In partnership with Wintec Saddles

The UK has experienced a drought this summer, which brings more concerns for horse owners and riders than just a water shortage. It has turned the ground conditions in bridleways and fields firm, and many riders worry about the risk this poses to their horse’s legs and feet when out hacking. More than ever, it’s important to consider not just what you are doing and how fast you’re going during a hack or for how long, but also what surface you’re riding on.

Many riders have to hack out on roads at some point, whether that’s their whole ride or just to access bridleways. Roadwork offers plenty of benefits for our horses, including increasing bone strength, as well as generally being a consistently even surface to ride on. However, too much time spent in trot or canter on surfaces as firm as the road has the potential to cause lameness and injury, so it’s important to know how long is safe to trot on the roads for.

The benefits of varying the terrain

Riding our horses on a variety of surfaces can help to keep them fit as well as sound, and hacking is a good way to do this.

“Variety of surfaces is important,” equine scientist Dr David Marlin tells Your Horse. “Research shows that using a variety of surfaces reduces the risk of injury, and exclusive use on a single surface is likely to increase the risk of injury.

“We also know that extremes of surfaces — ie very deep or very hard — increase the risk of injury, and surfaces that change suddenly are a huge risk too, such as riding from soft on to suddenly hard going. It’s about consistency and variety while avoiding extremes and sudden changes.”

Much of the ground in the UK remains very hard and grass cover, which can offer a little cushioning, is limited due to a lack of growth during the hot weather.

The surface may also be uneven and inconsistent, and vast cracks can appear which can be hidden by grass or weeds. All of this can put your horse at risk, particularly when working at speed. Horses can’t be conditioned to riding on hard ground, and trying to do so increases the risk of injury.

Why hoof quality matters

Research has shown that roadwork results in forces on the hoof around 20 times higher than working on good grass or artificial surfaces, and that is the same for both shod and unshod horses.

“Barefoot horses are at similar risk from roadwork as shod horses with respect to forces transmitted up the leg — the difference between shod and unshod is in how the force travels through the foot,” explains David.

Speak to your farrier and vet if you are concerned about your horse’s hooves when riding on hard ground to see if there is a solution that could suit them. Horses are all different and some may cope better barefoot than others. It’s about doing what’s best for the individual.

If you are concerned that your horse is struggling with riding on hard ground, speak to your vet and farrier to find out what your options are. Horses are all individuals, so different shoeing options — such as barefoot, shod or wearing horses boots — may be worth investigating.

Dr David Marlin’s members area on his website provides access to science-backed information spanning a wide range of horse-related matters, including webinars, latest research findings, independent product trials and celebrity interviews, with the additional opportunity to join a friendly, supportive private community of fellow horse lovers.

A pay monthly membership is £8. Visit

This content is brought to you in partnership with Wintec Saddles, durable, comfortable, easy-care, weather-proof saddles for everyone and proud support of #Hack1000Miles

Find out what’s inside the latest issue of Your Horse

Get the latest issue

Check out our latest subscription offer