Coping with hard ground

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While summer sunshine is a welcome sight, the downside is solid, baked ground. Vet Ryan McCarthy explains how hard ground can cause injury and how best to deal with the problems it brings.

When your horse’s foot meets the ground, a concussive force is created, known as the ground reaction force. This force is absorbed by the horse’s anatomic structures evolved over millions of years to effectively absorb shock.

When working on an arena surface or softer going, the ground does a lot of shock absorbing. However, when the ground is firm, the horse’s own structures take on the work of counteracting the concussive forces. As those forces travel up the leg, they can cause discomfort and exacerbate mild injuries.

Working on hard ground can increase the likelihood of injury to joints, tendons, ligaments, bones and feet, but it’s not just horses working on hard ground that have problems. Older horses turned out on hard fields can also develop issues.

Injury prevention

Follow these management tips to help reduce hard ground related injury.

To keep hooves at their best, pick your horse’s feet out daily and apply hoof moisturiser. Moisture in the hoof capsule will improve its flexibility and shock absorption.

If your horse has worked on hard ground, cold hose his legs for 10 minutes or use ice boots or wraps for at least 15 minutes.

Ensure he’s fit before working him on hard ground. Interval training is useful and trotting poles/raised poles improve the range of motion in the joints.

Water treadmills can help improve joint function and flexibility, as well as encouraging your horse to work straight and engage his core.

Working regularly on roads and hard ground does not harden bones, joints and tendons, reducing injury. In fact, it does the opposite.

To read more of Ryan’s advice on joint injury, see the full article in issue 455.

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