What is paddock paradise?
It’s a style of alternative horse keeping that a man named Jaime Jackson designed and named. The concept is simple, horses were designed to move 24/7, but traditional horse keeping practices inhibit this natural lifestyle. Even if they’re turned out 24/7 in a big paddock, we bring them their food and water and they don’t move as much as they should. We’ve turned them into equine couch potatoes.
So to encourage movement, the most basic paddock paradise design is simply to install a secondary fence on the interior of the field your horse lives in, creating a single track, and spread the hay, grain, minerals and loafing areas along it.
It can be as simple as a track like this or more complex, depending on the site, finances, and your own imagination. This space saving strategy keeps them moving the way nature intended, and the health benefits are numerous.
Q: How exactly does the Paddock Paradise system encourage the horses to move more? I understand how it is set up & its benefits but I don't understand why the horses would not just graze normally in a more circular pattern.
A: Well… yeah. That’s kind of the point, actually. A horse grazing will take a step forward, eat everything around that foot, then take another step, eating around that one, and so on. Taking several steps a minute for up to 16 hours. They’ll literally cover several miles this way, every single day - that’s exactly the situation that we’re trying to imitate. But when it’s rich grass, or when the hay and water and grain is all fed in one spot - that’s when you run into issues. Because then they don’t move as much, if at all. And that’s when you develop a lot of these common vices.
Horses in the wild don’t have this cushy lifestyle, they have to range out to find everything they need, and this type of foraging can be a lot of work! In the perfect PP model, there actually isn’t any grass at all, or at least very little. The feed is spread out into several ‘feeding stations’ or just out along the track in general if you’re feeding it loose. Because horses are picky eaters, they’ll tend to go after the good stuff first, and then move onto the next station and get all the good stuff there and so on, slowly moving around the track several times until everything is cleaned up. I actually feed the grains this way too, especially in the summertime when the porous bedrock that’s spaced throughout my PPs is exposed, which acts as both a slowfeeder and natural hoof rasp. The minerals are fed far away from the hay. The hay is always spread out a fair distance away from the water. The shelters and camping areas and rolling areas are all in different spots - everything as spaced out as you can possibly make it. And there are enrichment exercises for them in between all these areas.
So you may have narrow straightaways for them to gallop down, or permanent cavelletti, or jumps. You should have a few rolling areas - one wet and one dry. They might have to climb up or down a hill to get from one feed section to the next, or be forced to walk through water, or over gravelly areas, or go by hanging flags, or loud machinery. There could be options for browsing as well as grazing, things for them to dig through, the possibilities are just about endless.
And then you’ll have the herd dynamic happening as well, when flightier horses might run ahead or bossy horses will push their herdmates down the track. Also I think I read somewhere that Jamie Jackson designed the track to be round because horses like going around corners to see what’s around the bend, kind of like Temple Grandin’s chute systems for cow slaughter houses. Horses are very curious animals so this idea doesn’t surprise me at all. In much the same vein, our tracks have a lot of forested regions where horses will loose sight of each other. This is beneficial because they’ll trot around trying to find their friends and they seem to also eventually condition themselves to be less herd bound. My horses certainly seem to have no problem with leaving the rest of the herd and travelling the length of the track - 1/4 km, to get a drink of water by themselves.
The biggest difference, I suppose, is that there’s no straight shot from the hay at point A to the hay at point F. To get from A to F, you have to go through sections B through E which could involve traveling around, under, over and though a bunch of these different areas, which distracts them, slows them down, gives them something to do other than eat, gets them thinking about their bodies and developing their muscles - toughening them physically and mentally. The entire purpose of the track system is to use the enrichment and the food luring to get them to utilize every aspect of this environment that you create for them, which creates a happier, healthier, and more well adjusted horse overall.