Paradise Paddocks

I recently visited a friend of mine who lives on a small holding on the steep side of a Welsh mountain. She has two ponies – one a troubled laminitic Section A, and the other an obese Section C – and a two year old donkey.

She has always been very conscious of the ponies weight, and five years ago I started going up there to lunge and ride the Section C, gravitating onto getting her back in the saddle. Her sons have also shown a bit of interest in riding, but hockey and rugby have always been a higher priority.

I`m going off subject. Last week I was really interested to see her latest way of keeping the weight off her ponies – Paradise Paddocks.

My friend adopted this technique last year, but took a break from it over the winter as it was unnecessary with scarce grazing. Paradise paddocks also enables her to grow her hay crop in the centre of the field, whilst providing grazing for her ponies in the hard-to-mow areas.

For those of you who haven`t heard of Paradise Paddocks, here`s the low down. Paradise Paddocks is a method which aims to mimic the natural environment of wild horses within the constraints of paddocks and fields. In the wild horses wander for miles every day, over all sorts of terrain, and browsing on bushes, shrubs and trees as well as grass. Obviously, this is quite difficult for most people to replicate.

Jaime Jackson first described this system as a series of tracks, approximately twenty feet wide around the perimeter of paddocks and fields, in which small herds of horses were kept. The tracks should incorporate various feeding and watering stations, to encourage the horses to move continuously around, and include sheltered areas, inclines, and a variety of soils. The sheltered areas are a necessity for the horse to rest, or avoid the elements, whilst the inclines work their muscles and aids fitness. Hooves are kept trimmed by the stoney areas. Jackson also suggested that the horses` should be stimulated by logs, shrubs or some woodland.

This is the ideal track system, and I found one that is exceptionally reproduced at this farm – http://www.all-natural-horse-care.com/paddock-paradise.html. However, not everyone has the facilities to recreate such an impressive track system. My friend`s big field is on a hill, so the ponies get plenty of incline work, and she has fenced the track around the small field with electric tape. To begin with the three equines only had half a side of the field. After a couple of days (perhaps I should add that the equids live in a sheltered, half concreted compound overnight in order to limit their food intake, and the hard concrete aids trimming their hooves) of grazing, the track was extended a bit further. My friend extends the track every couple of days, and when I was visiting it was on its third side. The field is next to the canal, and has trees along two sides, providing the ponies with interest and shade.

I was impressed with how the three equines looked. Neither pony is overweight or, at risk of laminitis, which is great. Donkeys evolved to live off very scarce grazing and so often suffer from illnesses induced by rich grass, however this donkey in question is looking very healthy. I think their slim figures is helped by them cantering around the track at a hundred miles an hour every morning to get to the fresh section. If you watch them you can also see that they wander around a lot more than horses in a normal paddock.

The centre of the paddock can then be used for cutting hay, as my friend does, without drastically reducing the amount of crop grown.

So what are the disadvantages of this system? My immediate thoughts were that there is a huge amount of fencing to maintain. Either using permanent fencing, even for some sections, or electric fencing which has the danger of the horses breaking through and gorging themselves on the hay crop. Obviously you know your own horse so can manage the track accordingly. The other problem I could foresee was that if the track was extensive, you could end up walking miles to go and catch your horse. The horses would need to come to call!

I did something similar, without realising, last summer with out ponies. I used the tracks between the paddocks and along the cross country trail, for grazing. The ponies only had small sections at a time, and ended up doing two jobs in one – lawn mowers for otherwise surplus grass, and walking long distances grazing so keeping themselves fit and trim.

From what I saw at my friends house, paradise paddocks seems to be a very good system for keeping small herds of horses, particularly if you have your own land. I can`t see it working at the traditional livery yard with separate paddocks, unless owners graze their paddocks in rings, thus having a track that spirals into the centre which would utilise the whole field and still mimic the natural environment of the horse. It would be interesting to see if anyone has managed to incorporate the track system into their livery yards.

8 thoughts on “Paradise Paddocks

  1. Susan Friedland-Smith Apr 13, 2014 / 6:18 pm

    I have never heard of this before but it really makes a lot of sense. My first 2 horses were pasture boarded on several acres. It was so great (not 2 mention cheaper than an actual boarding facility with stalls). Wish they had this configuration where we live now.

    • therubbercurrycomb Apr 13, 2014 / 6:20 pm

      I hadn’t heard of it before with either, but like you say it’s very logical and an efficient way of utilising the land.

  2. Kate Apr 14, 2014 / 8:00 am

    Makes a lot of sense Susy- makes me feel quite differently about the grazing I used to fence off in front of streams, ditches and tree lines- perhaps we are not giving our horses the opportunities to use their brains and muscles in their field wanderings…if I had money and land I would do this!

    • therubbercurrycomb Apr 14, 2014 / 7:30 pm

      Yes, I’m not really a fan of the small squares everyone puts their horses in now; I love the big fields with a couple of trees and a hedgeline on a hill as it gives the horses a lot to think about as they’re grazing. As well as the fact in a bigger field you get more of a selection of grasses and herbs and clover 🙂

  3. aspireequestrian Apr 14, 2014 / 6:52 pm

    That’s one on my bucket list 😉 To have an equine friendly livery yard that combines human comfort with horse comfort (in horse sense!). Some time ago I saw a blog somewhere with photos showing paddock paradise yards designs all over the world!

    • therubbercurrycomb Apr 14, 2014 / 7:31 pm

      It’s a really good idea for small holdings, but I can’t work out how best to do it on livery yards. Unless you had some tracks running next to each other so you could have mini herds of say 3 or 4 on each track?

  4. aspireequestrian Apr 14, 2014 / 6:53 pm

    Rockley Farm where I had Kingsley has a similar set up – it’s fabulous.

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