View Full Version : please tell me about french drains

Dec. 3, 2009, 06:09 PM
I've had it had it had it with the rain this year. My high traffic area around the run-in has become a swimming pool again and its not even the wet season yet, winter is going to be miserable if I don't do something.

I self-care board.... though I have plans to stay a while at least, its not my place, so dumping tons of $$$ is not in my best interest.

The area around the run-in happens to be low-lying (why they built the barn in the valley of two small rises, I'll never figure :no:).... it used to be pure muck, but I shoveled in 2 tons of gravel and 3 tons of concrete sand, so now its sandy gravelly muck. At least it doesn't suck your boots off any more, but its a splashy mud pool and I can't take it any more.

Will a french drain help? there is no way I can trench to "low lying" ground, I'm basically in a shallow pit, but I can make a wide trench that can go to a non-compacted zone that hopefully will leech?

I dunno.. perhaps I'm rambling, but I'm getting desperate.

Any advice is appreciated.

Dec. 4, 2009, 10:30 AM
If the run-in shed is at the low spot, I don't think french drain willl help because it needs a low spot to drain excess water to. Also, did you say that this is a boarding facility not yours? It isn't cheap to build a proper french drain...

One thing that might help your plight is to lay down those ring rubber mats. They won't help with drainage but at least they will help to stabilize the ground so you don't get mud sputter everywhere.

Dec. 4, 2009, 10:45 AM
If you intend to change the path of the water, you are intending to change the heights of the terrain: do you intend to use a backhoe?
I worked for someone who had a French drain and it was a major maintence problem, because of the erosion. Once you change a water course, you are, basically, re-engineering the area's hydrolics. Since you rent the place, you may want to re-think the drain idea.
Matts will have limited help. I have some in high traffic areas, and they slip, get covered with dirt, have to be bolstered up et cetera--in essence, maintained. I put them down because I was worried about the ingestion of sand.

I know that not much of this helps you. Obviously, the place you are boarding --this paddock,at least--is exhausted land. Short of a load of high quality dirt and a tough, traffic-taking forage allowed to grow over, you are going to have increased water problems and dust problems. If you owened the place, I would say to order a dumptruck and a large amount of seed, then let the paddock sit fallow for a few months, at least. is the property owener unaware or unconcerned about the deteriorating condition of the land? Will they let you switch paddocks?

Unfortunately, for the welfare of your horses, you have some hard thinking to do.

Dec. 4, 2009, 11:53 AM
Did mats not help you? Well they helped me.. When we first completed our barn, there were bare dirt (clay) all around the barn and with the heavy rain all the collected water from the roof dumping onto the bare dirt made a huge mess. We put down some ring mat all around the barn and that helped.

And our french drain has no maintenance. It was done almost 7 years ago and well, I never had to do anything to it. But again we hired someone who knew how to build that thing (not just someone who had a backhoe). He digged trench around three sides of our arena, laid down fabric, rocks, perforated pipes, more rocks, and cover with more dirt, and the pipe saw the day light at another trench that drain to the pond. The completed system still has groove so the water may run on top along the groove.

Dec. 4, 2009, 01:18 PM
Thanks everyone.

Yes, sadly, though I do board the owners aren't interested in making any improvements. I mean, if a fence falls down or the roof leaks, they'll fix that, but they're content to live in muck themselves, they're not going to assist me. And, since I rent, it makes zero sense to hire help or spend gobs of $$$.

I WISH I could just shut the swampy area down, and/or use another paddock and let this spot heal, but thats not a possibility... I rent ajoining paddocks and a barn with a run-in. The horses live out 24/7 and the run-in is their only shelter. The muck problem is the entry of the run-in...

I had read about french drains and figured a 40' trench is something I could tackle by hand over the course of a few days, and fill with gravel, but its extremely labor intensive what with the geofabric needed, gravel itself isn't cheap to get trucked to me, etc. And you're right, I don't have a low lying area to drain to, as I am the low lying area, I'd be hedging my bets that a good long wide trench would help leech the standing water... but I'd be putting in all the effort and cost just to hope the water would leech.

Mats, sadly, may be my best bet. Though fill like sand, stonedust and gravel is costly to get trucked in, I have a source of marl on the farm-site that I can use as a base. Marl is awful for fill for horse traffic (ask me how I found that out), it gets sticky and gross like clay and mixes with everything and makes a mess, but I could use it build up a section and then cover that with large heavy stall mats. I'd probably drive large 18" carriage bolts down through the mats to help keep them stable.... but I will eventually have to deal with them sliding around too.

Mats at the least are an investment I could take with me, whereas sand or gravel, etc, is basically a donation to someone else's land.

Oh well.. it felt good to vent at least... thanks all for your help.

Dec. 4, 2009, 01:32 PM
Buck, try those ring mats. They are the ones with holes all over it. We got ours from tractor supply. The holes will dig into existing dirt and help to stabalize it. Ours didn't hav problem sliding around. If we had used solid mat, I imagine we would have that problem.

As a matter of act, we even put some old straw on top the ring mats to provide a drier ground.

Oh they aren't perfect. They are just well better than nothing.

Dec. 4, 2009, 01:48 PM
Thanks, I have a tsc nearby actually and will look... I do currently have a bunch of smaller mats (3x3') that have holes - they're human anti-fatigue mats but are sturdy enough for horse traffic, I generally use them for my wash area - but I find the mud will ooze through the holes and they will sort of disappear after a few days.... hopefully the ones you're mentioning are a bit different?

currently my hole-y mats are strewn for a walkway, and are covered by about .5" of muck and 3" of water...


thank you!

Tom King
Dec. 4, 2009, 04:10 PM
You have to be able to move the water somewhere downhill for them to do any good once they are full and the ground can't take any more water.

Dec. 4, 2009, 07:18 PM
Have you looked at prices for moveable shelters? It
might make sense to put up a portable run-in for your
horses on higher ground. You could consider taking
the portable with you when/if you move or selling
it at that point. I have a Golden Fox portable which
is bolted together (and can be unbolted back into
its components for moving). Something like that
might serve. Just do remember to put strong
ground anchors in to hold the building down.

Dec. 4, 2009, 08:31 PM
well, to drain the water you would have to dig a sizable hole in the ground, past the water barrier (like clay etc) and then fill it with gravel.

I had a water collecting low spot in my back yard in my old house. I had that on the to-do list (yeah right! :lol:) but considering I was sitting on yellow clay, I was positively scared to dig that deep, what if the clay layer was yards and yards deep! :eek: :cool:

Dec. 4, 2009, 09:37 PM
Thanks, I have a tsc nearby actually and will look... I do currently have a bunch of smaller mats (3x3') that have holes - they're human anti-fatigue mats but are sturdy enough for horse traffic, I generally use them for my wash area - but I find the mud will ooze through the holes and they will sort of disappear after a few days.... hopefully the ones you're mentioning are a bit different?

If this is the case, this is what I would do.... Put down the mats and add a thick layer of straw/hay on top of it so you are dry. Don't worry about the mud oozing through the holes. You probably can't prevent it. And leave the mats in like that. Don't try to dig the mats up. The mats need to stay there to become part of the structure of the ground. The mats around my barn have been totally covered by dirt and grass now but that is OK. They keep the ground firm even after down pour.

Dec. 4, 2009, 10:43 PM
What about cow carpet? I am in the same situation, boarding on turnout, but my two are low on the totem pole and can't get into the one shelter. I've considered buying one of those Amish built shelters, but even if I could afford it - there is no guarantee that they still wont be shut out by other horses.

Dec. 5, 2009, 12:19 PM
hhhmmmmm, cow carpet looks interesting...

Gloria, I get it, just sacrifice the mats to the earth and then build on top, good idea, since settling down, they are holding steady.

thanks everyone for all the great suggestions!!!!!!!!!!

Dec. 6, 2009, 12:42 PM
OP, how big an area are you going to fix and how deep is the mud? After reading this thread I'm interested in trying a similar fix in one of my paddocks that has been partially ruined by my fence walker. But I think my situation is even worse than yours although the location isn't as bad. So i'd love to hear how this works for you.

Good luck. And to think I used to whine about the spring mud season. After an entire year of mud I'll never complain about 3 months of it again.

Dec. 6, 2009, 04:37 PM
its approximately 15x45' area, the entire entrance to the run-in. Since having moved in a great deal sand and gravel the mud isn't all that bad actually, as in, its not slippery or sucking your boots off, but it doesn't drain either and the area surrounding *is* boot sucking mud, so its just a matter of time before it erodes back. I'm dealing with about 2" of mud and 4" of standing water.

On the other side of the building, where my hay is stored, my horses like to hang out and sunbathe (and try to pull bales of hay out, they succeeded on Friday... lovely mess I had to clean). That area I have not filled or treated and that is about 10" of really slick and sticky mud, well over my ankles.

Its just these two spots, otherwise my horses are out on 2.5 acres of well draining pasture, they're not standing in slop all day, but its the high traffic area through which I have to walk through as well... it gets on my nerves real fast.

I'm going to look into the cattle carpet, if its relatively inexpensive I'll give it a shot, otherwise I'm going to just get more sand and probably mat over the top of it as Gloria has suggested.

Dec. 6, 2009, 05:46 PM
Thanks! I'm dealing with about the same area but mine IS 10 " of mud sucking hell. The horse that likes to fence walk is 16 2 but when he is out there trashing the paddock he is only about 14 2. What a mess.

Someone suggested I get a BIG load of wood chips and start with that. Anyone out there jumping up and down yelling "NO"?

Don't mean to hijack your post. I'll switch over if needed.

Please do keep us posted on your project. (You must have been pulling your hair out when you discovered that hay mess)

Dec. 6, 2009, 06:33 PM
I'm jumping NO. The people that put wood chips in their turnout had a floating river of woodchips. They stepped in and there was inches of water under it. Think of how logs used to be shipped down rivers in the old days, chips float.

Dec. 7, 2009, 02:04 PM
Someone suggested I get a BIG load of wood chips and start with that. Anyone out there jumping up and down yelling "NO"?

I'll shout NO too... I tried cedar mulch in a test area (5x10 walkway between gates) a few months ago. Its the closest thing I could find to "hogsfuel".

I scraped a layer of mud off and disposed of it, dumped in about 250# of sand, then mulched 4" deep on top..... it looked gorgeous and held up for a while... until the woodchips started breaking down with repeated heavy traffic and saturation. Now I have more muck than when I started with, but thankfully, its sandy muck.

Also, 2 days after laying down the cedar, my horse was impaled through the frog by a 3" thorn, awfully scary place for a deep puncture, glad I had my wits about me that morning and it didn't become more serious... anyhow, the thorn was likely in the mulch.

Dec. 7, 2009, 02:08 PM
(You must have been pulling your hair out when you discovered that hay mess)
you could've fried an egg on my forehead :lol: I was boiling mad.

Took 2 hours to get part of it shoveled up and I have another 3-5 hours of work facing me, the muck was dis.gust.ing, and its been their new favorite toilet since now too. :no: the hay has soaked up the water, been churned 1' deep into the thick black muck and it weights a ton. ugh.

my fault for leaving bales of hay temptingly close to the door though.:no:

Dec. 7, 2009, 02:26 PM
A photo would help but we just put in 700 ft of drain pipe..however, we did it in the natural areas where water would naturally travel. We rented a ditch witch from Home Depo. It is not hard to do with that, but you will need a lot of gravel and a front end loader. Basically it's gravel, pipe, gravel. In your case if you do this you will have to build up the area near the run shed. You can do the cow carpet and put bluestone on top of it. If you can create a hill down to the drain pipes it should work, but the water ultimately needs a place to go. Ours went 500 ft. to a pond. It took two of us a three day weekend and some swearing but it has really, really helped.

Dec. 8, 2009, 10:56 PM
Just a clarification please? The drain is actually filled with gravel, right? So once we repair the part of the paddock where dopey has "fence walked" we can put him back out there and he can resume his little habit? Or will he punch through the drain?

And no, he's not going into my only other paddock. He'll just trash that one.

I am thinking of putting my spare fence panels around the garden and let him roto-till it this spring.

Dec. 10, 2009, 09:45 PM
Contact your local agricultural extension, you really need to have someone who is experienced with this, I've never used it. I never envisioned a horse walking on top of the drain, rather the drain near the paddock but not walked on and the paddock sloped to go to the drain.