A leading equine scientist has shared his thoughts on training on hard ground after Your Horse reported a vet’s warning to riders.

Vet and event rider Natalie McGoldrick said she was concerned after noticing riders recommending cantering, galloping and jumping on hard ground as a way to condition your horse’s legs to it.

She said it was not possible to condition a horse to hard ground and urged riders to try to avoid faster work in fields until the ground is softer again.

Dr David Marlin said the subject was a “tricky one” with “some grey areas”, but avoiding hard ground for around 90 percent of your horse’s fitness work was advisable.

He stated that when exercising horses, using a variety of surfaces usually reduces the risk of orthopaedic injury. However, very soft surfaces increase the risk of soft tissue injury, while very hard surfaces exacerbate arthritis and increase the risk of concussive damage to the hoof.

Dr Marlin noted that sudden changes in surface increase injury risk, as well as surfaces that are very uneven.

“Short periods of cantering on hard surfaces (30 seconds) increase bone strength; early in the season short periods of trotting on roads (1-2 minutes) do the same,” he added. “By this stage of the season bone strength will already have increased.

“If you are going to have to compete on hard ground, then some very short periods of work — less than a few minutes in canter and no jumping or galloping — are likely to be beneficial, but if your horse has pre-existing conditions such as arthritis then this carries a risk. So the advice to avoid hard ground for say 90 percent of your fitness work is good advice.”

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