Article & Pics By Guest Blogger – SUSAN KAUFFMAN
A “Litterbox” for Horses?
If you have ever kept horses in a paddock situation, you may have noticed that they seem to have an uncanny knack for locating their preferred urine area in exactly the spot you least want it. This can lead to a mucky, stinky mess that is not only unpleasant, but may actually contribute to hoof ailments such as thrush and white line disease. Training them to go elsewhere is possible, but time consuming and difficult. The key in such situations, therefore, is not to train them, but to tempt them into going where you want them to. How do you do this? By understanding what makes a desirable “washroom”, equine style.
There are two main elements that determine where a horse generally chooses to urinate. One is convenience: they don’t want to have to walk too far from their favorite hangout place, which is usually near where they are fed. The second is the “splash factor”, meaning how likely the horse is to get splashed by its own urine. Horses don’t like this any more than we do, so they seek out areas where the ground is soft, broken up or otherwise absorbent. Some people realize this and try to create a tempting pee spot by putting down shavings in the part of the paddock where they would like the horses to go. This will often work – for a while – but then the shavings become saturated with urine and/or rain, and you end up with a huge, wet, difficult to clean up mess.
A better solution is to use pea gravel (or in this case, we might say “pee” gravel): small, round-edged gravel that will not compact but will easily sift through a manure fork. Half a yard will usually do, an amount you can haul in the back of most pick-up trucks. What you want to do is make a low pile of this gravel in an area not too far from the “hang out” zone, ideally on a slight slope so that the urine won’t puddle up underneath. If you don’t have a sloped area, you might want to create one by bringing in some fill to create a little hill, capping that with road base, then putting your pea gravel on top.
Once you have created your “urinal”, you can get the horses started on it by scooping up a shovel full of urine/dirt from the area they are currently using, and spreading that on the new gravel area. This transferal of scent will help give them the idea by playing into their territorial instincts. It may also help to block off the old area to encourage them to use the new one. Usually, however, they need little encouragement, as most horses find the pea gravel is very attractive for this purpose. What you then have is an inexpensive, long-lasting, self-draining area that keeps the horses feet dry and prevents the formation of a muck pit. The only maintenance required will be picking up any manure and the occasional topping up of the gravel.
Speaking of manure, you probably find that the piles tend to pile up near the feeding area – again, the convenience thing. To make the cleaning of this area more convenient for you, you might want to make yourself a “poo through”: a little covered area to shelter a wheelbarrow just outside the fence. Space your fence boards/wires in that section to make it easy to get a manure fork through, and voila – you can quickly pick out that area at any time without having to bring the wheelbarrow into the paddock. Stepping in manure is also a real hazard to hoof health, so the more you can do to get that stuff out of the way, the better.