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Exercising On Hard Ground

Why is cantering on hard ground a problem?

Read our advice on the do's and don'ts of hard ground.

Why is cantering on hard ground a problem? Upon impact with the ground, your horse’s hoof is subjected to a great deal of concussive force. Softer ground provides cushioning and the structures of the foot and leg are well placed to absorb the impact. However, when the ground is firm, much of the force is not absorbed leading to the potential for injury.

Are certain horses more at risk than others? Horses with previous injury or more abnormal foot and limb conformation will always be at greater risk of injury. Equally, horses with poor-quality hoof may be more susceptible to problems. Please speak with your veterinarian if you are concerned so that appropriate preventative measures can be taken.

At this time of year, we are always concerned about laminitis. Laminitis is mostly associated with overweight ponies on lush pastures; however, it can equally affect horses of all ages and fitness levels, primarily because it is a multifactorial disease. Excessive work on hard ground leads to concussion and inflammation of the sensitive laminae in the feet. Imagine the laminae are like velcro, sticking the pedal bone to the hoof capsule. The more this velcro is subjected to excessive force, the less sticky it becomes. In the end the damage to the laminae can lead to sinking and rotation of the pedal bone within the hoof capsule, causing serious pain and ongoing issues which can be extremely challenging to rectify.

So what can I do to prevent injury? Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can reduce the risk of injury, and still keep your horse fit for competition.

Before exercise

Stock up on fly repellent and hoof oil for everyday care. Making sure your horse is well protected from flies and other biting insects reduces the risk of both excessive foot stamping and tearing around the field trying to get away from the flies. Equally smothering your horse’s feet in hoof oil will prevent brittle and cracked hooves. Healthy hooves expand and contract more effectively with each stride, absorbing more of the concussive force and decreasing the chance of injury.

Get creative!

There are plenty of alternative ways to get your horse competition ready.

  • Try out some polework in the school. Working your horse over poles provides high intensity exercise without the added concussion.
  • Head to the hills. This will immediately increase the intensity of your fitness session. Walking and trotting uphill is ideal- it encourages your horse to use their body evenly to build strength.
  • If you are lucky enough to keep your horse near the beach, or you have access to transport, working your horse on the sand and in the sea is good for builds fitness and encourages muscle tone and strength. A word of caution if you do decide to head to the coast- please check tide timetables carefully, know your beach and the ground well before taking your horse there, and be aware of the significant differences in environment which could make your horse more spooky.


If you have been exercising on hard ground, or on a hot day, cold hosing after exercise for around 5 minutes can help reduce the risk of injury. A gentle walk or turnout following exercise is also beneficial to allow stretching. If running water is not available, for example at an event, then various ice boots and clay products can help cool the lower limb. Please ensure you understand how to apply these correctly before use.

If you are concerned that your horse is struggling with the hard ground, or you have any questions with regards to ongoing management during the summer months, please don’t hesitate to contact us on 01323 815120.