Living in a Paddock Paradise

The Paddock Paradise system provides horses with a more natural lifestyle.

We all would like our horses to lead happy, healthy lives. To achieve this, more and more people are looking for ways to return their horses to a more natural lifestyle. In 2006, Jaime Jackson released his book Paddock Paradise: A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding. The book was based on his 20 years of research following the wild horses of the Great Basin of Northern California and Nevada. It is a guide to natural boarding that simulates the wild horse’s lifestyle and how he lives and navigates in his environment.

Jaime studied the natural biological and physiological needs of wild horses and applied them to the domestic horse in an effort to bring our modern equines closer to their natural way of living. The Paddock Paradise concept offers a whole horse approach to a natural diet, lifestyle and environment.

Paddock Paradise benefits

The Paddock Paradise design encourages horses to move in groups or small herds all the time (24/7), which is what nature intended for them. This constant movement not only keeps a horse’s musculoskeletal system fit, limber and ready to sprint at any threat (in the case of the wild horse), but it reduces the time needed for warmup exercises in high performance domestic horses.

Horses that have traditionally been boarded in small paddocks with round bales, or kept in stalls, often show great physical improvement in a Paddock Paradise setup. In a short time, horses that were always bloated from too much feed/grass coupled with lack of movement lose the bloat and take on a more sleek and muscled appearance. It is an ingenious way to manage feeding practices and keep overweight or metabolic horses in check and moving. I remember when we took our young racehorses to the sale to qualify for the breeders’ stakes; people asked us if we were exercising them because they looked so fit. Of course we weren’t – it’s just that they lived outside 24/7 with constant movement!

The Paddock Paradise concept offers a whole horse approach to a natural diet, lifestyle and environment.

Any horse housed in a Paddock Paradise will develop magnificent, well-manicured hooves that can negotiate any terrain thrown at them — providing his diet is kept free of too much sugar (in the form of grain and green grass) and he is free to move all the time. The equine hoof was designed to undergo constant movement. This ensures constant pressure and release in the back of the hoof, which pumps blood into the hoof, nourishing the microscopic blood vessels and providing shock absorption.

We see horses improve mentally and become much happier when housed with herd mates in a Paddock Paradise. We’ve also witnessed horses that were unable to relax become calmer and less stressed. This is important, because stress increases your horse’s cortisol levels, which in turn increases insulin levels. This can trigger a laminitic response or episode.

Installing a Paddock Paradise

While the thought of changing around your pastures may seem daunting, a Paddock Paradise is easy to install and keep clean. It also reduces overall boarding costs since the barn manager does not need to buy expensive bedding, the manure can be cleaned up with a tractor, and hay wastage is kept to a minimal. Horses in this natural boarding situation may require less veterinary intervention since they are eating, moving and living closer to their natural environment. We do not see the pathologies or lamenesses in wild horses that we encounter in domesticated horses.

The track system can be inexpensive and easy to set up. It can also be as elaborate or creative as you want to get and can be adapted to any size of property. The first one I set up at my farm is just over an acre and remains in place today, helping to heal compromised horses and prevent those who live there from becoming laminitic. Initially, I set it up for about $200 using electric fencing and wooden posts for the center fencing, with the existing outer fence already in place. Or you can really dress it up by using System Fencing’s 4” Flex Rail (as shown in the photo), which is safer and looks nicer. Pea gravel can be used at watering holes and in shelters to help condition and exfoliate the hooves. Many horses with navicular like to stand inside the shelter with their back feet immersed in the pea gravel.

Prevention and healing

When given the opportunity to move and forage, as in a Paddock Paradise track system, the sick, laminitic or foundered horse can heal very quickly. I have seen horses go from chronic lameness to soundness in less than two weeks. The changes are remarkable; within no time, chronic lameness subsides and changes in the hooves can be dramatic. For horses with serious metabolic issues, a Paddock Paradise is a life changer and saver. The track system is both preventive and healing.

This natural habitat for boarding domestic horses of any breed or discipline will ensure healthy and happy equines. I highly recommend reading Jaime’s book; it provides great insight into the horse and how they live naturally. Your horses will thank you!