers, Good question. I only have one horse now, my mare Kessy, on really bad weather days I only use one slow feed net, and hang it in the run in. I usually do 2 bags, on very hot humid fly biting days I hang one in the run in under the fan, the other on the far end in the trees. The far bag always goes there ... But really with only a half a meal in each bag I have never had any hay go sour in the time it's out there. Hope this helps ... I love the slow feed nets, do so much to help the horse.

  2. Hi there! We are new to horse ownership and I am very excited to be keeping horses naturally. we have a wonderful pasture with a mixture of woods (mostly oak and maple) and pasture with a nice sized pond. The horses have already set up their own "track" that I can walk. They are mostly sticking to the perimeter and I always see them in a different area of the fenced pasture throughout the day. My husband really wants to avoid adding fence and I guess my question is, if they are already moving quite a bit, have created their own "track" so to speak, is the fence necessary? Of course, they hang out in three small grassy pasture-like areas, but the paths are well worn and they do move around all day, slowly. Thanks for any insight you have to offer!

    1. Howdy Melissa, The fences can be very important to build a true track that you can manage and operate. You can add river stone a few places to enhance hoof health and do other fun things. Check out their page (Paddock Paradise) on Facebook, and do get their book. But If you don't want to build the track, be sure to place the hay in several locations, and the water and housing, we want to encourage plenty of walking. ... Welcome to horses-I promise you'll love the life! I hope you'll get my book, "It's for the Horses" and feel free to contact me anytime by email~ Gitty Up, Dutch.

  3. Hello, I have a question about the tracks, we have a lot of mud and rain here. Did you put sand or any kind of foundation underneath the gravel? Kind regards, Nancy

    1. Thanks Nancy S. Mud is not good. Everything varies with where we are and our conditions. I did have packed screenings down in the area I put the river rocks, and even so from time to time more must be added.

  4. Great article! I have a question for you. I'd love to put a paddock paradise in, but I fear my horses would interfere in each others' diets. I have a horse that eats everything in sight and one that eats very slowly and on and off. The other bolts all her food down and is still searching for more. How do you keep horses with such different eating habits healthy on the same track?

    1. Thanks Elle! ... You would need of course to do the slow hay feed nets, and scatter them around the track at different locations. I don't believe in feeding grain but, I guess if you do you would need to gather the horses at meal time. It will take patience and management but the hay intake should even out, if the horses can get to their bags with enough distance between them. Different eating habit herd members actually help in one way, they will keep everybody moving and getting their exercise.
      Follow this link to read "My mare's diet"