Mud and Winter Paddock Maintenance

Mud can be a horse-injuring, shoe-pulling, welly-losing, pony-breaking nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be an inevitable issue in the winter and wet months. Gateways, access tracks and areas around water drinkers and field shelters normally end up the muddiest and worse poached areas and consequently are the areas that horses frequent the most and get injured in the most – whether it’s mud fever or a strained tendon.


Your paddock may be unnecessarily (or inevitably) wet and muddy for a number of reasons, but the two most common reasons the water not being able to move away quick enough (lack of drainage) or the water can’t drain through the top layer of substrate (the top 300mm – 600mm of soil is compacted). The first reason (lack of drainage) can result in water logging, which in turn makes the soil structure even worse! The second reason (ground compaction) is very common, and whenever I carry out excavations in paddocks, I always notice some degree of compaction. This is easily shown when I excavate with a machine and the top 300mm of soil is wet, but the substrate below that top 300mm is bone dry – even after a day of rain.

The first thing to check are the field ditches – are they stagnant, blocked, collapsed, or filled with debris and also the field drainage plan to establish if there are any field drains or french drains in the field, where they are and where the outlets from the drains into the ditches are. The second thing to check is the field drains – the outlets need to be above the level of water in the field ditches (for obvious reasons). The field drains / french drains may need clearing or the ditch may be need clearing if the outlets are below the level of the water in the ditch. If there aren’t any field drains or french drains and the paddock is notoriously wet then chances are that there aren’t any field or french drains in the paddock, and the paddock may benefit from the installation of drainage.

French drains are usually around 500mm deep trenches (with or without drainage pipe), backfilled with 400mm of 40mm reject stone and a 100mm layer of topsoil on the top, connected to the drainage ditches at the lowest end of the field.

Mole drains are literally underground tunnels, cut just above the field drains with a mole plough on a tractor to improve the drainage into the field drains or french drains.


In certain soil substrates, french drains or field drains are of limited or no use, and mole drains connected directly to the drainage ditches are the best course of action. Correctly installed mole drains can last for well over 5 years, although I generally renew the mole drains on my own land every 3 years, depending on the land use. Mole ploughing is also advantageous as there is very little disturbance caused to the surface or grass in the paddock (depending on substrate type), meaning the paddock can usually be put back into use for grazing very quickly.

Muddy gateways and field shelter areas will also benefit from the improved drainage the above will create. However – if it is just the gateway, trough or field shelter area that is muddy, a simpler and cheaper option may be to install a hard standing area from crushed concrete or road planings. Field shelters will also benefit from being raised up off the mud and wet ground. This can be done simply by creating a slightly raised hard standing with a timber frame edge (to prevent it from subsiding) and backfilling it with a large (70mm – 100mm) stone base, crushed concrete or road planings with the field shelter on top.

Plastic or rubber grass mats can also be easily installed by scraping the worst of the mud away with an excavator, levelling the area and laying the matting before backfilling with an appropriate material. In areas that are really muddy, it may also be of benefit to install a large stone (40mm – 100mm) base under the matting to increase the drainage and give a firm base to prevent the matting from sinking.


All the above is work ACC Contracting routinely carried out throughout the year. Please contact Matt on 0782 606 7939 / 01491 837758 or for advice, costs and solutions to winter mud problems.

All the best,

Matt – ACC Contracting.

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