Horse Farm Takes a Lighter Approach

Kelly and Dan Munro, owners of Grateful Pine Farm, purchased a 17-acre commercial horse property in Snohomish. Recently, I interviewed Kelly to get to know a little more about her, her approach to managing land for horses, and her new commercial horse boarding/training facility. 

Q: Tell me how long you’ve been in horses, what kind of riding you do.

Munro: I’ve been riding for 20 plus years and have been a horse owner, farm owner, and worked at numerous equestrian facilities during that time. I’m a dressage rider, trail rider, and 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 rid- ing so they can happily pursue any activity in partnership with their rider.

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

Munro: I wanted more riding facilities. At our previous property, the only reasonable site for a full-sized arena contained two healthy, mature cedar trees that we could not bring ourselves to cut down. This Snohomish property had previously been cleared, so we weren’t as dramatically changing the land as we would have been in Monroe. This feels like a spot we can improve upon rather than take existing trees and tear up the land.

Q: Can you describe your new property?

Munro: The property is on a bench below Lord Hill Regional Park. It’s surrounded by trees although much of the property itself was cleared years ago. It has an unnamed tributary of French Creek running along its side and views of the valley, the Cascades and Mount Baker. It’s mostly pasture now, 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. For riding we have a lighted outdoor arena (80 feet x 200 feet) and a 20 x 40 meter indoor arena, a round pen and wooded trails around the perimeter. We’re 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 ten 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 operation so 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 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 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 non-horse areas. All this will create more wildlife habitat, a better appearance and 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: What do you want to do with the turnout paddocks?

Munro: We currently have pastures and paddocks of all sizes and none of them are setup to be rested. We rotate horses between the larger and 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 will be a track paddock with a rain garden in the center. Our product, Lighthoof, will be used in the highest traffic areas to prevent mud. The back half of each turn- out will be seeded with pasture grass. We’ll keep horses off these grass areas while they’re getting established and during the winter so overall the grass can regrow. 

Q: Rain gardens are a smart way to deal with an age-old nem- esis on horse properties — too much water and MUD! They can help reduce flooding and erosion, filter polluted runoff, recharge groundwater, provide wildlife habitat and as an at- tractive, low-cost landscaping feature. 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, Derek Hann, 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: What is your Mountain Trail Park?

Munro: This is a discipline I didn’t know much about; it’s called Mountain Trail Challenge, the International Mountain Trail Challenge Association. (IMTCA) recently formed. There’s been a lot of interest lately from riders of all disciplines and there’s no 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. It’s a half-acre that’s been sculpted into terrain, mountains, a stream crossing, banks and hills. It’s fully landscaped so you feel like you’re on a mini-trail ride in the mountains. It’s much more rugged than a regular, local ride so it challenges the horse mentally and physically. Ours will pre-open to our boarders this summer and next year for people to come ride it once they’ve had a safety check with one of our trainers. We’ll also offer clinics, lessons and shows. 

Q: Tell me about Lighthoof equine mud management system*.

Munro: Lighthoof is a large, flexible plastic panel that confines and supports gravel in a series of little pockets to create a base that horses can’t sink into. It’s crucial for stabilizing the ground in high-traffic horse areas and protecting our gravel invest- ment. It’s part of our company’s philosophy to do more than just sell a product that fixes mud; we want to use education and innovation to help people create a holistic solution for their farm that benefits their horses and the environment. 

*Lighthoof is a product sold by the Munros, however, the District does not promote this or any other footing material, and offers this information to help inform and educate horse owners on available options. 

Don't miss our workshop and farm tour at Grateful Pine Farm on Designing Your Horse Property this Wednesday, July 15 from 6:30 - 9 pm. Register here.

by Alayne Blickle, Horses for Clean Water