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Not wanting to tempt fate, we won’t say winter is over – that would be reckless, knowing that the weather always gets the last word, but for now we are certainly ‘transitioning’ into spring! The tell-tale signs of ‘bud burst’ on the trees and shrubs, first signs of nettles and wild honeysuckle leafing up and even a recent glimpse of a wild primrose or two, let us know that we’re nearly there.

The one constant however, often right through winter and most of spring (until we get long stretches of warm weather without rain), is MUD. It can also pop back in the summer if you have a deluge like last August, especially if your land is clay based. 

If, like us, you follow species appropriate herd care and management, meaning horses have liberty to live with ‘Friends, Forage, Freedom’ then you may encounter the challenges of MUD more often. There is no avoiding it if you are committed to your horses living out 24/7/365. But you can manage it. You can direct footfall (hoof-fall) to different areas of your land, rotate access to grazing and improve the surfacing of ‘high traffic’ pathways/feeding areas etc.

If you are lucky enough to have multiple hectares of land available for your horses this might simply mean closing off the boggiest area during winter and utilising the more free-draining, higher, sandier, or sheltered acres over winter. In the UK, with land at a premium this is something most owners/tenants don’t have the option of. 

The Dare to Live Trust (IFEEL Method’s associate charity) recently relocated to a new site in the High Weald, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in Mid Sussex (UK). With over 20 acres of grazing and woodland we have been very fortunate to have had access to fantastic grazing with an enriched foraging environment of long lengths of well-established hedgerow and woodland shaws. 

It can take a couple of years to really get to know a site. To know where natural springs occur, where water tracking and logging mean that areas become inaccessible and to follow where the herd prefer to be at certain times of day, in certain types of weather, in different seasons. Where the sun bathing and loafing spots are, the lee of the hill to escape high winds, the most interesting browsing spots or sheltered areas. Our herd have been exploring that here at our new site alongside us and directing our planning and land management.

This winter the horses have been and are very well, contented and stimulated through the movement and expression of affiliative behaviours of this now well-established herd. 

And yet, MUD. Still MUD.

Our rural site is beautiful, and we want to keep it that way, with only the minimum essential development, with the lowest footprint possible. We don’t want to impact the soil, damage the existing grasslands, or leave anything other than footprints if we ever end our tenancy here. So, we reached out to our community and were wonderfully provided with the funding to acquire several pallets of the wonder product that is, Mudcontrol!

Mudcontrol Slabs are a fantastic interlocking system allowing near immediate safe footing over even the sloppiest of muddy areas. By fitting together in whatever quantity you need they can form pathways, ‘yards’, tracks and feeding stations for both horses and humans – wheelbarrows, wheelchairs, cars, trucks and even tractors can pass over them, taking up to 60 tonnes of weight without losing any integrity. Completely solid, they don’t degrade so you won’t be leaving a trail of little pieces of plastic in the soil should you lift or re-site them. Grass can grow through the holes bedding them in, limiting their impact on grass and soil integrity even further and allowing them to sit within the landscape in a pleasing way. No digging, no drainage, no surface layer needed underneath them, they are very easy to install and to move if they need repurposing in another area.

Can you guess? We love them!

We have been able to create trackways into, what would have been, inaccessible areas of woodland and reinforce pathways between open gateways so the horses can access all the acreage on-site throughout winter. Being able to access different feeding areas with wheelbarrows of hay has been a particular joy for the humans, rather than hefting hay nets as we schlep across the fields. 

We have still encountered MUD. Some things are a constant. But we have significantly ameliorated the effects of a long winter on Sussex clay and in the main, ascended above the boggiest caverns of rain drenched clay soil. It may sound poetic, but this year of ‘Mudcontrol’ has been a much anticipated and needed revelation of epic proportions. Worth every single penny. 

Thank you so much to our funders/donors, to our landlord – Tony Grubb, to Mudcontrol for their significant charity discount, to our friends at Yeowart Agricultural and CW Farms for help with unloading and manoeuvring the deliveries and thank you to the staff and volunteers who laid the path to ‘Friends, Forage, Freedom’ for the Dare to Live Herd this winter and for years to come.

* Some of the pictures show Mudcontrol Slabs recently sited and before the top layer of sand was applied as is recommended by Mudcontrol.