Reading Jaime Jackson's
book, Paddock Paradise inspired me to implement a new approach to
keeping my horses that encourages more movement and in the spring/summer,
will enable me to control grazing so laminitic events are kept under
I constructed an inner electric fence around the perimeter of my 10
acre paddock to form a track that is wide where the horses are fed
and narrows where I want them to keep moving such as on the steeper
I was able to fence off one dam so they have to travel further to
get water and I have six different areas to put out hay depending
on the weather. On frosty and wet nights I put hay under the wattle
trees so the horses have shelter and on sunny days they are fed in
several different areas in the open where they can soak up the warmth.
Eventually when my barn is extended there will be an undercover area
I can feed hay that will have a gravel base.
I also had a truckload
of gravel spread along a fence line where they walk and like to stand,
and over time, I will gravel more areas so when we have wet weather,
they can at least be on firm footing.
So far, the horses have adpated well and definately move around more,
running up the big hill through the bush for extra exercise.
Interestingly, they are mostly moving in an anti clockwise direction,
whereas in his book Jaime observed the horses moved in a mostly closkwise
direction. I wonder if that's because we're in different hemispheres
or is it related to the terrain?
I can see this way of keeping horses will be very beneficial to the
land by restricting hoof damage to the track area and in the grass
growing months, it will really benefit the horses to be restricted
from too much sugary grass. I imagine they will be able to graze some
of the time, like in the mornings when the grass has less sugar, so
I will need to feed hay most of the year round.
But if that's what it takes to have healthy, strong hooves with no
seperation, no abcesses and no mud fever, then the benefits far outweight
the extra costs (initially in setting up the track) and extra time
Overall, I predict I will save many hours from not treating mud fever
or damaged hooves..... and my horses will be sound and ready to ride
with better conditioned hooves and muscles.
Update one month later
From my initial set up
on 10 acres of hillside, I discovered the horses were traveling around
the track well, especially when I increased the herd size from 4 to
6. Then it rained a bit and the track got slippery and muddy in sections
so they would just go the minimum distance between food and water.
I stopped spreading the hay around the track as I wanted to feed it
in the shelter of the trees or in the hay boxes so they weren't able
to waste so much. They still had to travel from the top of the hill
to the bottom to get water and I tried to encourage more movement
by feeding them their bucket feed each morning in the area opposite
where they liked to stand and eat hay.
But because they could see me from their hay area, they would just
stand at the fence as if to say "we can see you but we can't
work out how to reach you"! They were well aware of how to get
to the feeding area - just reluctant to slip and slide down the hill
unless I led them!
Also, they were rushing down the slippery areas and this ploughed
up the soil quite a bit so that could become a problem in the future.
This was very frustrating so in the end I took the fence down just
so I could keep my time and energy at a reasonable level. I will have
to put better footing down (more gravel) on those slippery sections
so they feel safe traveling before the track is re-installed on this
Now that winter is over and its not nearly as wet as in previous years
(unless we get huge amounts of spring rain), I will be setting up
the track again in other paddocks to keep my fatter horses off the
I've used this time to have some maintenance done on the external
fences and to ensure all steel posts are capped and new electric wire
will carry the current around so my internal track fences will work
properly when they are most needed (when the grass grows and is tempting
them to push on the fence).
So far, I've only had to use one white tape on tread in posts which
are easier to move, to keep them on the track, but that could all
change when there's grass on the other side!
The mares and foals
live in the centre of my track as they need more feed while the 'fatties'
are confined to the 8m wide track which has been grazed for only 1
week when this photo was taken, and is a lot more eaten down now.
The horses all move
together whether on the inside pasture or the track so generally more
more and faster at times.
Placing gravel on
high wear parts of the track can help with hoof conditioning and erosion/mud.
A track for two horses
only needs to be about 3 metres wide - a good guide is have 1 metre
per horse + an extra metre.
'project' of mine is to find better ways of providing a more natural
environment for my horses to live in, that fulfils their physical
and emotional needs. This led me to offering my two herds to be part
of a study on how much movement a horse does in a typical daily domestic
Brian Hampson is studying movement of domestic and feral horses to
gather information for his PHD with the University of QLD. He provided
the GPS collars which were fitted to one horse in each herd for a
period of one week on a track around the perimiter of their pasture,
and a second week in the centre of the track.
I fitted the collars to
my youngest mare in the riding herd who was at the bottom of the pecking
order, and to my rising 2 year old filly in the breeding herd, also
at the bottom of the pecking order.
The results were interesting and correlated with other similar domestic
situations which have found that the horses on the track move less
or the same amount compared to being in the centre.
The riding herd were in a 5 acre pasture and the movement was a little
over 5km per day both on the track and in the centre. The breeding
herd were on a 2-3 acre pasture and the movement was 3.5km on the
track and 4.13km in the open pasture where there was more opportunity
for the horses to run and play (as young horses do).
This suprised me a little as I've always thought, like many others,
that the track would surely cause them to move more - and I'm sure
it would in different situations but all the variables would need
to be tested to find this out.
Most of the research has
been done with pastures and tracks that offer constant grazing and
in my case, I was also strip grazing the track by moving the fence
in a few metres in various places to offer a small amount of fresh
pick each day.
More research would need to done on tracks that have little or no
pick and hay placed in various places as the main source of food.
Where the water was positioned in relation to the hay would also influence
the amount of movement.
Even if the research shows
that a track system offers no difference in the amount of movement,
the big benefit of using a track is the ability to restrict the amount
of grass intake, and that has to be a whole lot better than shutting
a horse in a small yard or paddock to achieve the same.
Brian is continuing his
research and presenting a paper on the findings so far at a conference
in France in June. To keep up with the results you can register for
updates on the web site at www.wildhorseresearch.com
and to learn more about how you can provide a more natural living
environment for your horse.
Martin from Mountain River in Tasmania writes about his track...
We have set up track about
4months ago I guess, been working well, in fact I think its could
be the best thing we have ever done for our horses.
We are lucky in that the perimiter of our property (about 1.5klm)
is where most of our trees are and our dam and bush areas. Unfortuntely
for the horses (well they think so) the dam is at the opposite end
of the property to all the nice grass.
They have defintely developed regular beats and places they like to
go at certain times of the day and they never gallop just huge extended
canters if they want to have a run/play. Which they seem to do a hell
of a lot!!
We have some big paddocks off our track and open them up occasionally
for them, we try to get the right mix of grass and track, when we
open a paddock they often stay in there all day so we shoo them out
and close if of a night. Once the paddock has been opened for a while
they treat is as part of the track, in fact we set the gates up so
they have to go the long way around to get grass and then come all
the way back out and along the track to get a drink....and then back
again...its a hard life.... It is much easier to manage their feeding,
we yard them of night for an hour or so as some get separate feeds
and off they go again.
Fitness levels and toplines
have improved out of sight. Fat ponies have to keep up with the fickle
TB's now. Drink once a day it seems, don't always go for the trees
when its hot, often seen resting in the blazing sun. When its really
windy they hate the trees they go for the flat plains where there
are no trees whatsoever....cold rain and wind though they often go
for the trees. They play a hell of a lot and its interesting that
there is no real agression in it, no real biting just nipping and
grabbing each other with their teeth. They have also dug a couple
of big holes, one in particular is huge and they have turned it into
dust roll, they have one they use a lot in
a damp area and one they use a lot in a very dry area?
And interestingly one of our ponies who suffers terribly from separation
anxiety is almost cured. All ours are in together and could not be
happier so when we take her riding she is already feeling calm and
content before she leaves the paddock and taking her away this calmness
seems to follow her....rather than the opposite effect. Mentally she
is more resilient and stronger. Horses are defintely much happier
and have much more choice about what they do.
The electric tape gate across the driveway opens to the opposite side
of the gate opening to close off the track while driving through.
Alyssa's Paddock Paradise
OK, well it started off being about water.
I was aware of the Jaime Jackson paddock paradise concept, because
I had done some reading, and heard others talk about it, but I always
assumed it would be too difficult or too expensive, and I wasn't really
sure what the benefits would be other than warm fuzzies.
Besides that, we had just spent the last few years changing the fences
that we had, because this property used to be a dairy. I was very
happy with what we had, and I felt it was safe. We also put in a foaling
paddock with mesh fences and a shelter that we could see from the
house, and a pea gravel yard, so that had been our priority.
We have a creek running right through the middle of the property.
Up until last year, billabongs in our creek provided water to almost
every paddock. The whole property is 35 acres. We have seven paddocks
(of varying sizes). I run three separate herds by activity level.
The numbers change, because horses come and go, but basically one
herd is oldies (4 or 5 horses), one of youngies (7 to 9 horses) and
one of aggressive or nutty horses (only 2 or 3 together). I was doing
a rotation of the paddocks, the way I imagine most people would. I
let the horses eat it down to about 5-10cm, move them, then spread
the poos with a harrow and rest the paddock. It re-grows to about
20-30 centimetres - give or take, and then I put them back in.
I was locking up the founder horses overnight
in the pea gravel yard, which is about 30 x 15m (this used to be the
cattle yard with the chase). They had soaked hay. They didn't founder,
but they also weren't flourishing, and I still struggled with thrush,
wall separation and cracks, WLD, and coat quality. These were horses
that before they came here used to spend their springs and summers
flat out on the ground in agony, so I wasn't going to quibble over
a bit of seedy toe. I had been pleased with getting them through without
being lame, but it was still there in the back of my mind that I could
Then we didn't get any decent rain.
The billabongs dried up. I had to keep the horses in the paddocks
with dams, or in paddocks adjacent to paddocks with dams, which meant
I wasn't able to do my rotation. There was no rain breaking down the
spread poos. Paddocks were getting stressed. Horses were getting fat.
The dams were becoming little muddy holes because the horses were
rolling in them, and squashing any plants that were growing around
the edges. It wasn't working.
We had bought pigtail posts and electric tape,
because we were doing mass plantings of natives to secure the banks
of the creek and also to provide shade for the paddocks (this place
had almost no trees). We were fencing off these areas and running
the tape off the same solar chargers that ran the stand-offs. This
was changing the shape of the paddocks to a much more organic shape,
rather than squares, because the fence would follow the creek line
in a serpentine, and we were planting trees in corners and thus making
the paddocks a hexagon-type shape.
So one day, after looking at the sad
little puddle that was my front dam, I got my left over pigtail posts
and my tape and made a long corridor isolating the dam and directing
the youngies herd from the middle of the property to a water trough
right up here near the house, which I could fill from our tanks. The
corridor was about 250 metres long and about 15 - 20 metres wide,
with a kind of bulb on the end where the water is. It took about an
hour. I used about 25-30 pigtail posts ($50 for a pack of ten) and
a 400m reel of econobraid electric tape ($65) and a solar charger
($260), plus a galvanized star picket that I used as an earth ($7).
This corridor directed them into a paddock on the hill (on the poor
pasture) that was essentially round because of the tree plantings
in the corners.
What I found was that most of the time they either cantered along
the corridor or galloped. When they hit the open space, if they weren't
galloping already they would increase speed. They would follow the
fenceline, and instead of pulling up in the corner, they would go
around (and around and around).
Coming back the other way, they were cutting the corner at the bottom,
and wearing a big divot, so I put a log there, thinking they would
go around it. Instead they started jumping it. Gleefully!
I will just pause here to say that most of the horses that we take
are usually ex-dressage horses, showjumpers, show horses, some OTTBs
– horses disposed towards athleticism, but that have been in
shoes from a very young age, ridden in big nasty bits, ridden through
lameness with drugs or 'remedial shoeing', grain fed, stabled etc
Suddenly these horses were traveling at speed along this corridor
several times a day.
Then I had a baby, and I left the founder horses out while I was in
hospital, and when I came back five days later, they looked terrific!
So I decided to leave them out and watch closely. We also had a newborn,
and it was more convenient.
Four other things happened simultaneously with
my corridor that contributed significantly to the soundness of these
1. I contacted Carol Layton at www.balancedequine.com.au and she balanced
minerals for my pasture and prepared a diet for one horse from each
herd. Horses that weren't being fed at all up until then got the mineral
mix with a handful of chaff. This has made a huge difference.
2. I found a new dentist who is a mile better than my old one.
3. I found a new vet/chiro/osteo who was turning around in one visit
horses that I had essentially given up on.
4. I bought a treeless dressage saddle.
Oh, and 5. I put the horses with arthritis on a greenlip mussel supplement.
Five weeks after I had my baby I had
a dressage lesson on one of my old men. He hadn't been ridden for
over six months, and we were asking him to do quite difficult gymnastic,
lateral work. He was doing tempi changes and not even breaking a sweat.
It took a little while to get the diets right, because all the horses
here are idiosyncratic (or they wouldn't be here!), but hoof quality
improved. Wall cracks were growing out, frogs were more robust.
These horses that were not lame, lame, but not sound, sound either
were running around looking ten years younger. Coats were improving.
Horses that always had just a touch of greasy heel most of the time
cleared up. Tempers were getting better. There were fewer scuffles.
Weights were better all round (except for one welshy who is a different
Even their manes and tails were tangle free!
Trailriding they are unflappable, even in large groups, in the wind,
with strange dogs. I took the very worst founder horse, who's been
out 24/7 for a few months now in Edge boots on the fronts. He was
moving forward, ears pricked on road base. Beautiful! Happy! Enjoying
I took a little mare out who I hadn't been on for a year and a half
on hard trail ride up and down mountains, bare. She should have been
exhausted or at least footsore, but she wasn't. She was fit.
So then I go completely nuts for paddock paradise.
Basically I made a racetrack around two of the paddocks. Two of them
are long and narrow already. So 4 of the 7 paddocks are now paddock
paradise. It cost me about $500 for each one – each of which
has about 400 metres of electric braid, up to 30 pigtail posts, one
solar charger and a galvanised star picket for an earth. With two
of them I can use the one solar charger at a gate and attach it to
I also bought some bungee gates so that I can block sections or to
direct horses through gates in to different paddocks (extend the track
through a gate to a create figure eight). I've organised it so that
three paddocks access water from troughs near the house (still no
The horses that I was feeding before
paddock paradise are now receiving less in volume than they were receiving
before, but now we have these squares in the middle of the paddock
that I'm not quite sure what to do with. Then one day I'm talking
to my neighbour, who is a proper farmer, and he tells me that he is
happy to cut and bale hay for me for an hourly rate, because he has
all the equipment, and we have an adjoining gate. I asked him if I
need to plant something special and he said he is happy to bale anything.
So our plan now, over the next twelve
months is to remineralise the soil. We have made headway with weeds
since we have been here, but we'll try to eliminate them completely.
Then we will grow grasses, bale them, get the hay tested and then
balance minerals to our own hay. The feed quality will be consistent
and balanced, and hopefully in the long run much cheaper! We will
know exactly what's in it, and know that there are no chemicals being
In the tracks we will introduce more
obstacles, and a range of surfaces – sand, gravel, water, jumps.
In some places we will make permanent fences, but I like having the
versatility of the pigtail posts.
With planning and help you could do it in an
afternoon. With planning, shopping around and haggling you could probably
do it much cheaper than I have too. I did a lot of it on my own, and
in a spare hour here or there while my babies were asleep, so you
don't need to be a fencing whizz. If you agisted you could buy your
own equipment and take it with you. I only wished I had done it years
The width of the track is dependent on the number of horses you have
in it. If you only have two horses then it needs to be quite narrow
in order to encourage movement at pace.
For larger numbers it needs to be wide enough for at least three to
If you have a long straight corridor you need to have a bulb on the
end so that they have room to swing around. Having seen the speed
they pick up, I would hate to think what would happen if they hit
a dead end.
You also need to funnel them through a gate way, so they are in single
file by the time they reach it.
While it's good to have obstacles (and fun to watch), they need to
be safe, and you need to regularly walk the track to remove smaller
sticks, branches and rocks. Also I have always made an obstacle a
choice, so they can go around it if they choose.
I like the electric tape and the pigtail posts and bungee gates because
you can change the set up very quickly and easily, and also if someone
needs to bail out mid-flight then there won't be much damage to the
horse or the fence. That being said, I've had quite a few different
horses in this system and only one of them escapes – our two-year-old
welshy, and he's never hurt himself.
Brian Hampson from the Brumby research
institute did some research on whether horses moved more in an open
paddock or on a track, and I think he found that it was the same (I
haven't read it – maybe someone who knows more could expand
more on that), but my experience has been that the horses here are
moving more at speed than they did in an open paddock.
It's got to be good for blood flow to the hoof for them to be having
a bit of a gallop every day. I know their fitness has improved out
of sight. I know they are sounder, and they're happier. I never thought
I'd be able to turn out the founder horses in the middle of spring,
but they're out there, they're fit and rideable. They look great!
More – they're not costing me more to feed this way. I'm not
Diagram example of a track around
a 10 acre pasture.
to Stevley Park and the Australian
Equine Barefoot Movement
for permission to use this diagram.
Links to more Paddock
Paradise is catching on around the world
and this site has the most comprehensive information that I've come
across. Its a place where you can add info/photos/video of your paddock
paradise and access info from many others including topics such as
slow feeders, challenges, layouts/designs, FAQ’s and more. This
site also has the most comprehensive list of paddock paradise links
and places where you can buy small hole nets for hay feeders. Well
worth checking out for inspiration.