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Creating a mud-less dry lot

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    Creating a mud-less dry lot

    Speak to me of creating dry lots...

    We are building on 11 acres. About 8 will be fenced for the four horses. I need a dry lot so I can actually keep pasture. The problem, this is new ground (completely wooded 10 months ago). We have logged, grubbed, excavated, disked, dragged, fertilized, seeded (drill, followed by cultipacker), fertilized again, and have about four inches of thick, beautiful grass covering the front field. The back field we did a month later, we have about two inches of sparse grass.

    I want a dry lot off the barn. The four horses get along well and would either be split into groups of two or turned out together.

    How big do I make this area?

    Our ground is flat, and swampy in areas. What do I do about the mud? Geotextile Fabrice with Gravel, Then gravel dust? or just Gravel?

    Gate area... Lightfoot? Worth the cost? Any other suggestions?

    Any words of wisdom? Sopping up the mud and creating an area that is mud-less is important.

    Thank you!

    My dry lot in MN was about 100' x 100' and it was a nice size for four horses that got along.

    Now I have about 6500 sq ft in a weird shape. It still works okay, mainly because it's long--they can still fart around in there. It doesn't feel too cramped, but more would certainly be nice.

    You may also want to consider installing some drains to move water out, so you're not left with puddles or squishy areas in your nice footing.


      Speaking from the PNW, from a barn actually built in a bog.

      You need drainage. Build up that dry lot so it is higher than the surrounding area. Dig it out, put down correctly sloped French drains that lead to a ditch or a connecting pipe. Have the drain pipes as deep as you can ,(several feet) and still exit effectively. Over that put drainage rocks, then geotextile, then your fine footing. Have access points to your pipes in case you eventually want to flush them.

      I am not an expert on sand but I have noticed that many kinds don't drain well at all and retain surface pools of green urine or rain. Someone else may have better advice on the kind of sand and size of grain that drains best.


        Originally posted by scrbear11 View Post
        How big do I make this area?
        I have absolutely no wisdom on this but I'm curious if there is a general rule of thumb (e.g., 12x12 sized stall for the typical horse) per horse with the assumption that there are good dynamics without a propensity for bullying.


          Not to hijack, but were you required by the county to do any stormwater facilities when you cleared that many acres? Or did you have an ag exemption?


            Originally posted by GraceLikeRain View Post

            I have absolutely no wisdom on this but I'm curious if there is a general rule of thumb (e.g., 12x12 sized stall for the typical horse) per horse with the assumption that there are good dynamics without a propensity for bullying.
            Eyeballing my own paddocks, maybe 1000 sq ft per horse? Would depend a lot of how you use it, shape and the lay of the land.

            I don't think there's a widely recognized number for this, though.


              Original Poster

              Originally posted by Redlei44 View Post
              Not to hijack, but were you required by the county to do any stormwater facilities when you cleared that many acres? Or did you have an ag exemption?
              No stormwater anything anywhere here in Virginia! We are pretty rural. Ag exclusion to keep from having to put down land bond.


                Original Poster

                This sounds like an expensive project! Ughhh...

                My friend did a lot of work on her farm in the last two years, but she is on a hill, so there wasn't the drainage issue that I have.

                Our land is flat. The house is on the highest point right in the middle, it slopes less than 10 degrees forward and 10 degree backward. We have a creek that runs through.

                Thinking out loud... From my experience with my arena where we rent, stone dust if compacted will not drain down. So I obviously need some sort of base if I'm going to use any sort of stone dust on top (thinking my barefoot kids). Crush and run? or even a larger rock to start?


                  You're basically creating an arena--so it may be helpful to call up whatever outfit does that in your area and have them out to talk through it. Quotes are usually free! You don't have to use their services but those guys will usually tell you how they'd go about it.


                    Originally posted by scrbear11 View Post

                    No stormwater anything anywhere here in Virginia! We are pretty rural. Ag exclusion to keep from having to put down land bond.
                    Fellow Virginian here [waves hi]!

                    VA has a fairly robust stormwater program, either administered though your county or directly by DEQ - I'm just a lot more familiar with urban/suburban/commercial
                    stuff, not so much rural. Hence my curiosity!

                    In general, if you disturb more than an acre, SWM regs apply. The ag exemption says that clearing of land specifically for ag purposes is exempt. I assume this includes clearing for horse pasture. (Google fails me at the moment but I assume that all horse farms/businesses are ag, right?)


                      Call you local Extension Agent and Soil Conservation office and get them to make a site visit to advise you. These are at no cost (you paid for them in your taxes) and they will give you VERY detailed suggestions for just what YOU have on YOUR ground.

                      Good luck in your project.

                      Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raa, Uma Paixo


                        Original Poster

                        Originally posted by Redlei44 View Post

                        Fellow Virginian here [waves hi]!

                        VA has a fairly robust stormwater program, either administered though your county or directly by DEQ - I'm just a lot more familiar with urban/suburban/commercial
                        stuff, not so much rural. Hence my curiosity!

                        In general, if you disturb more than an acre, SWM regs apply. The ag exemption says that clearing of land specifically for ag purposes is exempt. I assume this includes clearing for horse pasture. (Google fails me at the moment but I assume that all horse farms/businesses are ag, right?)
                        Virginia code has ag exemption for land disruption. DEQ and County issued a stop work order mid grubbing (after logging). They required we put silt fence up along the creek that runs through the property and wanted to know what we were doing. Stop order lifted as soon as silt fence was put up (700 feet of silt fence!) They county was perfectly fine with clearing for horses.

                        The water and soil extension is coming after the holidays to look at the farm. There are currently programs that reimburse for the creation of dry lots!


                          I need to relocate to VA!

                          About 10yrs ago I spent ~$6K to put down geotex then road base (rocks from 2-3" up to fist-sized) in my paddock that surrounds the barn & leads to pastures.
                          Total area guesstimated 50X200ish L-shaped.
                          Horses are out 24/7/365 going from stall to paddock to pasture as they please.
                          My barefoot horses have no problem on this surface, their feet are in great shape & it drains like a dream everywhere except directly in back of the stalls.
                          Even though excavator graded this area so it slopes about 10 degrees, it has over time built up into a boot-sucking mudpit.
                          Thinking the problem was footing dragged out of stalls, last year I put up some composite 2X4s at the sills.
                          That helped a bit, but it still becomes a morass. Geotex is intact beneath the mess and it only extends about 3-4' from the stall doors. Beyond that footing (for me!) is fine.
                          Last solution was to dump river rock at the worst places & that seems to be helping some.
                          Guess I am hijacking in case anyone else has solved this type of issue.
                          *friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon:
                          Steppin' Out 1988-2004
                          Hey Vern! 1982-2009, Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
                          Sam(Jaybee Altair) 1994-2015


                            Doing it correctly does incur some's no different in most respects than doing a driveway or arena correctly. All the organics (soil, vegetation, etc.) need to be removed down to the sub-soil. The area needs to be properly graded for drainage and appropriate provision for routing water away from the area put in place. A proper permeable but compacted sub-base has to be installed (geo-textile is often part of this to prevent soil migration) and then a surface materail distributed. From there, you have to routinely and regularly clear off "new organics", such as manure and spilled feed/hay to insure the area stays mud free. Additionally, as part of the project, best results are going come from insuring that adjacent areas are setup for proper drainage away from the dry lot (or arena).


                              Daily manure removal is the best way to prevent mud. Hire someone to muck!

                              My paddocks are on a hill so everything drains but i still have mud because you can't muck very well during the wet season. It's just too wet and heavy. The good news is that mother nature takes care of the problem for me. Anytime we get a severe rain event, the mud washes downhill leaving clean sand underneath. During the dry season the paddocks are stripped of manure and compost which is spread over the pasture.

                              If you are in a wet area prone to flooding, i would get several loads of sand and have someone spread it with a tractor and install drainage ditches on the low end. Grade the area so it slants down. For the drainage ditch, install rocks and vegetation to keep your banks from eroding.

                              This would probably be a cheaper option then geotextile everywhere.

                              I previously lived in a swamp and everything was built up with the houses on ant hills. My neighbors- who moved in after me -built their property up higher than mine so my property flooded anytime it rained. Mud was a way of life. I added fill to the barn so that did not flood and rubber mats anywhere the gates were.

                              A friend of mine installed a pump to move excess water into the swale.

                              You might be able to have a pond dug on the property - a cheap way of getting free fill to build up certain areas.


                                I have a 60x40 drylot that is attached to my repurposed tobacco barn. Luckily, the area is situated on top of my pasture hill, so it does drain beautifully.

                                My husband and I contracted out 6" scrape and level, but kept the natural grade present behind the barn. Then, nonwoven geotextile fabric, three inches of #2 gravel (similar to driveway gravel), and 4 inches of stone screenings (little limestone chips with sand). The total cost was about $1.75 per square foot. We also extended this setup out with a 10x10 pad for the waterer.

                                If if I could do it again, I would have placed a tile drain. But, not a big deal for me. In your case, I would absolutely plan on some basic drainage. Basic does not equal bad or ineffective; there are several methods to successfully drain, without breaking your bank.

                                I'm fortunate to have a host of farmers and ranchers at my fingertips to confer with about things like this- I work for my local USDA Farm Service Agency. They poke fun at my horse hobby, but they are truly helpful, and my setup is what came recommended by several of my contacts.

                                Please, PLEASE take advantage of our awesome USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Services offices! We are all here to help. Horses don't qualify for grants or cost-share, but a visit to your local county office can answer so many questions for you, and you can also have them check your soil type on our national maps and your detailed topography. This will give you a good idea of where to start. Good luck! I love my lot; I couldn't do without it. We graze with limited machinery and I depend on my neighbors to mow and harrow. I pick poop every day religiously, and I feed hay in a slow feed box. My lot still looks brand new.

                                Also, I have not had a single incidence of thrush or scratches , now that I keep my guys on the lot during wet weather. I used to battle it all of the time, at their previous boarding barn.


                                  Definitely work closely with both county and state folks. As you've already found, things like creeks need to be protected (and hopefully no livestock will have access to it either to help avoid future damage - freshwater biologist who also has a creek on my farm). In addition, filling and raising areas always affects both groundwater & runoff and you need to make sure you are not creating bigger issues or violating floodplain rules. All states vary, but VA is often similar to us here in NC (I work for state), so I would look into regs about elevation changes. NRCS and extension are good places to start but also be aware that agent quality can be widely variable so talk to multiple people and get the correct written regs for your area.

                                  Yes, what you propose is very expensive. On a flat low area, doubly so. Above poster is correct that it's essentially an all weather arena, so if you are not comfortable with 5 figures, I'd re-evaluate.
                                  Last edited by wildlifer; Dec. 25, 2018, 06:08 PM. Reason: Accidentally posted incomplete
                                  Life doesn't have perfect footing.

                                  Bloggily entertain yourself with our adventures (and disasters):
                                  We Are Flying Solo


                                    My dry lot is stonedust with no geotextile or gravel, and that has worked out perfectly. It's two years old now and looks brand new. I do have strips of erosion control grid near the gate and halfway across the lot, which slopes somewhat. I built on high ground though, and the dry lot was still built up above ground level a bit. Since your ground is flat and tends to be swampy, I would suggest building it up with an underlayer of crusher run, then topping that with stonedust. You may want to put geotextile fabric in between to prevent stones from migrating up.

                                    As far as size, I believe a minimum of 400-500 square feet per horse is recommended. My dry lot is an odd shape due to where I put it and the existing fence line, so I'm not sure exactly how large it is, but I made sure not to make any of it too narrow to avoid chokepoints. My horses have plenty of space and there's one corner they barely even seem to use except when they get the zoomies.

                                    One tip: set up your dry lot so that you can easily divide it up for multiple turnout groups if necessary. When I had horses who didn't get along I divided the dry lot into two sections with electric tape. I had it set up so that everyone could still access the auto waterer, which was set in a fence line, and the shed, which I divided up using boards.

                                    I also have one gate from the dry lot to each section of my pasture, so "turnout" is as simple as opening a gate.

                                    If you want to see pics of my dry lot, including of the construction process, there are a bunch here: https://thesmallhorsefarm.blogspot.c...h-lots-of.html

                                    I think you'd be wise to hire a very good contractor because shoddy earthwork will cost you more in the long run. I'd rather spend the money up front knowing it's done right. If you're not too far south in VA, the guy who did my arena and dry lot might be worth reaching out to. He's incredibly knowledgeable and great to work with. Dave Wisner of K&L Contracting.
                                    Building and Managing the Small Horse Farm:


                                      If you are looking for technical information on how to construct drainage projects, this is the site I like best:


                                      Yes, it is targeted towards road building, but the basic principles are the same, especially the section on sub-surface drainage.

                                      As others have said, mucking out regularly is one of the keys to keeping a sacrifice area nice. As for size, mine is used by 3 fairly social horses and is about 3,500 sq ft, in a 6-sided, irregularly shaped polygon.

                                      "Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit."
                                      - Desiderata, (c) Max Ehrman, 1926


                                        I have a drylot right off my L shaped shedrow... it's on the interior of the L. It has been a complete LIFESAVER this year in Virginia. A few things...

                                        First off... grading grading grading. Our barn was built on a little "plateau" on our property. Two sides drain naturally and great. Another two sides were trickier. We put in our own French drains and swales on the other two sides, directing water runoff and drainage AROUND the barn and drylot, to a wooded hillside with no animals on it. It's been great.

                                        We also buried all downspouts coming off the barn gutters, attached rigid pipes, and directed water AWAY from the barn and drylot. Again, a LIFESAVER.

                                        The stalls that open under the shedrow out to the drylot all have large rubber mats outside their doors. Got them at Southern states. Easy and cheap. So manure and shavings anyone tracks in or out are swept and collected routinely. We don't have erosion or holes outside stalls. The drylot area right up to the barn and under the shedrow is just #57 gravel on top of the graded base, and over 6" of stone screenings and stonedust. We let it cure for about four or five months before keeping animals on it. It's fine now. If we have another year like this... we will probably add more stone dust on top to build it up. That's it though.

                                        the fence on one side, with monster, treated 12 x 2 boards at the bottom right against the ground,and the L shaped barn on two sides keeps everything in place. The other side has a long French drain... but also a paddock that actually slopes up leading out from the drylot barn area. So water from that paddock runs downhill toward the drylot. But once there... drains back to that French drain and swale, and is eventually all directed out and away.

                                        We also have a hoof light panel under the main gate going in and out of our dry lot. It's great... not cheap... but great. Helps keep everything locked in place.

                                        So a bit of a complicated design. But we've gone through 6 or 7 flash floods this year with water rushing down hills... our barn has stayed dry. Our horses have no thrush, no scratches. They get turnout 18 to 24 hours of turnout a day. We only do two out at a time right now under this setup, but could have a 3rd here and rotate who is out as a pair. We keep stalls closed if two are out together... they just stand under the shed row when they want. Otherwise, we leave a stall open for a single horse.

                                        The number one thing to conside when building a dry lot? Location location location. Put it in a place where you can easily get water to run away from it. Get the grading on your base correct as well. The gravel and stone dust is the easiest part. Think long and hard about getting your horses to it if you do not plan on having it directly off your barn. If it is directly off your barn... do something about your gutters and downspouts... they are a huge source of water. And lastly... pick manure daily if possible. It's easy, and keeps everything so nice.