Mud can be a shoe-pulling, tendon-tweaking nightmare — but must it be an inevitable part of winter? With the ground starting to dry up, now is an ideal time to address the problem.

Muddy gateways and water trough areas used to be a pain, but with the trend towards wetter weather, they’re becoming a real issue,” says groundworks specialist Mark Snelson of Groundlines.

“Land drainage is potentially a big job and the water will need to be piped somewhere. But there are other options, depending on your budget.”

Mark’s advice for a relatively cheap long-term gateway solution is to excavate the area and strip the topsoil away before laying a ground membrane.

A layer of stone — 15cm for light traffic and horses — can then be laid and topped off with smaller stone or tarmac planings that will pack down.

“This would cost around £10 per square metre,” he says.

“You’ll need to extend across the width of the gateway and at least 3m either side. If finances allow, a plastic grid system such as Ecoblock on top will allow grass to grow through, but will provide a tough, mud-free footing.”

A more costly and permanent solution is to lay a large concrete pad.

“The concrete needs a certain type of ridged finish that is non-slip and fairly kind to the feet, but [one that] you can sweep clean,” says Mark.

“Expect to pay around £40 per square metre, all-inclusive.”

While it is feasible to carry out these works at this time of year, Mark points out that the job
will be easier in summer when the ground is less saturated.

But what if you’re up to your knees in mud and need an instant solution?

“If you have electric fencing, try moving the gate,” suggests pasture expert Miles Greenwood of Equine Pasture Maintenance.

“Tipping a load of large, clean hardcore can help provide a higher, dryer area, but ideally it needs rolling flat, which can be difficult in such wet conditions.

Woodchip is probably a better bet in a real emergency, but this will need replacing with something more substantial long-term.

Mats are another option, but if they’re not laid properly on a hardcore base, they can sink into the mud and stick up at the corners.”

To avoid trashing fields completely in winter, Miles recommends fencing off and woodchipping a “loafing area”.

This will provide some level of turnout and prevent horses congregating at the gateway where the damage is done.

“It’s not a cheap option, but it can work really well and reduce poached ground,” he explains.

According to Chris Playdon-Heal of Horse Therapy UK, a round pen made of interlocking galvanized steel railings would be large enough to turn out one or two horses.

Prices start at £985 for 9m diameter and £1,560 for 15m — plus £200-300 extra for a woodchip surface (plus VAT and delivery).

“It’s an effective way of avoiding the many problems associated with mud,” says Chris.

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This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (20 February 2014)