Track Paddock / Paddock Paradise
I’ve been using my small test version of a track paddock for 9 months now, and am ready to report initial impressions. Overall, I really like it.
Track paddocks, also known as Paddock Paradise, have become increasingly popular since Jamie Jackson wrote the book “Paddock Paradise: A Guide To Natural Horse Boarding“.
The general idea is to increase movement and manage grazing. When horses are confined to a normal rectangular dry lot, they typically stand around all day without moving much. If the dry lot is track shaped with food, water and shelter in various locations, the horses will move much more throughout the day. This is much healthier for the horses both physically and mentally. It more closely simulates the environment and behavior of wild horses.
To make a track paddock, you simply put another fence parallel with and inside of a perimeter fence. Many people use temporary inexpensive materials, such as step in posts and electric rope or tape. This also allows you to test the layout and make any changes later. I used T-posts and electric rope, because I already had the materials and knew we would be moving soon, so didn’t want to invest much money in a more permanent fence (though I plan to at our next farm).
Design can vary quite a bit based on the needs of one’s herd and the lay of the land. In my case, I wanted my track paddock to be mostly free of grass so my easy keepers could enjoy more turnout time without risk of laminitis or obesity. You can also make tracks that are grassy if the horses do not need as much restriction. They will still move more than horses turned out on traditional pastures. You can control the amount of grass based on a few factors. A big factor is regional location and grass quality. Here in Kentucky our grass grows far too lush and is quite resilient, so in order to keep it grazed down I needed a smaller space than someone out west in a more desert like area. Another consideration is how many horses will be living on it compared to the size of the track. The more horses grazing, the larger area they can keep grazed down.
If your horses can tolerate more grass, you can open the infield for additional grazing. Some people allow the horses access to the lush grass of the infield for an hour or two each morning, or whatever arrangement works for a given situation. Another idea is to make hay from the grass in the infield.
Be sure to also consider track width. The more narrow the track, the more movement it will encourage. However, if you have a lot of horses or aggressive horses, be sure to make it wide enough for the submissive horses to get out of the way of the dominant ones. It is a good idea to have areas that open up into wider spaces to provide a comfortable loafing area. I chose to make my track 12 feet wide down the long sides with the interior fence corners being rounded and with the short sides being 20 feet wide to allow more room around the hay feeding stations.
The hay feeding stations, which I like to call “hay trees”, are T-posts with a PVC pipe sleeve over them for safety. I drilled a hole near the top of the T-post to clip a carabineer to, which a hay net can hang from. The T-posts also have plastic caps for safety. I use extra small 1″ hole slow feed hay nets most of the time for the easy keepers, which really makes the hay last much longer and keep their gastrointestinal system happy without too many calories.
I also put various logs and poles across the track to encourage the horses to pay attention to their feet and to encourage a strong healthy topline from repeatedly stepping over them throughout the day.
Especially for barefoot horses, you can install various types of footing to stimulate their feet and encourage the growth of healthy strong resilient hooves. Even if your horses are shod, consider installing gravel in mud prone areas.
My only complaint about my track paddock test has been mud. Unfortunately, the lay of the land and the location of buildings and my pre-existing drylot, I had to put the paddock in a low lying area with a soil type that really holds water. This time of year it is fine, but in the winter it is pretty muddy. I haven’t added any gravel since I knew we would be moving soon, but that would have made a big difference. If you have a choice when designing your track, try to use high ground that drains well, otherwise plan on adding lots of gravel.
At our next farm, I plan to make small track that will have a variety of improved footing (gravel, sand, stonedust, etc) for year round use, and also another track that will be larger and will be grassy, which can be used later in the growing season when the grasses are less rich and for horses that can tolerate more grazing. Both tracks will connect to a main dry lot area with gates that can be opened or closed to control access to either or both tracks.