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Coping with hard ground

Kate Hore RNutr(Animal). Snr Nutritionist at NAF

After a long, cold winter, nothing can be nicer than to see the sun and enjoy some better weather. The sunshine and long days allows us to get out and really enjoy our horses – and certainly waiting between classes at competitions is better with an ice cream than huddling under an umbrella! However the prolonged period of dry weather many of us have enjoyed recently, leaves the ground very hard. So it’s worth just thinking how this affects your horse and what you can do to help them cope with hard ground.

Our first consideration must be the effect of the ground on the concussive forces going through your horse’s leg. Research shows that approximately four tonnes of concussive force passes through the lower leg when galloping. While this may seem fairly high, that reading will vary enormously, and factors such as speed and ground conditions are of significant importance. If the ground is harder than usual the physical forces through the limbs increases on every stride from a gentle trot to jumping or galloping. So if your show jumping class is on grass, and you arrive to find the ground as hard as concrete, ask yourself whether you really need to compete today. It may be a disappointment when you’ve worked hard to get to that show, but think about leaving it and saving your horse for another day.

However we don’t need to hang up our bridles completely until the autumn rains arrive, but we do need to take a little care. It is recommended that you support your horse’s joints from the inside out with targeted nutrition. Joints are complex structures so require a complex approach.

When the ground gets hard don’t forget hoof care. After all the hooves are the part of your horse that come into contact with the ground, and so they need to be able to cope with any changes. Moisture levels within the hoof horn are critical to providing flexibility and strength. By spreading as they hit the ground hooves help the horse absorb some of those concussive forces, but they can only do that efficiently if the correct moisture levels are maintained. Naturally the hoof wall is around 30% moisture, with highest levels found around the coronet band and drying slightly as you go down the hoof.

Regular trimming helps to maintain moisture levels, so make sure your horse sees the farrier regularly. In between visits we can all help by using the right applications for summer hooves, maybe a couple of times a week.

If your horse has been working hard over summer cool them down with a refreshing summer wash, and consider a cooling application to cool and refresh your horse’s legs after hard work.

In conclusion correct dietary maintenance for strong healthy joints, and using the right applications to moisturise and cool, we can look forward to enjoying the long summer days with our horses, right through to autumn.