What is a track system (Paddock Paradise) and what benefits will it bring?
Jamie Jackson is one of the founders of natural hoof care and at the start of his journey, he was faced with a really difficult problem. He could trim and emulate a wild horse's feet with what he called a mustang roll and other techniques but he could not maintain or condition them. He realised that movement was the key after visiting a ranch with holding pens of wild horses. Where even the mustangs wild hooves had started to deteriorate with the lack of movement. He solved this issue by studying wild horses behaviour and invented a paddock paradise system. He found that this system not only promoted movement which developed foot structure but it also helped to rehabilitate and encourage healing.
Horses live longer in the wild than in domestication and In the wild, they haven’t vets, farriers or any kind of modern medicine. When a wild animal is taken by a zoo research goes into diet and habitat. The animal is kept as close to its natural environment as possible and generally, this animal lives longer. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with our domesticated horses and paddock paradise and similar systems are now the barefoot movements attempt to get our domesticated horses environment right. These track systems are also an excellent idea for breeding in a more natural way and for young foals to get up and running in an environment they need to mould their young hooves.
The aim of our paddocks is to provide domestic horses with a natural environment and both physically and mentally well-being. We are not keeping livestock for the food chain where well-being comes a distant second to cost, these horses are a big part of our lives and their well-being and quality of life is paramount.
The horse’s hoof is one of the alternate wonders of nature, It contains many structures which work in unison to form a foot, hoof capsule, hoof mechanism and shock absorption system all in one. It can withstand extreme changes in temperature, huge forces, it adapts to any condition and even crushes rocks. This adaption is amazing and It is only when this adaptation is exhausted that a horse becomes lame. Dr Bowker presented his scientific study to define the differences in structure between good and bad footed horses in 2003. He described what was currently looked at as a good foot and its shortcomings. Saying how traditional thinking looks at the conformation of the horse and how everyone had their own definition. Importantly pointing out that most people's interpretation of a good foot is based on cosmetics by looking at external features. Bowker a few years later when talking about his studies he said that he tried looking at other areas of the foot, but found himself always returning to the back of the foot. This development is the key to taking a horse barefoot and it is forged over miles and not time. My job as a hoof care provider is to facilitate heel first landing helping to develop the back of the foot and an owner job is to provide the movement. Their feet need to be nurtured and conditioned to become a barefooted horse and if they aren't they are merely unshod.
The paddock paradise system helps to forge this foot and also keeps that foot healthy. Like the wild horses in the holding pen, a good foot needs to be maintained just like muscles. However, a track system is not just about feet it’s about the overall conditioning of our horses as well. Pasture horses are fitter because they get more movement and this extra exercise has been proven that these horses have significantly better bone density than their stabled counterparts. A horse that lives on a track system has, even more, movement and a much better diet. Therefore, it would be reasonable to assume that bone density would be better as well as fitness, condition and health. In fact, it is a great way to mould our horses into equine athletes. It also helps a horse to heal and prevents injuries. The suspensory apparatus which supports the fetlock joint acts like a sling preventing hyperextension and limiting palmar flexion. However, a little-known fact is a conditioned barefooted horse with a well formed back of the foot has a substantial digital cushion which among many things also acts as a stopper. The digital cushion not only helps to stop ligaments and tendons from over stretching but also cushions the descent of the fetlock. So these environments promote movement, back of the foot development thus healing and injury prevention. Horses on a track are ready to go, 24/7 turnout gives them movement, therefore, no warm up is needed. A horse that has been standing still in a stable or stuck around a feeder will have to be warmed up before exercise.
In the wild, horses follow trails and the paddock paradise system is designed to take advantage of this innate behaviour. Horses will generally stick to one area called a range and the trails within that range are their roads which link grazing and watering holes. Mustangs of the midwest grazing is sparse and they are constantly on the move looking for better grazing, This behaviour is used in a paddock paradise system where hay is placed in small piles around the track and horses will move from one pile to another. In the paddock paradise system, this movement from one pile of food to another is innate behaviour, however, some of this is also dominance where horses are shifted on by more dominant horses and this works even better when there are tip bits in the piles. Horses sleep and rest in the open during the day for short periods this is because other horses are able to stand over them on the lookout for predators. So it will be important to give horses areas where they can sleep and rest in our systems. This may need to be a high area, where they can camp out as JJ puts it. Horses move from different types of pasture getting different nutrients and minerals. These mineral are sometimes acquired from grinding rocks with their teeth.
The really good thing about a paddock paradise system is that it can be modified to the land you have available. The terrain can be changed but not the climate, unfortunately. In the UK the wet conditions even in the summer cause issues where owners have had to come up with ingenious alternatives during wet periods. If you have more land than a couple of acres you can put this land back to good use such as growing your own hay. In fact, you are better off with poorer quality land with woods or rugged hills or even better both. We want to emulate the wild horses range and stimulate natural activities as much as possible on track. The horse has to walk, eat, play and sleep and as to have areas to accommodate this. The intention of the track system is to keep the horses moving and to cover over 10 miles a day. However, one of the most important benefits of a track system is to take horses off lush green paddocks. Considerably reducing the laminitis risks. These laminitis/founder traps can be changed by adding more natural grasses, but they are still not safe and we need to keep a close eye on weather conditions for the build up of sugars. To keep horses healthy your horse needs a high fibre low carb, quality fat diet and as much movement as possible.
One of the most important things is to feed our horses off the floor, 55 million years of evolution have moulded the horse to eat from the ground. Therefore, hay should be placed around the track at regular intervals some should contain other mixes of foods such as fibre pellets, and others mixed grasses. Free choice mineral and sea salt should be in a couple of places around the track. A natural water hole if possible, but if not overflow a trough and surround it with river stones. At regular intervals around the track put different stones for example rocks, sand, pea gravel. A horse needs room to run and play so every day there should be turnout time in the centre of the track where they aren’t allowed to stop and graze, but move their feet and show exuberant. Our own horses love this time and there are flying hooves everywhere, we have one person at either end of the field and we whoop and yelp encouraging this. I’m afraid I can’t take them into the sweet shop and not give them any sweets, so we let them have half hours grazing before we kick them back on track. Our horses run often and always at dusk what we call ‘their mad five’. There is always something that will happen during the day to instigate a flight run. Usually, it will be something happening behind a tall thick hedgerow where there is a small lane in their winter field. The track will need shelter and shade either natural or an open shelter. You have to work with what you have and be imaginative, look for ideas from other websites and make use of the roughest ground and hills you have. You can put sections of rocks and gravel around the track slowly making it more abrasive. You can also remove the grass if you want to, but you will find it may disappear anyway depending on your weather and ground conditions. Cross grazing with goats may be a good idea and they generally steer clear of the horses. In the wild large dung piles mark territory or areas where different herds pass. Leaving dung piles on your track can encourage movement and place near neighbouring horses encourage them to use the facility.
Paddock paradise tries to put horses in as natural environment as possible and promotes the movement that is vital for a sound horse. It motivates the horse's instincts to move and kicks in their natural behaviour. Do we need a track system to develop the back of the foot? Well, no, we can put in the miles. Nevertheless, a track system does it for us so we don’t have to worry about our horse's feet or fitness we just get on and go!
© Copyright 2015 Chris Simpson