Since Dustry had his kissing spine operation, and because he really doesn’t like being stabled he now lives out 24/7 with a field shelter instead. This lifestyle is great for him, but it’s not that great for the grass as the regular walking in/out/around the shelter by him and his field buddy means that the field in that area very quickly got boggy and churned up. To try and prevent his paddock getting “poached” we bought grass mats to lay outside the entrance to the field shelter to make a flat dry “yard” area.
You can get grass mats for about £18-20 each and the typical dimensions of a mat are around 1m x 1.5m. We bought about 20 mats to make a nice wide oblong of dry standing outside the field shelter. Before laying the mats we put down a teleporter bucket full of road planings directly onto the grass outside the shelter. This was a real stroke of luck as the road through the village was being resurfaced and the farmer bought some of the recycled planings to repair a track on the farm, and had some left over.
It’s important to use road planings (sometimes called road chippings) for this base because over time these will compact down to create an area of hard-standing, giving you a secure foundation for the mats which will prevent them sinking into the mud. The advantage to a field shelter and grass mats over a brick shelter and concrete floor is that you don’t need planning permission for a shelter and mats like you would need for the former.
How to lay grass mats outside a field shelter or gateway.
Before you lay the mats spread the road planings out on the grass area with a shovel/rake etc. Where we placed the shelter is fairly flat so we just flattened a few big lumps in the ground by hand with a shovel before spreading the planings out. Once these were smoothed across the intended area the mats were then simply laid on top.
Before you lay your mats you could hire a vibrating whacker plate and compact the planings to create an area of hard standing (we didn’t want such a permanent solution in the field which would prevent future movement of the shelter, so we just placed the grass mats on top of the levelled stones)
The mats are heavy enough not to move very much and butted up against the bottom wooden plank of the front of the shelter they have not wandered from their original position. You could pin them to the ground if you had a more sloped site, as possibly with repeated wear and a gradient in the ground they may creep around. Some people also cable tie them together to make one big mat.
To help the mats remain in place, dry and mud free they are swept off/raked most days, and we fitted guttering to the shelter and now catch all the rain water in a blue barrel at the side. This also doubles up as a handy water source for washing out buckets/off legs/muddy boots etc and stops you having to get water from the trough.
This ground prep has meant that the shelter has remained dry and above the mud, giving the horses a mud free space to stand, sleep and eat. This is important to help prevent mud fever and loosing shoes due to constant wet conditions. Dustry has 4 white legs and terrible thoroughbred feet but with the shelter he has only lost 1 shoe so far this winter, and touch wood there’s no sign of mud fever on his white socks!
It’s useful also to have a flat clean area under the over hang of the shelter to tie up for grooming etc. Thanks to the grass mats keeping the mud out of the shelter, they have shavings beds in both sides which remain clean and dry. Some old rubber mats no longer needed in another stable at the yard placed at the front of each shelter box also keep that area clean and dry. As you can see from the photos the ground immediately off the mat gets very churned up, and rutted with hooof prints.
Tips for laying grass mats and costs.
If you’re thinking about putting grass mats down I wouldn’t even consider it without a road planings base for them to go on top of. We initially lay them directly on the grass and they simply sunk into the mud. Yanking them free from the mud once that happens is really hard work, and if you leave it until the mud dries then you really do need your Weetabix to get those free!
The best time to lay them is Autumn so that the ground is workable and not yet sodden from winter weather. The cost of a 20 mat area like the one outside Dustry’s shelter would roughly be:
- 20 x grass mats plus postage about £400
- Road planings could be sourced locally but if not then Mainland Aggregates seems to have good reviews online (on the H&H forum), and sell bulk bags of road planings for £70 including delivery with a discount if you buy 5 bags or more
- Grass mat pegs to keep them in place about £20 for a pack of 20
- Vibrating Whacker Plate hire if you want to get the base super smooth about £25-40 a day
The whole project could come in between £500-700 depending on how many mats and your method of installation.
These really have been a god send, and enabled 24/7 turn out for Dustry and his buddy. They would also work well in gateways to prevent them getting deep and muddy, and it would cost considerably less to do an individual gateway. At a guess I’d say it would only be about a third of the cost of the field shelter approx £150-200 depending on how much of your gateway you want to cover.