A la Jaime Jackson’s natural horse care book Paddock Paradise, this spring I set up my own version of a track in a small pasture. This field is gently sloping and about 1 acre in size, planted in pasture grass with lots of clover. Before letting the horses into it, I installed temporary electric tape fencing using step-in plastic posts and running an insulated electric line underground to make it hot.
Jaime Jackson’s concept basically is to create an interior walkway or track along the perimeter of a pasture, limiting the horses’ access to grass and encouraging them to move around more than they do when grazing in a large open area. This track is recommended to be no wider than 10-12 feet; if it is too wide the horses won’t walk around it as much.
His and others’ observations report a significant increase in the horses’ movement around such a perimeter path, as they search for new grass, water, mud or sand baths, shade, pea gravel, salt licks, wood piles, and other variety of interests which you may have laid out for them. The theory is to simulate more natural conditions in attempt to get domestic horses to mimick wild horses’ behavior patterns, who travel about 20 miles daily on paths criss-crossing their range.
Some people have made their tracks by grading the grass off of them, making rocky and hardpacked areas to assist the natural hoofcare of barefoot horses. I didn’t do any grading, but after a while the horses took care of most of the grass and the dirt has packed down in spots. Some people feed out their hay in small piles around the track. I have used my track mostly as a holding area between spells of allowing them into forage grass. The center of the pasture, which they are barred from much of the time, is divided by temporary fencing into two grass halves which I let them into for a few hours at a time, and manage separately by mowing the weeds after they have grazed each half down.
When confined to their track, my horses DO move around it a great deal, always searching for better grass. There is not much variety on my track, just upslope and downslope, dirt and mud path areas, a water tub, and 3 different sections of trees (which they chew and scratch on.) Also, the horses always have free access to return to the barn as they wish, and their path back to the barn is hard packed and somewhat rocky. I cannot yet say if their hooves are maintaining any better, but they seem to be staying shorter this spring that last. I do still have a few spots of pea gravel plus a run-in shelter with pea gravel next to the barn. They seem to be keeping a better fitness level on their own too; our horses have 24/7 turnout.
This perimiter track is a convenient way to limit horses’ grass access and to manage selective grazing. It is quite helpful for limiting one horse’s grass on the track (your easy keeper) while giving the other horses better grazing inside the center; this way the horses don’t have to be separated by long physical distances (which really upsets some horses.)
With a second water tub inside the grass center, I can leave them setup this way for long periods, while being cautious about buggy dusk times on hot days. My horses can get quite agitated when the gnats and mosquitoes are really bad, and I wouldn’t trust them not to run through a temporary tape fence if the bugs got horrible; they would be dying to run back to the barn for some bug shelter and dust bath breaks!
So I would positively say, if you are seeking more natural horsekeeping and have the capability, give the paddock paradise track a try. It is sort of a misnomer, because I’m sure horses would consider it more of a paradise just to stand around grazing lush grass all day– but your horses could well be healthier for limiting their amounts of grass and getting them moving on track!
See Jaime Jackson’s book that started it all, Paddock Paradise.