This photo is of Pie last February in the mud.
And here is one of the boys in May.
I am posting these to help myself remember how frustrated I was last winter with the mud and my pastures. But, grass does come back over the summer. I need to remember this because I am very depressed right now about the state of our pastures.
I am usually very optimistic, but my return from Florida this year has left me with little hope within a sea of positives. My horses are fat and furry. They are in large pastures that wind around and encourage movement. They are outside 24/7 which seems to me to promote good digestion and good mental health. I am pleased with their weights, even Foggy. Their coats are fluffy and seem adequate for nighttime chilly temperatures. That is all the good news. And it is very good news. I want to enjoy these nuggets of good and be grateful for them. My horses didn't colic or get injured when I was gone. They didn't need a farrier or vet visit the whole time. I devised a safe system for my farm helper to put them inside their stalls if necessary, but it wasn't necessary at all. I should be ecstatic. And, I have ridden each of them this week and they were perfect. In fact, I rode them all bareback! I rode Pie the first day with a saddle, but now he is safe and I rode him yesterday bareback too.
So where is the problem?
I don't think my horses look happy in the pastures like they once did. There I said it. This is where I lose my mind in a circle of worry and self doubt.
The entire fenced area looks like sacrifice pasture. It is all mud. All of it. I understand the concept of pasture rotation and pasture management. I also understand the opposite view, that of the Paddock Paradise paradigm which points to the rotation system as a recipe for lush green grass and colic/founder traps. Which is really correct? My horses aren't fat little Nordic ponies that founder on a blade of grass, but Thoroughbreds can colic and founder too and rotation from sparse pastures to rested ones would require 15 minute incremental increases of grazing time every pasture change. I don't live on the property and I do not want to toy with their healthy (so far) digestion.
My only electric source/water source that keeps a trough perfectly ice-free for the horses is in the muddiest of our pastures. And, Sovereign likes to swim daily in that bucket, splashing water in the already muddy area. We have other buckets around, but they are unheated and need constant attention. Sovey also swims in them. Pea gravel is in the future, but proper preparation would be necessary to ensure drainage and save the pea gravel from disappearing in the sucking mud.
The horses used to eat small piles of hay as their primary source of food and then wander around all day nibbling grass. They seemed mentally healthy in all that movement and entertainment. Now, there is no grass to nibble. They stand aimlessly for hours looking toward my mom's house or our farm helper's house waiting for the next feeding of hay or hand grazing session from me, just like the poor burros in Jaime Jackson's Paddock Paradise book.
They love the grazing and grooming and riding sessions, but I am only one person and it takes me 2 hours to do that well with each horse. I can give 6 hours some days, but everyday just isn't realistic. If they were happily moving in their pastures I would be able to spend 2 hours with one horse a day and then alternate the next day with another horse. That is how it is supposed to work. That is how it was working. Now, it seems to me like they are over anxious to get out of the pastures and very hesitant to go back in after a ride. This just wasn't the case before.
Our area received record rainfall this year. Is this what happened? Or did Foggy's arrival tip the balance of my pasture to horse ratio? Paddock Paradise owners scrape the top layer of grass off to get to the mud! Should I applaud our mud? Am I just letting my former "horses need wide, green pastures" sensibilities over take me?
I seriously am losing my mind. When I arrive each day, I think my horses look like they are in zoo cages. I never thought that before because they were always so busy. I used to have trouble finding them because they were out somewhere having a good time. Now, they are standing in the mud waiting for me.
Animal ownership is a tenuous balance to my brain anyway. I constantly live on the edge of questioning what is in it for them. That is how I am hardwired and this type of worry isn't new to me. For the first few years of re-entry into the horse world, though, I felt very pleased with what I was providing. Our last year of rain left me wondering about it all - even in summer our grass was a mirage from the road. It looked like it was green, but when you walked through the pastures, it was just tiny nubbins of baby thin grass in dirt.
When it rains, like last night, it rains in inches. So, I put the horses inside the barn all night last night. I thought they probably needed a break from standing in muck. Their sheds are dry and bedded well, but they have to walk through a few feet of mud to get into them.
Am I just a stupid human? Did they hate their night inside due to boredom and stale air and the lack of proper walking movement? Would they have been just fine - no, better - in the mud? These are the questions I have been wrestling with since the summer and all has come to a head since my return from Florida.
I dreaded posting about this because writing it down just makes me succumb to the worry all the more. I am hopeful you all can help with your solutions/ideas.