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Washington Horse Farm Uses Rain Gardens for Mud Control in Paddocks and Mountain Trail Course

Kelly and Dan Munro, owners of Grateful Pine Farm, a recently purchased a 17-acre commercial horse property in Snohomish, WA.

Photo: Jessica Paige

Kelly and Dan Munro, owners of Grateful Pine Farm, purchased a 17-acre commercial horse property in Snohomish, Washington, this past spring. Recently, I interviewed Kelly Munro to get to know a little more about her and her approach to managing horse land and her new commercial horse boarding/training facility. Munro’s new property will be featuring some innovative and exciting new management techniques that I want to highlight and share with a larger audience.

Q: What’s your background with horses, and what kind of riding you do?

Munro: I’ve been riding for 20+ years and have been a horse and farm owner and worked at numerous equestrian facilities during that time. I’m a dressage rider, trail rider, and I also breed and train Norwegian Fjord horses. My philosophy is to build flexibility, strength, and confidence in the horse through gentle, varied exercises and clear, correct riding, so they can happily pursue any activity in partnership with their rider.

Q: When did you move to this property and how did you come up with the name, Grateful Pine Farm?

Munro: We’ve always been called Grateful Pine Farm, and we brought the name with us when we purchased this facility in March. It’s a reference to our personal values of gratitude for all the opportunities we’ve had to live our dreams. It’s also homage to our first farm where we lived in a very unique log home made from standing-dead, Wenatchee (Washington)-area white pines that were cleared for fire prevention.

Q: Why did you want to move from your Monroe property to this one?

Munro: I wanted more riding facilities. At our previous Western Washington property, we looked at putting in a full sized arena but it was more impact to the land than we wanted to see. The only reasonable site for the arena contained two healthy, mature cedar trees that we could not bring ourselves to cut down. We thought the best use for that land was for the beautiful mature cedar trees that occupied it to stay there and live. This property we purchased in Snohomish had previously been cleared, so we weren’t as dramatically changing the use of the land as we would have been in Monroe. This feels like a spot we can improve upon rather than take away existing trees and tearing up the land.

Q: Can you describe your new property?

Munro: The property is on a bench below the equestrian park Lord Hill Regional Park, near Monroe. It’s surrounded by trees, although much of the property itself was cleared years ago. It has an un-named tributary of French Creek running along its side and views of the valley, the Cascade range and Mount Baker. Right now it’s mostly pasture space without enough cross fencing, which is something we’re working on changing because it’s been overgrazed – which is not good for horses nor for environmental health.

Grateful Pine Farm boards 30+ horses on 17 acres, so dealing with mud and manure are primary concerns.

Photo: Alayne Blackly

Q: And the facilities?

Munro: For riding we have an outdoor arena which is 80 feet x 200 feet and is lighted; a 20 x 40 meter indoor arena; a round pen; and wooded trails around the perimeter. We are in the process of setting up a new, half-acre mountain trail park, which is exciting! There are 25 stalls in the main barn and each horse has individual or group daily outdoor turnout. There are also 10 outdoor horse cottages — cute shelters with free choice paddocks. The whole place can board a total of 35 – plus there’s a private six-stall barn, which we use for our own personal horses.

Q:  What are your overall goals for managing the property?

Munro: We want to set up our operations so that it’s easy for our staff and optimal for our horses. I like to call it being “horse centric,” so that everything we do is contributing positively to the horse’s health and experience. I believe that quality turnout time is one of the most important things for horses, so we want to create really healthy, enjoyable turnout spaces for each horse that are usable year round. The property is set up to accommodate about 40 horses, but that’s a lot of horses even on 17 acres, so we have to redo cross fencing so that pastures and paddocks don’t become dirt and dust in summer and mud in the winter. I want to increase vegetation on the property both with the grass pastures and native plantings in nonhorse areas. All this will create more wildlife habitat, better appearance and will hold the soil in place. Commercial horse properties that get used long term tend to get beat up, both the land and facilities, so restoring, improving, and repairing are a big part of what we’ll be doing.

Q:  Specifically, what do you want to do with the turnout paddocks?

Munro: We currently have pastures and paddocks of all different sizes, and none of them are set up to be rested. We rotate horses between the larger ones and the smaller ones for fairness, but even the large fields become overgrazed with horses on them every day. I’d like to redo fencing so all paddocks are uniform size. Each horse’s turnout area will be split into two parts: the front part will be a track paddock with a rain garden in the center. Our product, Lighthoof, will be used in it in the highest traffic areas to prevent mud. The back half of each turnout will be seeded with pasture grass. We will keep horses off of these grass areas while it’s getting established and during the winter so that overall the grass on the farm can regrow.

Q:  Rain gardens are a bright new idea for dealing with an age-old nemesis on horse properties: too much water and mud! They can help with other things like reducing flooding and erosion, filtering polluted runoff, recharging groundwater, providing a little wildlife habitat, and they provide an attractive, low-cost landscaping feature, too. How big will your rain gardens be?

Munro: The rain gardens will be 70- to 80-feet long and about six feet wide. A track paddock will go along the outside of each garden. The Snohomish Conservation District sent out their rain garden expert who is helping with plant choice and design — we are so excited to work with them! We’re looking forward to seeing how things will work and what the power of the rain gardens will be — how they will affect water drainage and mud reduction.

Q:  Let’s talk about your Mountain Trail Park. Why did you build it?

Munro: This is a discipline I didn’t previously know much about; it’s called Mountain Trail Challenge. IMTCA, the International Mountain Trail Challenge Association, was recently formed. They offer shows that riders can compete in. We are hoping to host a couple of shows in this, maybe mid to late 2016. There’s been a lot of interest in the sport lately from riders of all disciplines and there’s not a course in this area. Personally, I think it will be a huge benefit for my young horses and my dressage horses to cross-train and engage their minds and bodies in new ways.

Q: What does your mountain trail course look like?

Munro: It is a half acre, fully fenced, that has been sculpted to have terrain, mountains, a stream crossing, banks and hills. It was designed by Mark Bolender and we just began building and installing it this spring. It’s fully landscaped so that you feel like you’re on a mini-trail ride in the mountains. It’s much more rugged than a regular, local trail ride so that it challenges the horse mentally and physically.

Q: Will it work as a rain garden? I’m wondering about this since it’s at the top of your property. Could it act to slow down and absorb surface water during the rainy season?

Munro: We expect so! Before it was a dirty, overgrazed pasture with muddy rainwater running off of it. Now it’s going to be a great environmental resource for our property, as well as something people can play with. We’ve planted more than 30 new trees, shrubs, and ground-cover [plants] as well as created spaces for water to collect. We’ve also stabilized the footing in areas surrounding plantings.

Q: I imagine that manure for 40 horses, at 50 pounds per horse per day, must be quite an issue. What kind of manure management system do you have?

Munro: Manure management was already in place here. Previously, composting was one of my highest priorities but we have a recycling arrangement here. We have a dump trailer and we deliver our stall waste for free to a nearby dairy that reuses it as bedding for their dairy cows. After that, they compost it. So the bedding is used twice and then composted. We don’t have to pay for disposal, it’s all free. Word has gotten around about how good our stall waste is and other dairies are calling to ask if they could have it.

Only downside is that now we don’t have any compost for our farm. In the future we’d like to set up a compost system here so we can save and use some compost here.  Or maybe some of the dairies would offer to give it back after it’s been composted!

Q: You must keep pretty busy between the farm and uyur business. What do you do in your spare time?

Munro: Spare what? I like getting up early, going to bed late and keeping my days full. There are tons we want to do here, from fixing chewed boards to replacing arena footing to building the new paddock systems. It’s just going to be really fun to practice all these things I’ve learned from Horses for Clean Water and the conservation districts.

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