How to Get Your Horse’s Dry Lot Ready for Winter!
- In the dreamiest of dream worlds, weather and pastures and turnouts would be perfect all year long. But alas, they are not. For those times when a dry lot is your best bet, there are a few things you can do to make it ready for wet, muddy, and wintery weather. Coincidentally, many of these “to-dos” also work for other seasons.
Dry lots are fantastic for so many reasons, such as when the grass paddocks are too muddy or dangerous.
- Dry lots can have lots of different types of footing, from sand to fine gravel, to bluestone, to mulch, to clay (UGH) or just plain natural earth. The best footing will definitely vary from location to location.
- Ideally, footing in a dry lot is easily drained, doesn’t turn to mud and muck with the mere thought of a sprinkle, and isn’t so deep that horses can strain their tendons and ligaments.
- Does footing in a dry lot need to be groomed like an arena? YES. You may not be doing it daily or even monthly, but bringing a drag around can even things out and fill in any washed-out areas.
- Obvi, do the best you can with what you have. You can always add mats to popular horse stomping areas. I also read that one clever barn owner would repurpose used carpet in heavily trafficked areas. Over time, the horses will grind it into the ground and you may need to pull it up and reset it. You can also get mesh-like products to be a base for gravel or stone dust to keep the mud at bay.
- Mud is probably the biggest dry lot challenge as winter weather sets in. A sloped lot is a great place to start. You can also put mini trenches under fences to get water to drain away from your lot. You can carve larger trenches during particularly challenging rain. You don’t have to be fancy here, I’ve re-routed plenty of water out of dry lots by using the pointy end of a muck rack to drag a line into the footing. When you do this enough, you start to get an idea of what areas need a more permanent fix.
- French drains under gravel can help, too, but keep the drains under fences and away from hooves.
You can shore up footing under fences to keep water out, if need be.
- Think about how easy or difficult it will be to get water to your dry lots. I’m guessing that most paddocks are set up so that the water supply, trough, or buckets are along a fence. Water pipes can be insulated above ground with pipe insulation. Logically. You can pile up some compost where the pipes come out of the ground for extra warmth in the winter.
- If keeping a water trough un-frozen in the winter is a huge challenge, keep the water out of the trough and use a smaller muck tub with a built-in heater inside your trough. You may be filling it more often, but smaller vessels are easier to manage.
- If you are lugging buckets out to a dry lot, I envy your biceps. Just be sure to use rubber buckets in cold weather, as colorful plastic ones tend to crack in winter weather if you end up needing to whack some ice.
Rubber buckets for winter!
- Of course, the most popular place in a dry lot is next to the food. Mix up where the piles or tubs are located to help prevent extra wear and mud. Of course, using tubs with a slow feeder inside is a great way to keep everyone occupied when grass pasture isn’t happening.
- Using mats is also an option. Like giant placemats for horses, which can be easily hosed off if need be.
The gate area.
- Besides being the site of shenanigans and begging horses, gates often need some care of their own. Sagging gates in winter make navigating deep footing, mud, and snow tricky. If you can, prop the bottom of the gate on a block of wood to keep the hinges from wearing down, creating sag.
- Mulch is also a great tool to use around gates to help keep the footing intact and easily navigated. If you want a more permanent solution, gravel is good also. Go for the smaller rounded styles and not the big chunky driveway gravel types.
This gate rests on a little log to keep the hinges working well, and preventing the gate from sagging.
Ease of cleaning.
- Come up with a system to easily get the poop out of your paddocks. My own horse’s dry lot is literally attached to a compost bin, so I can just heave-ho the poops over. Keep a wheelbarrow handy, and clean often.
- Some horses truly prefer to urinate in soft and fluffy places, so give them a place to do that. Even piling up “used” shavings or bedding can tempt your horse’s to urinate in a tidy place while in their dry lot. As they are outside, any stink will easily dissipate.
“Used” shavings create a soft and tempting place for your horse to urinate outside. Or roll.
- It bodes well to be sure any shelters are safe, so do your repairs and inspections before the weather turns. The transition between shelter and paddock is also a high traffic area, so time to do what you need to do. If there’s a low spot at that transition, you could fill in with some sand or gravel. Or turn it into a trench. Lots of ideas.
- If you have a lovely and giant rolling magnet, these can be great for double-checking that your dry lot and shelter area hasn’t burped up stray metal pieces.
This gravel topped paddock shows the water draining away from the gate. It’s muddy, but it could be much worse if the water pools by the gate.
Dry lots can be your horse’s best option for wintertime turnout, so work on tuning them up before you are moving things around in bad weather. How do you get your lots ready for winter?