BOY DO I remember well slogging through knee-deep mud during my first winter years of horse ownership 20-plus years ago when I moved with family to a 5-acre property in Sequim.
The first year wasn’t a problem, likely because I owned just one horse and one pony.
Three years later, I was up to four horses and two ponies, and their feed and shelters were muddy boot-sucking areas every time I stepped in them.
Then I read about and took a mud-management seminar in Oregon.
Soon I had a mud-free area for the horses to eat and stand in, with the added bonus of no more hoof and lower leg infections in my horses caused by standing in mud.
It wasn’t until years later that I rejoiced on hearing Clallam Conservation District (CCD) started offering the same information.
Since moving from Olson Road to Happy Valley three years ago I’ve looked longingly at my neighbor’s little red barn and beautiful, lush green pastures.
The first few weeks of moving in I was able to quickly put up a strong fence with hotline around the property’s perimeter to keep my horses and dogs safe and contained.
Then I picked the highest spot on the property for the horse sacrifice area — laid down geotextile fabric (with seams that overlapped 4 inches) and topped it with 4 inches of 5/8 inch minus gravel.
Then, with the help of a couple of friends, put up a little run-in shed and placed rubber mats on the ground.
Regrettably, I’ve yet to finish the shed due to a lack of energy, mostly because I spent the first two years caregiving for my mother with Alzheimer’s disease, and continuing to raise a grandnephew, now 6, all while struggling with debilitating health issues caused by multiple sclerosis, which I call The Beast Within.
Happily, I am finally at a point that I’m able to start completing tasks and projects, albeit slowly, given my circumstances.
A few weeks ago, I caught up with CCD Conservation Planner Jennifer Bond while interviewing Living Well Farm manager/trainer Nancy McCaleb for this column. Bond’s daughter Lily was there taking lessons.
Eager to spread the word once again about all the CCD does to help horse owners learn about the programs offered she arranged for me to meet with someone Bond had met with and designed a farm conservation plan for.
I was happily surprised when she suggested I contact my next door neighbors Mike and Judy Paty.
Sadly, just before this past winter, their horse Molly passed away due to health problems associated with old age.
Their barn, sacrifice and pastures are still looking great, though.
When I met with Judy she shared a binder she made just for the project.
It was in 2010 when Bond met with the Patys and designed a mud-management system specific to their property. The binder included the design, with step-by-step instructions, informational handouts and a list of resources.
Also included are every receipt of everything they bought, where they picked up supplies and whomever they paid to help them, plus pictures of every step they took.
“Some people told me they didn’t think each step was necessary on their property, so didn’t do it,” Judy said, “but I wanted the best outcome possible and so followed everything on the list.”
The plan included a spreadsheet of actions to take and in which order.
First was the heavy use, or sacrifice area, plan. It’s called that because one sacrifices, or dedicates, an area to confine the horse by putting in a durable surface that’s hard-packed for a mud-free zone and allows for easy manure pick up.
For the Patys the needed work included measuring out and stringing up a guide line around the area.
Then they removed a foot of topsoil and dug a drainage ditch around the perimeter and into a dedicated water runoff pit.
Next, they surrounded the edges with railroad ties set in place with retaining rods set deep in the ground.
Next, they laid down valley loam (soil containing a relatively equal mixture of sand and silt) over the main flat surface and tamped it down.
Then, they laid down a thick geo-textile fabric over it and the ditch, and used specialized giant staples to hold it in place.
The geotextile was purchased from North West Lining in Kent and is the type that’s used under roadways.
A 4-inch drain pipe was placed in the ditch and covered with drain rock. From Angeles Concrete, they bought 5/8 inch crushed rock from the Haller mine in Sequim and set it down 4 inches thick over the entire area.
Then they rented a compactor from D&K Rentals in Sequim to hard-pack the surface.
“I think the compacting is what made the area such a huge success,” Judy said. “It locked the gravel in place and we didn’t have any loose rock floating around.”
Over the top surface they added a layer of pea gravel purchased from Davis Sand & Gravel, and again, compacted it.
On my first property I didn’t compact or add a top layer over the 5/8-inch minus crushed rock.
It took a while for the horses to get used to walking over the surface, but I have to say it did toughen up all my horse’s hoofs.
Here, I covered it with a thin layer of sand from Davis. It’s not beach sand but the silt left after crushing rocks. The horses like to lie down and scratch their backs on the surface.
It should be noted that sand or pea gravel should never be placed where horses eat unless it’s covered with a solid layer of rubber mats, and the hay is contained so they aren’t eating and ingesting the sand or pea gravel. The horses end up swallowing tiny amounts as they eat, it collects in their gut and they could end up with sand colic.
There are products on the market that will safely help the fine grit to pass through their system and be pooped out. Knowledge is power, people!
Bond’s water runoff plan included adding gutters to the barn (they contracted that work out to A&A Gutters) and a manure pile area because if you don’t pick up the manure it seeps into the gravel and you will soon have another muddy mess on your hands.
It takes very little time daily to pick the manure up off the sacrifice and wheelbarrow it to the pile.
“We got lucky,” Judy said. “My next-door neighbor, on the other side, asked me to dump the waste at a place on his property and he used it for his garden.”
She also followed the plan to subdivided their pasture with hot wire into four sections to prevent overgrazing. It’s suggested not to allow the horses to graze the grass lower than 3 to 4 inches to keep it healthy. Also the Patys can fertilize, lime or apply a weed inhibiter one section at a time knowing they won’t endanger their horse’s health.
Sadly, the accompanying photo was the last one of Molly. After 11 good years with the Patys they decided to humanely euthanize her due to a worsening major health issue accompanied by old age.
When Judy hears of friends with horses complain about mud she happily refers them to the CCD.
“But some tell me they’d never call, saying they don’t want anyone from the government on their property,” she said. “I assure them they aren’t government; they’re a free service to the community that’s just there to help.”
I asked Bond if the CCD is government funded, and if they hand anyone’s personal information over to the government.
“While we are aware of people’s concerns, their worries about having government officials out to their property, I can assure them we are not government officials,” she said. “Even though the name Clallam is included in the title of our organization we are not part of the county’s government, we are not government-run. We are grant funded, don’t have any regulatory power, we don’t do citations. We are just there to help.”
She said every county in the U. S. has a conservation district. CCD is in place to assist people in applying conservation practices on their own land, with an emphasis on protecting streams and wetlands from toxic contamination. Clean water is vital to all life, and all stream water and rivers lead to the sea.
All the programs and services are free of charge, with the exception being an occassional low fee for workshops if held in a rented venue and/or they have a lot of written material to hand out.
Soil testing costs $20 because the samples are sent to an outside independent lab.
The take-home message is the CCD exists to help people solve problems.
“Our visits to homes and farms are free, as are our designs,” she said. “It could be a one-time visit or more intensive.”
Workshops include mud and pasture management, weed identification and control, chicken farming and landscaping with native plants.
Dec. 1 kicks off the CCD’s annual native plant sale. Visit the website clallamcd.org for more information about the CCD’s program, including how to get financial help for failed septic systems if living in specific areas.
For more information and to sign up to receive the quarterly newsletters, email [email protected] clallamcd.org.
Contact Bond directly at [email protected] or call 360-775-3747 ext. 4.
The office is at 228 W. First St., Suite H in Port Angeles.
Office hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays with Monday and Friday visits available by appointment.
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Sunday of each month.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at [email protected] at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.