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Land Preservation with the Track System

Green grass is here, but how do we keep our horses from overgrazing every blade in the first month and turning our property into a dirt lot?  There is hope!  A few years ago I read an article about a Texas A & M military reenactment group who were using a track system at their five acre base to keep their horses fit for their weekend duties.

Forward to a couple years ago when we moved to our new property.  It was a blank slate with no fencing or any horse amenities.  We requested an evaluation from Colorado State University Extension Agent Jennifer Cook, who is a grasses and grazing specialist, to come over to look at the natural state of our property and to advise us on how to best steward and preserve our land while the horses also enjoyed the property.  One of her suggestions was a track system.

There are certainly exceptions, but in general, the arid Colorado climate flora cannot sustain continuous grazing.  So how do we keep the horses happy, healthy and living the way they were designed to live which is walking and grazing throughout the day? The track system!  The principle behind the track system is to sacrifice smaller areas in order to save larger areas while keeping the horses moving and grazing.

The track system can work on most any size of property.  In our case, we designated one pen with the water and shelter that the horses have access to all day, and we shut them in there at night for our own peace of mind and so we are more likely to hear them if anything is amiss.  The back gate from the pen opens to the track, which is a 12’ wide thoroughfare that makes a circle perimeter around about 6 acres.  We also created two other wide areas along the track for feeding hay.  The recommended track width is 6’ to 12’ wide.  The narrower width will keep them moving more, but wider will provide more escape routes from dominant horses.  We have three horses on our track and the 12’ width seems to give horses that know each other plenty of room to negotiate.

In the morning, we put hay out in the two larger areas and open the gate to the track.  The horses spend their day walking the track to the hay and coming back to the water.  This time of year there is a little grass that comes up on the track, but the track and the pen are essentially sacrifice areas where the traffic is too heavy to grow much vegetation.

The area in the middle of the track we have divided into three pastures that we use to rotate the horses through for an hour or two each day.  That time decreases or may even cease if the grass heights get too low, but they still have the track to keep them walking and busy.

Ideally, we would have slow feed hay nets around larger hay bales in the feeding areas, but that does not work where we are with the elk and deer.

We have noticed an increased level in the fitness of the horses and are amazed at how they walk the track most of the day, sometimes “doing the loop” at a gallop just for fun.  It is a great way to keep your horses fit if you don’t get to ride as much as you would like.  You will find they move a lot more then they do in an open pasture.

 

Materials are flexible.  We have seen more permanent tracks or just electric fencing.  We chose cord electric fencing and T-Posts with caps over the majority of the track to try it out.  We picked cord over tape because it does not catch the wind and snow like the tape.  Starting with the “temporary” fencing gives you the flexibility to change the width and maybe the route.

Pasture Paradise by Jaime Jackson

Benefits of a track system:

  • Sacrifice small areas to save large areas for grazing
  • Ease of grazing management
  • More stimulating environment for horses
  • Prevents boredom and vices
  • Preserves the beauty of your property
  • Keeps horses moving all day
  • Mirrors the natural environment by horses walking, eating smaller amounts at a time
  • Keeps horses fit

The track system can work in all different climates and for different purposes.  If the majority of your land is used for arenas or barns, the track system can be a great way to use those smaller spaces and corridors for exercise and turnouts.  We have utilized our track system for over two years now and it has been revolutionary for our horse keeping and land management.

Heather McWilliams © 2018

For more information:  http://www.all-natural-horse-care.com/paddock-paradise.html

Paddock Paradise – A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding by Jaime Jackson

Pen sacrifice area with water and shelter

Track area made from cord electric fencing, note green grass on either side.

Overnight Colorado Horse Trips

Fall is one of the most beautiful times to ride in Colorado with the changing leaves, cool weather and minimal tourism traffic.  In the last couple of years, we have explored a few Colorado places to camp with our horses and trail ride.  Here are some of the places offered in our beautiful state that provide overnight facilities for people and horses.  For more information, details and additional ideas see Margi Evans’ book:  Riding Colorado III:  Day and Overnight Trips with your horse.

Make reservations as far ahead as you can, but often in the late fall there are openings for spontaneous trips.  Make sure you have all of the health papers you need ready specific to the facility.  You may need a current negative Coggins test, possibly a vaccination record and/or a health certificate within the last 30 days.  If travelling over 75 miles from home, you will need a brand inspection.   Some places require certified weed-free hay.

Beaver Meadows Resort, Red Feather Lakes, CO, beavermeadow.com, 970-881-2450

Beautiful common area with beaver ponds, general store and restaurant.  A great place for non-horse folks too!  Many, many well marked trails for different loop options every day.  Several small stream crossings.  Horses:  Pens at the horse stable area or large pens at campsites with nearby water.  People:  Many options including cabins, condos, hotel rooms and horse camp sites.  There are no hook ups at the horse camping area, but it is along a beautiful stream in a private setting.

Homestead Meadows from Hermit Park Campground, Estes Park, CO, 800-397-7795

Ride to Homestead Meadows from Campground.  The trail tours through a registered National Historic District.  The area was first settled in the 1800’s and the last resident in 1952.  Each homestead is labeled telling about each homesteader family.  Two days recommended to really explore.  Horses:  One or two pens per site, but keep in mind they are too small to really put two horses in one.  Nice pens with good ground and shade.  People:  Tent camping or living quarters trailers, but no hook ups. Restrooms available and water down near pavilion or entry.  Bring water for you and your horse.

Indian Creek Campground, Sedalia, CO, fs.usda.gov/activity/psicc/recreation/horseriding-camping, 877-444-6777

Several options for trailing riding in the area including the Indian Creek Equestrian Trail, a segment of the Colorado Trail, and the Ringtail Trail.  Horses:  Hitching posts, water spigots and pens at sites, some shaded.  People:  Nice campground with restrooms in the loop, picnic tables, fire pits and tent sites.  There are a couple sites that would work well for living quarters trailers, but there are no hook ups.

M Lazy C Ranch, Lake George, CO, mlazyc.com, 719-148-3398

Meals available for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Some nights there is a chuckwagon dinner with hay rides, reservations required.  Surrounded by National Forest, there are many trails to explore.  On the 4WD roads you may encounter ATV’s that were always very respectful of the horses.  There are plenty of single track trails to explore with no ATV’s.  Beautiful open areas and distant mountain views.  You can camp here and trailer to Dome Rock as well.  Horses:  Two pens at each campsite and the ability to add more.  Some of the pens have roofs. Water at each site.  People:  There are some cabins and rooms available near the main area with pen options for horses as well as a round pen and outdoor arena.  Great camping area with different configurations.  Water, electric, fire pits and picnic tables at sites.  Also, a round pen and several trail obstacles in camping area.

Mill Creek Ranch (formally known as Old Cow Town Colorado), Saguache, CO, millcreekcolorado.com, 719-655-2224

No expense was spared designing and building this recently built cow town.  There is a restaurant, saloon, general store, museum, social club and more.  Bring more than your horse friends and family, there is something here for everyone.  Surrounded by National Forest, there are many trail riding options to explore like Hoaglund Mountain and the Hodding Creek Area.  Horses:  Very nice stall barn to outdoor pens.  People: Many options of cabins, the Social Club or a nice RV area near the barn and pens with hookups.

Mueller State Park, Teller County, CO, cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/Mueller/Pages/Activities.aspx, 800-678-2267

Extensive trails for riding, plus you can connect to the Dome Rock area with additional trails.  Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in this area as well.  There are a few areas where horses are not allowed which are marked.  Horses:  Stalls/pens available at the stable area.  There are only two horse camping spots with pens that are a little ways from the main area.  No hookups here.  People:  Lodging available at the main area or there are the two horse camping sites.

Oleo Ranch, Lake City, CO, oleoranch.com, 281-728-0267

10,500 feet elevation.  There is an old 1800’s stagecoach road bed, local trails and the Colorado Trail and Continental Trail both come through here.  Horses:  free horse corrals, water available.  People:  Seven different cabins to rent with refrigerators and hot water.  No internet or wifi.

Sun Canyon Ranch, Dove Creek, CO, suncanyonranch.com, 970-677-3377

Great riding from the ranch as well as fishing, nearby historic Indian Ruins, Cowboy Supper and Show, and more!  Horses:  Stalls, paddocks, panel pens, pasture and round pen.  People:  Beautiful lodge as well as 12 RV sites with water and electric and 5 tent sites.

Tutor Rose Bed & Breakfast, Salida, CO, thetudorrose.com, 800-379-0889

The Tutor Rose property adjoins BLM land through which you access the Lost Trail, to the new Little Rainbow Trail, to the Rainbow Trail.  Head north or south from here.  Beautiful trail along the east side of the Sangre De Cristo mountains.  Old roads, lakes, mines, and stream crossings over decent footing with some exposed roots and rocks.  Horses:  Various horse accommodations from stalls to paddocks.  People:  Main house with rooms as well as Chalets that sleep up to six.

The Wilderness Cabin, Gunnison County, CO, coloradowildernesscabin.com, 970-527-3010

Trails like Little Robinson Trail #850 and Kaufman Creek Trail #852 are highly rated for beauty and views.  There are some full day rides as well.  Horses:  Metal sectional pens that the owners will reconfigure for you with water near pens.  People:  Large, beautiful three-story lodge with a hot tub plus an additional cabin.

Winding River Resort, Grand Lake, CO, windingriverresort.com, 970-627-3215 or 303-623-1121

Trail ride into Rocky Mountain National Park and there is also forest service land that adjoins one side of the resort that ATV’s can access – bring ATV’s and horses to ride in different areas.  The check in for horses was a bit stringent.  We saw moose every day.  Recommended trails are the River Trail, Green Mountain Trailhead to the Big Meadows Loop, and Onahu Trail all in RMNP.  Pancake breakfast on Sundays.  We went to Grand Lake Lodge that was about 5 minutes away for breakfast one day and a couple dinners in Grand Lake at night.  Horses:  Nice panels pens which can be made larger or smaller with water close by.  We did not see any flies and noticed the wranglers using Fly Predators.  There is a general pen area if you are in a cabin or lodge or pens at your site if you are camping.  People:  Lodge rooms, separate cabins and many campsites available.