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February 04, 2007

Pea stone gravel for barefoot horses

Posted in: Horses for the horse crazy

While learning about barefoot horse keeping, I heard about pea stone gravel being used to improve hoof condition. My internet searches on pea stone didn’t turn up much info, but I found out that a nearby lameness rehab center uses pea stone.

FYI– Pea gravel by definition is rounded, smoothed stone of 3/8 - 1/2 inch diameter. Many gravel suppliers will have it available by the ton or truckload… get enough to have extra left over. Local NH costs were about $10/cu.yard in fall of 2006.

horse shed pea gravel
Our pea gravel installed under 12×20 shed roof at barn. (Snow depth has raised ground level.)

Sue Wood at Wakewood Farm lameness center in Plymouth, N.H. was very helpful with information. Sue told me that pea stone gravel was a great conditioning aid for horses’ feet. It stimulates the frog (increasing blood circulation), massages and toughens the sole, and helps keep the hoof wall short. She said it must feel good because their horses competed over who would get to stand in it– like getting a foot massage.

If pea stone benefits the recovering foundered and laminitic horses at Wakewood Center, I figured it would be helpful for my three barefooters so last November we acquired some and started putting it around the barn. We installed it under a 12×20 foot shed roof shelter, on top of a clay base with pressure-treated 4×4’s retaining the gravel on the sides. Sue told me it should be at least 4 inches deep, another person said 6 inches. Ours at present is 3-4 inches deep.

horse feet in Peastone
Our youngsters first discover the pea gravel in November. Note how deep his hooves sink in, and the PT 4×4 retaining the gravel.

Sue also advised not to put it on clay, but that was what we had. Our clay base was hard-packed and slightly sloped so we hope it will drain OK. Sue suggested a large enough area that one horse couldn’t hog it all, so 12×20 seemed a good size for our three guys. We also have put some peastone in 3 gateways, where it helps stabilize mud, plus some around the water trough.

horse legs snow peastone
Pea stone gravel now that snow has blown in on it; surface is still slightly loose.

The theory of using pea gravel in horse turnouts is to give hooves more varied and rougher footing to toughen up their feet naturally, approaching the conditions which keep wild horses’ hooves strong and tough and self-maintaining. Peastone is being praised by Pete Ramey, a barefoot trimming practitioner. Jaime Jackson promotes its use (a la his book Paddock Paradise,) and Jackson suggests that hard-packed dirt areas can also be healthy for horses’ feet.

horse hay pick pea stone
Yearling having his hay dinner on the gravel; note how carefully he is picking up a sprig of hay.

We feed our horses their hay on the pea gravel; they do stand in it at other times, although they have not sought it out or fought over it, but our horses do not hang out around the barn very often because they have the freedom to roam 24/7. (See story Horse turnout 24/7 in NE winter.)

When I first started feeding hay on it, I did wonder whether they might be likely to swallow some stones. I have observed them eating and have never heard any crunching. Besides, I have seen them drop shavings out of their mouths regularly when sifting hay out of it, and they eat around shavings in their grain as well, so I tell myself they’re not apt to eat stones. And if they wanted to, they could pick rocks off the ground most anywhere, so I keep putting their hay on the gravel. You should use your own judgment.

Our 3/8-inch pea gravel is not difficult to pick manure out of (the gravel falls easily through the fork) except when it gets trampeled and ground in, so it’s best to pick it daily or more often. With ours, hay fines and manure fragments are certainly starting to get worked in. I have limed urine spots. Now that we’re in a deep freeze, the lower 2-3 inches of gravel have frozen up pretty solid. This makes me think our gravel should be deeper to stay looser on top. It does ice up from snow cover, though some surface gravel remains loose; it works well for filling in deep hoofprints and ruts, ie. in those muddy gateways.

three horses in stall
Our three (mom in front, two sons in the stall) are compatible enough to leave their stalls open as run-ins.

After the spring thaw we intend to try cleaning our gravel bed by hosing it down to rinse out the debris or at least wash it to the bottom of the bed. Hopefully there’s enough slope on our packed clay base that water will drain. I think I won’t lime it anymore because that’s just adding in more particulate matter. Time will tell what the long term effects will be on our barefoot horses, I’ll keep you posted.

NOTE: The gravel company will calculate your needs based on square footage times depth. Buy extra to keep on hand for replacing wastage, a truckload may be more cost effective. Be sure not to store your pile where snow plows will have to clear or pile snow!

See all the updated blog info on using peastone gravel for horsekeeping… and be sure to look for other folks’ COMMENTS at the end of these posts.

BLOG LINK ADD-IN to Amazon store:
See Jaime Jackson’s book that started it all, Paddock Paradise.

For related stories, see:
paddock paradise
Connie Moses– Blog: petArtistWithPeaches
website: PortraitsWithHorses.com (horse and pet portraits)

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