I have always been a minimalist when it comes to caring for my horses. I like for them to have their basic needs met, but I also like for them to be kept in an environment that is as natural to them as possible. Don't get me wrong, I love big, beautiful barns with brick alley ways and lovely stained wood stall fronts. I love the smell of clean pine and cedar shavings and I love a horse that stays clean because he lives in this barn. I don't necessarily think that the horse loves this though. Although, my mare heads straight for the barn as soon as the first rain drop falls, she also loves to be out and moving around. My gelding cribs when locked in a stall and he has all sorts of stomach issues. So, I set out on a mission to find out how to make my horse's lives as close to what they would have if left to their own devices. What I discovered changed everything.
We have a lovely little barn that has a couple of stalls with runs that come in handy when we need to lock horses in for some reason. Otherwise, these are open to the track so they can come and go as they please. We live in a very dry climate and therefore pasture grass management is a very delicate balance. Most people around here, just fence off their pastures with cross fencing and rotate livestock around to give one rest while grazing another. This works okay, but most find that by the end of summer, even the most managed rotation schedule doesn't prevent dry, bare pastures. If you are lucky enough to have lots of land, this probably isn't an issue, but if you're like most, you have a small acreage and would love to know how to keep the grass growing.
In addition to wanting to manage grass and keep it available to my horses, I also wanted to find a way to keep them moving. Horses, in their natural environment, will graze up to 17 hours a day. This grazing is defined by walking and eating. They spend their time moving from one patch of grass or food source to another. The movement of their body is vital to the digestion of their food. When a horse is allowed to eat small amounts throughout the day, his gut stays healthier. I have a horse with stomach ulcers. Caring for him has forced me to seriously look at how I manage my horses. Keeping him moving is my primary goal. That's how I discovered the track system and why we constructed it in our pasture.
Our track is very simple and can be moved and reconfigured any way we like. It's still a work in progress though and I hope to have it set up completely before winter sets in fully. We started with a basic rectangle pasture that is about an acre. We are working with existing perimeter fences on a couple of pastures. Each are about this size. We used the 3' step in, electric fence posts that you can easily move. I prefer the cord electric fence to the tape because it can be windy where we are, and the tape doesn't hold up to it very well. We have a 14' wide track around the inside of our perimeter fence. We are installing feeding stations around the inside of the track. These are basically slow feeder boxes that I built out of reclaimed cedar boards and slow feeder nets. This allows for them to “graze” and move around the track at will. In the center, we have seeded grazing space. Winter wheat is just coming in for winter grazing and we have a dry land pasture mix that comes in in spring. We can open the center grass area up for them to go in and graze on a regular basis and still keep it growing, year round.
The object of our track system is to provide points of interest, obstacles for riding, and simulated grazing spots. There are boxes with different types of footing. One with small pea gravel, another with larger stones, and a sand box. These are all big enough for a horse to lie down in and positioned so that they walk through them frequently. This provides great natural hoof care. Rather than them being on dirt and grass only, we now have some natural elements that help keep rough edges off and strengthen hooves. We do regular trims following the barefoot model and our horses are ridden on some of the rockiest terrain without any issue at all. In our track, we will also have a bridge, and a gate for trail practice, as well as a few medium sized logs for going over. I have spent hours just watching the horses move around this track. Some days, they just run and buck all the way around it, chasing each other and playing.
Our track system provides a number of things for our horses to do while on their own and for us to ride through as well. I love that they keep moving all day long and it makes a small pasture space seem much larger. This helps with maintaining fitness and fights boredom. Any size pasture can be set up with a track system. It's a great way to ensure that your horse has plenty of movement in his day. You get the added benefit of keeping him busy and somewhat entertained. Less boredom means less vices, more movement means less digestive upset. You can create the ideal environment for your horse. All it takes is a little imagination and it doesn't have to break the bank.
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