If you have a horse with insulin resistance that is unable to eat grass without laminitis due to to high sugar and starch levels, a laneway system with low sugar and starch hay distributed in several places is far better than a small dirt yard.
The paddock paradise idea is where you fence off a laneway around the perimeter of a paddock using electric tape or similar around the perimeter of the whole property. Depending on the sugar sensitivity of your horses, you may have to kill the grass with Roundup or their grazing may limit the grass sufficiently. Grassy hay which is lowest of all the hays on average in sugars and starch could be distributed in the laneway.
Horses kept in paddock paradise type laneways are reported to move far more than horses in paddocks, happier with the increased activity and the movement is beneficial for managing sugar sensitivity and hoof quality.
Jaime Jackson, a barefoot enthusiast in America came up with the idea of paddock paradise. His book is called ‘Paddock Paradise, A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding’.
Alyssa Brugman offers a barefoot rehabititation centre in the Hunter Valley in NSW. With the time and effort needed daily to rehabilitate hooves, she has worked 'miracles' in bringing chronically lame horses back to soundness.
Alyssa's experience with 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. We changed the barbed wire to nylon sight wire and plain wire, then ran stand-offs on the inside. 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. If you can imagine there is very lush kikuyu undersown with clover on one (flat) side and then on the other (hill) side, the soil is poorer and we have more native grasses.
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 15 m (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, white line disease, 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 do better.
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 etc. They get to about 15 years old and they fall apart physically, or get sour and mean, or have mysterious incurable conditions. We take them, pull their shoes, balance their feet, put them in a herd and let them be horses, and they usually turn around. We can then send them back to their owners, or find a new home, or if they don't come good then they can stay with us.
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 horses:
1. I contacted Carol Layton of Balanced Equine 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 joint 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. Different horse!
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 story). Even their manes and tails were tangle free!
Trail riding 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 himself!
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 different paddocks.
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 rain).
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, Trevor, 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 used.
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.
I have found this to be so exciting. The difference has been quite dramatic and I haven't even finished yet.
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 ago.
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 run abreast.
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."
I'm grateful to Alyssa for her permission to publish her report on paddock paradise. Her report was originally written for the Myth Busters Natural Horse Care group. If you have a horse in dire need of skilled attention and rehabilitation, contact me for Alyssa's contact details. Alyssa lives in the Hunter Valley, NSW.
Jaime Jackson (2007) ‘Paddock Paradise, A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding’
Paddock Paradise Wiki