#Hack1000Miles in partnership with Wintec Saddles

We’ve all heard it said: including road work when you’re hacking a horse is good for strengthening their legs. But is it true?

Many of us will at some point hack on roads, and it can be a big part of your horse’s work — whether you are rehabilitating your horse, bringing him back into work, showing him the world outside the arena or just riding to access a bridleway.

Working your horse on the road does come with some benefits, and it has been proven to strengthen structures in the limb — when done correctly.

“Roadwork does increase bone strength, but you only need a few minutes of trot each day to achieve this,” says equine scientist and president of the UK National Equine Welfare Council Dr David Marlin.

“Horses will adapt to doing roadwork three to four times a week in three to four weeks. Beyond that, the fitness benefit will be negligible, and you need to weigh up the benefits over the negatives as roadwork does contribute to joint and cartilage deterioration, increasing the risk and accelerating the onset of arthritis.

“There is evidence that increased amounts of controlled exercise can enhance tendon strength in young, musculo-skeletally immature horses (horses less than about two years of age), but this was not done on roads.”

Although you should be aware of the amount of time spent in trot on the roads, there is no limit to walking on the road.

“Trotting should be limited to no more than five minutes per day,” advises David.

“I realise many people have limited options of where they can ride, and road work per se is not bad for your horse, but consider limiting the amount of trotting you do on the roads. Most horses will not become lame or be unfit because they have done too little roadwork.”

Damage limitation

Hacking a horse on the road will have some impact on improving bone density through high impact loading on the roads, but it can also have a negative effect on other structures.

“The problem is, it’s likely you only need to trot for 50m a day to get that effect on bone density, and once you go past that, the negative effect is concussion, which affects cartilage in the fetlock and also in the knee,” says David.

“It may not be good for the hoof to have that concussion either. It’s not hardening the tendons, which is the common belief, and after two or three weeks, it won’t be doing anything more for cardio or muscular fitness.

“Three weeks of roadwork is probably enough for most horses if they are going out five or more times a week.”

Every horse is an individual and should be treated as such when ridden and trained.

“It’s important to consider the cost-benefit of early [year] roadwork,” says David. “If your horse has had concussive laminitis, or has evidence of arthritic changes, consider that long periods of trotting on the road may not actually be beneficial.”

Warning signs

Symptoms of a horse that has overdone it on the road include:

  • An increase in heat in lower legs that wasn’t there before
  • Filling around the joints, which suggests inflammation in the joints
  • Lameness
  • Splints and sore shins

“Palpate your horse’s legs regularly, feeling for heat and swellings and check for lameness,” adds David. “Look out for warning signs and maybe back off for a few days or call your vet.”

This content is brought to you in partnership with Wintec Saddles, durable, comfortable, easy-care, weather-proof saddles for everyone.

Dr David Marlin runs a membership-based platform which provides access to science-backed information spanning a wide range of horse-related matters, including webinars, the latest research findings, independent product trials and celebrity interviews, with the additional opportunity to join a friendly, supportive private community of fellow horse lovers. Find out more at drdavidmarlin.com.

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