Building a paddock paradise for your horses can help simulate the natural movement and foraging habits of their wild ancestors.
For those not familiar with the concept of Paddock Paradise, it’s an increasingly popular way of boarding horses. It’s based on the naturally healthy lifestyle of U.S Great Basin free-roaming wild horses as written about in Paddock Paradise: A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding by natural hoof care and wild horse expert, Jaime Jackson. According to Jackson’s research and studies, bands of family members travel along familiar routes he calls “tracks”, as they go from one place to the next in their various territories. Because they are animals of prey, wild horse bands instinctively move in close formations across their home ranges as they seek out forage, water, rolling spots, others bands with whom they wish to interact, and many other activities essential to their biology and survival.
By creating similar “tracks”, a Paddock Paradise encourages natural movement or travel in horses, upon which they will create their own “paths” — very narrow, worn down areas where travel or forward movement is the sole activity. As with wild horses, traveling along a familiar and efficient “path of least resistance” seems to be the unspoken but well-understood objective among domestic horses as well. A track should be as wide as is necessary for the activity to take place — narrower in areas designed simply to move the horses, and wider in places where they’ll stop and camp, eat, sleep, rest, play, etc. In either case (track or path), the survival instinct is the driving force behind the movement.
Physical and Psychological Benefits
Paddock Paradise lays out a broad template for creating tracks and has specific recommendations for stimulating movement based on a variety of natural equine behaviors. The principal goal is to facilitate health and soundness, both physical and mental, in domesticated horses. Paddock Paradise is the “cure” or antidote to the many conditions, illnesses and disorders afflicting domestic horses as a consequence of living in stalls or other forms of close confinement, or being turned out on lush, sugar-laden grass pastures that can cause laminitis.
In addition to preventing or rehabilitating preventable illnesses and diseases, a Paddock Paradise also minimizes or ends boredom, which often means an end to stall vices, irritability or depression. When horses are allowed to live in a manner that more closely resembles their natural habitat, not only are they healthier but happier. A Paddock Paradise allows horses to be outside and moving 24/7, and lets them eat in a more natural manner by having constant access to the right kinds of food.
A Reasonably Natural Diet
The horse’s digestive system is not designed to endure long absences of food interrupted by an abrupt consumption of large meals — which is the manner in which many facilities feed. In the past six years, numerous Paddock Paradises have been created throughout the country and around the world — at both commercial boarding facilities and on private properties.
Providing a “reasonably natural diet” through a variety of grass hays in a free choice manner is a staple of the Paddock Paradise system. Depending on where you live, you may wish to spread numerous small piles of hay throughout various eating areas on the track, or place it inside slow feed hay nets located strategically along the track at designated eating areas or feed stations. The nets help avoid waste from winds and prevent hay from being mixed into muddy areas, or soiled with urine and feces. Mud is definitely one of the most frustrating elements for horse owners to contend with in wet climates. It is worth having dirt or a road base brought in to keep the track dry and well-drained.
In summary, creating a Paddock Paradise for your horses will help them live more closely to how nature intended. The physical and mental benefits are immeasurable and long lasting.
Jill Willis is a Natural Hoof Care/Horse Care advocate and Board Member of the AANHCP (Association for the Advancement of Natural Horse Care Practices) and a partner of Jaime Jackson’s at the Institute for the Study of Natural Horse Care Practices. Her oldest horse, ZA Apollo+ (now 24 years) spent most of his first 19 years shod on all four feet as a result of her ignorance, and gets all the credit for her shifting to a different and better paradigm.
Jaime Jackson is a 35-year veteran hoof care professional, lecturer, author, researcher and noted expert on wild and domestic horse hooves. In the early 2000s, Jaime created the American Association of Natural Hoof Care Practitioners, now called the Association for the Advancement of Natural Horse Care Practices (aanhcp.net). He has written two books: The Natural Horse: Lessons from the Wild, and most recently, Paddock Paradise: A Guide to Natural Boarding. Jaime resides in central California and continues to maintain a trimming and rehabilitation client base.