Dr David Marlin explores trotting on the roads

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Recent thinking suggests that trotting our horses on the road may be leading to more incidents of lameness and jarring. We asked scientific and equine consultant Dr David Marlin to give us the lowdown.

“Given the high prevalence of lameness and arthritic injury/disease in horses right now, there are things to consider about roadwork,” says David.

“The benefit of riding on the roads is that it’s a consistent flat, hard surface where potholes or uneven parts can be avoided. Road surfaces vary though – some are slippery, while others provide a good grip, so it’s important to assess the conditions.”

Roadwork subjects a horse’s hoof to forces 20 times greater than a good grass or arena surface.

“A great deal is absorbed by the hoof, fetlock and bones below the knee, but could still lead to damaged joints,” explains David.

“The jarring caused when trotting is similar to us running on the roads and, if not regulated, could lead to joint pain and degeneration. However, roadwork is better than walking or trotting through a sticky field.”

The best advice for keeping horses sound is to work them on varying surfaces, including good grass, arenas and roads.

“Too much time spent on one surface increases the risk of injury,” says David.

“This is increasingly a problem as many horses are now only being ridden in an arena – we really are damaging them.”

What advice would you give for riding on the roads?

“Walking is fine and shouldn’t be limited. Trotting should be limited to no more than five minutes a day.”

Other things to consider:

  • Trotting on the road doesn’t harden or strengthen tendons.

  • Roadwork does increase bone strength, but you only need a few minutes of trot to achieve this. This is particularly useful for young horses.

  • Prolonged trotting contributes to joint and cartilage deterioration.

  • Barefoot horses are at similar risk from roadwork as horses who are shod.

  • Working on very soft or uneven surfaces increases the risk of injury.

  • Wet, firm sand is better than roads, but it’s still eight times harder than a good grass or arena surface.

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