Recently I ordered another pile of sand for my horses’ paddock. After Bear’s diagnoses of PPID and EMS as well as suspected hind-limb arthritis, I began a few years ago keeping him on a small section of pasture that essentially then became a semi-dry lot.
For ten plus years, Bear was healthy with 24/7 pasture access on a couple of acres or so. As he entered his twenties, his weight gain and a series of laminitic episodes put an end to that. He has needed restricted pasture access ever since.
When horses are in a larger area, they are naturally going to have more options about where to comfortably stand, lay down, find shade, etc . . . I know that to most people, a pasture is just a pasture, but if you really take the time to notice, you will see that different sections can vary considerably in how flat/smooth/cushy they are. Weather can makes a big difference too in how muddy and soft vs. dry and hard the ground becomes.
Bear, at 25, definitely has more aches and pains than when he was younger. So do I. As I age, I have become increasingly aware of how much the type of footing affects my pain level and how well I am able to move across a particular surface. Too much time spent standing or walking on concrete? You will see me limp. But a fairly level, dirt trail? I can hold up better. I can’t say for sure that aged or unsound horses have the same experience, but I suspect they do.
So in order to provide Bear some different options for standing/laying down, I like to periodically bring in some piles of different types of footing. Pea gravel and sand are my two favorite for outdoor areas. A fluffy bedding like wood shavings is my favorite for a run-in shed.
I suspect that providing a couple of different footing options is especially important for dry-lotted horses. More folks are having dry-lots designed with specialty footing. This is terrific, but some dry-lots I have walked on are quite hard. I wonder if the horses may end up with problems from only standing and laying on hard surfaces. I have also read that some people think that arthritic horses actually like laying on hard surfaces because it provides a hard surface for them to lift off of when they rise. I can see this logic, too, but in watching Bear out my back window as he has aged, I can say hands-down that he has so far preferred to lay on a cushioned surface.
Sand and pea gravel move over time of course (and sand gets blown away by the wind too). I had noticed that Bear’s “sand box” had become pretty flat this year. It was definitely time for a refill.
Before I rake and flatten the mound, I like to mark its arrival by using it as a trail obstacle of sorts. Some folks with fancy, built-in trail obstacle courses will have a big mound of some kind of footing permanently kept as one of their obstacles. This is my backyard version of that. I played around with riding Shiloh over it during a recent ride. I also asked Bear to walk over it at liberty and do some little stretches and bows on top.
Always use caution and discretion in trying something like this. Some horses may have trouble navigating deep, unstable footing. It can be physically difficult for some and just plain scary for others. With an unfamiliar horse, I will introduce something like this slowly. I start in-hand by walking around the edges and letting them explore the mound by sniffing and pawing before asking them to tread up/down/across.