I board at a farm that breeds Arab halter horses where riding is kind of a second thought. I stay there for many reasons--mostly because it's affordable and the owners give great care. I trust them completely with my horse.
But because riding isn't so important to them, their "arena" (a converted pasture) is rather neglected. Right now, half of it is covered in weeds, the other half is just dirt, a little sand, but mostly compacted dirt.
They used to disc the arena once in a while, but the tractor has been broken down for quite some time so the arena hasn't gotten any attention in probably 6 months.
I am a little concerned about what this could be doing to my horse's legs and joints. Right now everything I do is low-impact--just walking, a little trotting, some lateral work. We're both getting back into shape. But the time will come when I want to start cantering again and then jumping. By that point I'm hoping the tractor will be fixed, but to them it's just a low priority (they've been affected heavily by the economy, so their focus right now is just on providing good care to the horses...spending money on fixing a tractor was at the bottom of the list). I don't know if they have fixed it and just haven't bothered to disc the arena yet because no one is complaining. I would probably be the only one to complain since I am the only boarder to ride with any consistency. But I don't want to complain.
So for now I am just wondering how concerned I should be that the footing will negatively impact soundness? At what point should I stop progressing until the footing situation is resolved (trotting, cantering, etc.)?
Happiness is the sweet smell of horses, leather, and hay.
If the horse is used to it, it shouldn't be a problem. The outdoor ring at my barn is HARD. I don't think anyone would describe the footing as "good." None of our horses have a problem with it. My horse is 22, and has been at the same barn for something like 10 years. I've jumped him 3'6" on the hard footing, and people will do 3'-3'6" courses. One horse was still jumping 2'6" on that ground at age 29.
As long as you don't go from super soft footing to working hard on really hard footing, it'll be fine.
I'd certainly not do much more than w/t on rock-hard footing. No cantering, certainly no jumping. Depending on HOW hard, not even trotting much at all, unless I just wanted to work on bone density. I mean after all, eventers do some conditioning on hard roads.
But the eveness, or lack of, is just as important as well. Many years ago the big sand ring at the boarding barn (yes, sand) got rained on hard, and then sat and baked in the hot Summer sun. Within days it was literally like walking on concrete. Lumpy concrete at that. It was ok to walk around on, but that was it.
Hard footing is hard on bony structures. The higher the gait, the more concussion.
______________________________ The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET
I would also have to say that hard footing is NOT good. I was riding on dirt last year but my husband tilled it up regularly. As soon as there was a rain, and then it dried up again, it got HARD, and my horse let me know. He got very balky and wouldn't go forward when it was hard. One day I went out there with my flip flops, and just WALKING on it it hurt my feet. I thought, no wonder my horse doesn't like it! It probably not only hurts the joints, but the soles of the feet also.
We tilled up the area again this year and planted grass. It's much softer with a carpet of grass and I won't ever ride on dirt like that again.
Yes hard footing is a problem. If you are questioning yours it probably is too hard. For me I can feel it in my back when the footing is too hard.
Since you can't harrow it can you water it?
Maybe ride in the pasture instead?
Another alternative is to shoe your horse with the pads they use for the city cop horses or ride in hoof boots that puts a rubber cushion between your horse and the ground.
When you walk on it yourself, is there "give"? If it's truly hard like packed dirt -- with no give to it -- then, no, I wouldn't do anything serious on it.
We ride routinely in the pastures at my event barn -- I do dressage there, and of course we condition at all three gaits -- but even with a nice cushion of grass if it really gets dry and hard we will retreat to the arena.
If the weedy area has more give I'd rather ride there if I were you...
Ask your BO if they'd allow you to hire someone with a TR3 arena groomer to come in to work over the arena. Our "arena" at my mare's barn is one of those that can be pretty nice when properly groomed; otherwise it's like a lumpy parking lot and completely useless.
I convinced our BO to hire a fellow with a TR3 and the footing was transformed from foul to fantastic. BO, bless his little heart, tried to "groom" the arena after the last freak snowstorm and wrecked it. Now it's a SOFT lumpy parking lot. Not completely horrible, but the guy with the TR3 made it sooo smooth and consistent. We need him back this month!
I got my BO's OK to hire the TR3 guy every other time. It benefits my teaching and training, so I consider it a business expense. Maybe your BO's would give you a break on board? For your peace of mind, even if they don't, it might be worth it?
Is your horse shod too? Just curious...hard is not good, but it sounds correctable with some time spent on the tractor.
Ask them what they think the cost is to fix the tractor? Maybe it is low enough you could share (couple hundred dollars) so that the arena area can be maintained. I wouldn't be shy in asking about them addressing the arena surfacing. You clearly like it there and trust them with the care of your horse...I would certainly start by telling them that...
There is a little give when I walk on it...I know what you mean by baked-in-the-sun concrete and it's not that bad. I could dig at it a little with the toe of my boot and create a small hole if I wanted to. There is some loose soil on top, maybe an inch or two. But the base is the hardest part, and it seems like it's right there without much cushion in between.
The weedy part isn't much better...we have some pretty tenacious weeds out here that would probably grow in rock. Plus the weeds are knee-high and prickly tumbleweed types...might be good for getting her to bend her joints though, huh? lol
I did forget to mention that my girl is barefoot, so that probably has more of an effect than if she was shod. I have noticed a little more flaring when I've been riding her more often. But, due to finances, I want to keep her barefoot if I can.
I like the suggestion of the hoof boots--I hadn't thought of that! I think I will look around and see if I can find some that might work for us. I am guessing they'll probably cost a bit, but how long do they last?
My DH did offer to help them fix the tractor (he is a mechanic) but the BO hasn't been very committed about it...which is understandable since he's been training horses at another ranch to help bring in income right now so he's been busy. I think I'll ask DH if he would come down with me this weekend and take another look at the tractor. Who knows, it may even be fixed already...I haven't asked in a while. If it is, I'll offer to disc up the arena so they don't have to do it.
Thanks again for the advice. I love that I can come here and get so many great answers to my questions.
Happiness is the sweet smell of horses, leather, and hay.