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Linda Cowles Hoof Care - Serving the greater SF Bay Area and Northern California

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Passive Conditioning - Pea Gravel Gravel Loafing Area

I asked Pete Ramey for recommendations on training my endurance horses feet to be "Gravel Crunchers" at a Jacksonville, Oregon, Pete Ramey clinic.

Pete's recommendation is to make an area containing loose smooth pea gravel (not crushed rock gravel) available to horses for at least a few hours a day.

The area would need to be kept free of manure, debris, and loose dirt or it would become packed down.

Pea Gravel is usually about pea size. In these pictures, I used larger gravel that is between 1/2 inch to 1 inch in diameter because it was available on the property. If I was buying gravel I would get smooth 1/8" to 3/8" pea gravel.

Soft ground needs preparation. A 10 to 12" deep wood frame helps retain pea gravel. I build a solid base layer using 4 to 6 inches of road base, which I pack hard by watering it deep and using a roller or tamper to pack down. I use Class 3 road base, which is 1" rock mixed with with "fines" for a base.

Construction cloth will help keep gravel from mixing with soft or loose subsoil but it must be anchored down and put under the base layer. I personally try hard to not use construction cloth!

My horses urinate in the gravel, so I rinse it occasionally to eliminate ammonia buildup.

Gavilan loves his gravel!! He doesn't spend a lot of time standing still on it, but he and Shatirr both go out of their way to stroll through 5 or 6 times an hour.


These pictures were form my place in Guerneville in 2007. The Gravel Pile at this location was on the way to the water trough, I also used large rock to cobble an area large enough to feed the boys on, (16x20) and placed large broken rocks around a tree they loved rubbing on... I thought they'd stay off the sharp broken shale (I'm discouraging them from too much rubbing and chewing), but it didn't deter them.

The combination of gavels, rock and cobble stimulated the horses soles to build callous while abrading the hoof wall the way a natural environment would. The cobbled shale surface allowed water to run off and was easy to rake clean of manure and spoiled hay. Rocked surfaces can be occasionally rinsed to remove manure.

Decomposed Granite or Road Base Hard Pads


"Road base" is usually decomposed (crushed) granite with a mix of "fines" (powdered granite) and gravel. It's the same stuff that's used under asphalt roads.

There are different classes differentiated by the size of the gravel they contain. When I order road base in California, I usually get class 2.

When I use it in paddocks that tend to be extremely muddy or soft, I prepare the surface by removing organic material (manure, leaves and grass), then line the area with landscaping cloth. This is inexpensive recycled plastic that allows water to drain but keeps whatever is on top of it from mixing with the soil beneath it.

Then I frame in the area where I want to put a road base pad with 2x6 boards to hold the base. I then fill the frame with enough road base to have it start out at least 5 inched deep , spread it out so that it is slightly higher at one end than the other (to encourage drainage), and water it thoroughly (so that water comes out the bottom of the frame) with a sprinkler. Once it's watered I roll it repeatedly with a lawn packer or pack it down with a vibrating packer until its hard as cement. Then I water it and re-roll or pack it again.

If the pad is rolled hard and manure and organic material are kept off of it, it should last for several years. This pad sheds water nicely or drains if a puddle occurs and is great for feet.

Linda Cowles Hoof Care
Serving the greater SF Bay Area & Northern California
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