View Full Version : dealing with the hard ground

Jun. 15, 2011, 06:39 PM
so how do you try to keep your horse minimially fit (or at least entertained) with the hard ground--if you have no surfaced rings etc....I seem to spend a lot of time hacking in the woods (being chased by wood flies) and doing alot of walking up and down hills. (I did not get the pasture rolled the 5 minutes it was no longer a swamp and had not yet become a concrete road so it is a lumpy concrete road.) Any other ideas? (We ship into a lesson once a week...)

Jun. 15, 2011, 07:20 PM
Well...I have an endurance horse I keep at an eventing barn so here's my perspective. I'm well aquainted with MANY horses who travel literally THOUSANDS of miles on hard packed dirt, packed gravel, etc, and do this sound, at speed, and without the help of any drugs whatsoever. Harder footing is similar to weight bearing exercize in humans, and builds bone density more than it conditions soft tissue.

Now, your horse may be more valuable several times over than the average endurance horse, and may already have soundness issues, which could and should make you cautious. Your horse is probably also larger and bigger boned (more weight means more concussion). If your horse has a preexisting joint, tendon, back, etc problem you may want to take it easy, but depending on the injury some hard pack work should be fine, even beneficial. I can't give you a conditioning program, but I can tell you that hard dirt is not that big of a deal. Really, it's way less of a deal than any round of fences.

Some things you can do if your horse isn't used to this kind of work:
Do an adequan round or add a joint supplement.
Plan resting time for your horse to "heal" or build up his body for the new type of work - so go out there and do something, but then spend the next day just walking. If he's on pasture, time off moving and grazing with nothing on his back is great.
Uphills take concussion off those precious front feet, so if it seems appropriate to you, you should be able to move out uphill. Then walk the downhills. You can always get off, too! It reduces the concussion considerably AND it's good for you! :D ie You could jog the flat for 20min, canter up a hill, then walk down it.
Long trail rides at slow speeds are generally very safe and very beneficial. If you're worried about doing more than walking or a little sow trotting, consider you have the summer daylight on your side and stay out and enjoy those bugs!

I don't know if this is what you're looking for, but hopefully it gives you some ideas!

Jun. 15, 2011, 09:13 PM
Bad enough having to compete on hard ground once in a while. I absolutely refuse to do more than a bare minimum of training when it's rock hard.

I have trailered 75 miles to a park with one sandy, soft stretch of ground to do requisite intervals (prepping for a CCI*), I have done HOURS of trot sets in arenas, I have walked and trotted up the same hill 25 times in a session, and when all else fails I have just walked briskly, all muscles engaged, for an hour and called it a day.

A fit horse will not lose ground even over the course of a few weeks, if you have to dial back heavily due to bad footing. But it is hard to build them up. :no:

Some people have the luxury of access to swimming or aquatreds, others have lots of hills. I have neither, so am at the mercy of the elements to some degree. Heck, I don't even have an arena! :lol:

Anything up to Prelim, younprobably don't need to be doing all that much. Bonnie did the N3D in Indiana last weekend in 90+ degree heat and very high humidity having done some very modest trot sets and intervals, mostly just living outside and being used for lessons. And she's half ID and chunky. I hated the weather and the timing of our rides, and watched her like a hawk--she was totally unfazed and cruised right through Saturday AND Sunday, no problems.

It's boring, it's tedious, and it's not terribly productive, but just about any time spent under tack, even walking, is going to help with fitness.

Jun. 15, 2011, 09:32 PM
What you're doing. Lots of hacking in the woods/ fields, most of it w/t. Lots of hills. Generally if I've competed 3-4 times already in April/ May/ June, which I have, my horse is already pretty fit--I am just maintaining that. This year will be interesting, though, since I'm hoping to move up to P. He's definitely fit enough to do T, plus a bit, so we have to keep that going/ build a bit through July when we will only compete once, and hopefully have enough gas in the tank for a safe and conservative moveup in August.

Jun. 15, 2011, 09:36 PM
. Harder footing is similar to weight bearing exercize in humans, and builds bone density more than it conditions soft tissue.

Um, yeah, that would be arthritis... That British "roadwork" theory is old school. We have safer, more effective ideas for conditioning now that would apply to any horse or athlete, for that matter - see deltawave's post.
Look for softer footing - mossy areas in woods, for example. You have to get creative.

Jun. 15, 2011, 09:47 PM
You might also try pads on the front to help out a bit.

Jun. 15, 2011, 10:57 PM
I don't think there's any doubt that concussion builds denser, better bone. But the majority of problems that event horses face have nothing to do with bone density. The same concussion that hardens the bones is hell on cartilage.

Nothing wrong with slow, easy work, even a good bit of trotting, on a very firm surface when one is legging a horse up as a youngster, after a long layup, or as part of rehab from an injury. But to build the fitness of the whole animal (cardiovascular, muscle, soft tissue, etc.) the pounding does not add any particular benefit to these systems and there is a huge downside on what proves to be the "weakest link" in most horses: the cartilage and soft tissues.

Jun. 16, 2011, 06:19 AM
Thanks, poo, I do agree with dwave completely, and was simply trying to explain what the difference between working on hard vs soft does. I think the rest of what I said also made it clear I'm aware of the wear and tear on joints involved and steps that could be taken to minimize that. Keep in mind, too, while packed dirt or gravel may seem very hard, it is exponentially less hard than pavement. The idea of conditioning on pavement is absurd. I have had some contact with Europeans who ride on roads regularly, but it seems to have to do with lack of open space, and no one seems very happy about it.

It sounds like the OP has this kind of terrain to work with between lessons and was wondering how to make it work. I have no idea what her particular circumstances are, but wanted to reassure her that many horses work out intensely on hard dirt without ill affect into their mid-20s. Arthritis will occur in all horses to a greater or lesser extent as result of joint usage over time regardless of discipline. Predisposition &/or mismanagement will hasten the onset.

Soft footing can cause immediate and irreperable damage in horses who aren't conditioned for it. That's a tangental aside, but just pointing out that you have to ease your horse into any new type of terrain, and each will effect the body differently.

Nobody's situation is ideal, but I would imagine the omare, you should be able to get a little work done, keep you and your horse entertained and not do any serious damge just because you're on firm dirt. But what do I know? :) Hills are terrific, if you have them, at any speed, and as Delta said, horses hold their conditioning. The research I've read has suggested that a horse will not loose any noticable muscle mass, cardiovascular fitness, or lung capacity if they sit for 2wks in pasture.

Jun. 16, 2011, 08:48 AM
Thank you all for the suggestions-he has no existing soundness issues so I did not want to create any in my impatience to get something done this summer--(a new career for him) -he would only be aimed at novice level with the hopes of training by the end of the year and if that does not happen oh well. We are both greenies.

Jun. 16, 2011, 12:35 PM
Someone needs to tell Hannah Sue Burnett....

......I would do about 15 minutes of trot work on the pavement, to build the strength of his soft tissues........I made sure Nike was getting the proper amount of concussion to keep his tendons and ligaments tough.

Jun. 16, 2011, 01:42 PM
Just because a BNR endorses a particular product, method, or technique doesn't mean it's smart, or the right thing to do. :)

As others have indicated, and research supports, modest work on very firm surfaces can be beneficial to tendons, ligaments, and bones. But too much pounding is not beneficial to cartilage. One has to find a happy medium. Concussion is a double-edged sword.

Personally my feeling (not a BNR and no science to back it up) is that one can achieve PLENTY of beneficial concussion by working on harder ground, without resorting to trotting on pavement. Too much danger of slipping, for one thing, and that amount of hardness just seems like it's asking for trouble. Horses in most parts of the country have PLENTY of opportunities to cope with hard ground, depending on the season, without going out and looking for asphalt. :(

Jun. 16, 2011, 01:44 PM
As a former CTR and endurance rider, I rode well over 1000 miles on my mare and this was on Vermont hard packed dirt roads. She was still sound at 30.

Can a vet chime in here about conditioning for hard roads. Mathew Mackay-Smith lectured a long time ago about the importance of "building up to do endurance on hard roads." I wonder if he was wrong and how would you condition for hard roads.

When you consider endurance horses go for hours on hard roads and a training level eventer does a lot less time with less concusion. Interesting topic. . .

Jun. 16, 2011, 01:53 PM
Big difference between trotting and galloping/jumping as well.

Jeannette, formerly ponygyrl
Jun. 16, 2011, 02:49 PM
Big difference between trotting and galloping/jumping as well.

But/And when the original question is about fitness for eventing, and mentions the walking the OP does, endurance anecdotes about the benefits of trotting on dirt are helpful. A horse can get plenty fit for low level eventing even if for some span of time workouts are confined to walk trots across (hard ) country, with once a week lessons...

Jun. 16, 2011, 03:51 PM
So it sounds like trotting hills on the hard ground will not harm this fellow (but trotting circles on my lumpy concrete pasture I will avoid though!)

Jun. 16, 2011, 09:17 PM
Omare, I wouldn't think so. That is something that in my experience would be a-ok for most horses. Incidently, I had a lot more soundness issues when I was riding TBs over fences.

Some things to pay attention to and play around with could be noticing how your horse's feel changes as you come off a softer spot onto a harder spot. How does his trail trot compare to his groomed arena trot? If you are trotting on the flat and there is a faint downgrade, does that feel different?

If your horse has a big, amazing trot that makes you feel like you're trying to look graceful after having been thrown in the laundry with the whites, that is not a useful working trot on the trail, and endurance horses tend to carry themselves with less supsenion. They learn to make adjustments with the terrain. If your guy seems lovely, but then shortens up, he may be telling you the concussion is uncomfortable in this stretch of trail, and you might want to walk or try to help him balance himself differently.

I think the debate of how to condition for hard terrain is interesting, but everyone will have a different opinion. Each horse is an individual, so studies are hard to do. Once in a while you get a super horse who can be ridden fast, hard, often, over years and years and look like a million bucks at the end of his career. Then people say SuchandSuch horse was ridden that way, so we all can. Well, that horse was "special" and his rider was "lucky." My horse is "ordinary" and anyone can tell you, I'm "unlucky." A lot of BNRs in endurance will say train the same way you will be competing. Of course a lot of them aren't necessarily looking to have one horse still partnered with them into his 20s, and doing over 5000 competive miles. And I don't know what the trails are like where they live. Here, most of the year I get gravel logging roads and I walk down the steep parts. Period. When I come across a soft grassy hill, then I will do some downhill training at trots and canters to work on balance, but not because I think my horse needs more toughening up.

Eventer55 - I don't think it's wrong to say you should condition on hard footing to prepare for competition. If you're going to go out a do 100mi around here, your horse will not be prepared otherwise (that's NOT to say do your 20mi training rides on asphalt :eek:). But there IS a trade-off. And what that advice means, precisely, and how that information can be made useful for an eventer (or most CTR/AERC riders) isn't crystal clear. There will always be a trade-off every time you saddle up (a horse who never moves will be unhealthy, but work-outs risk injury and ALWAYS cause wear and tear.)

(I will shut up now. Can you tell I'm sick and stuck in bed?)

Jun. 17, 2011, 11:53 AM
Thanks H N'D. Also when I conditioned for CTR I started out walking the dirt roads and truthfully, I would never trot on pavement for all the same reasons DW pointed out.

The fact that all horses are different is also a major factor and as you pointed out, some riders are not looking to have the same horse in 20 years or at least riding it.

I also had pads on every ride every time, but not for concussion although in retrospect it may have made a difference.