MANAGING HORSES ON HARD GROUND….

As we move into the middle of the eventing season, we hope to find that the weather improves and with it the ground conditions may get firmer.

Many events make excellent preparations to allow for this and make sure the ground is as optimal as possible. However we may still find that the ground is still firmer than ground conditions at the start and end of the season.

Hard ground can put an increased amount of force on the horse’s joints and soft tissues, in particular the lower joints such as the coffin joints, pastern joints and fetlock joints. As the surface interaction with the foot and ground becomes harder the foot reduces its shock absorbing mechanisms, forces are not dissipated into the ground as much so more forces are distributed throughout the horses foot and leg. Naturally as the horse’s speed increases, such as when galloping and a jumping effort is combined, then the forces involved increase further.

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X-Ray showing the bottom three joints of the horse, the coffin joint, pastern joint and fetlock joint, which can be susceptible to concussion forces.

X-Ray showing the bottom three joints of the horse, the coffin joint, pastern joint and fetlock joint, which can be susceptible to concussion forces.

Conditions that may be seen
Often people may refer to horses as ‘jarred up’. This can often be seen in the few days immediately after running on hard ground, and refers to pain and inflammation in the joints, often with lameness, usually in more than one leg or joints.

The horse may be lame on one leg, particularly if trotting on a hard surface or whilst turning. If the horse is lame in multiple legs, it may not appear as lame but may instead be pottery, stiff or have a reduced stride length.

The joints may appear hot, swollen and filled and the horse may be painful to manipulation and flexion.
It may be more normal for this to last a few days after a hard cross country run but may be unusual if the lameness is more severe or if continues for longer.

Hard ground can cause tendons to become inflamed, and a condition known as tendonitis can occur. Here the tendon may be swollen, hot and sore, early recognition of this can prevent further damage and injuries. Any concern with tendons should be investigated further by a veterinary surgeon.

How to treat ‘jarred horses’
If there are problems with the joints, then topical anti-inflammatory treatments could be used to minimise joint inflammation. These include cold hosing, ice therapy, spa treatment and stable bandaging. As long as the horse is comfy enough, gentle controlled exercise over the first few days can help.

If the horse is very lame, sore, or the joints particularly swollen then veterinary attention should be sort , where more intensive anti-inflammatory medication may be used.

Preventing problems associated with hard ground

Many affiliated events take every step to improve the ground conditions and can not be improved further.

For horses that are very susceptible to lower joint problems such as coffin joint synovitis, changes to the shoeing such as adding a pad under the shoe or filling the sole with a shock absorbing packing such as polyurethane can help limit joint and foot concussion.

Shows application of urethane to a horse's sole to provide shock and concussion protection. © Image courtesy of Vettec
Shows application of urethane to a horse’s sole to provide shock and concussion protection. © Image courtesy of Vettec

Rapid cooling of joints following cross country can be beneficial in helping to limit joint inflammation, as well as supporting the joints in the form of bandaging in the time after cross country.
Joints tend to fill and become stiffer and more inflammed when stabled, therefore allowing a horse to move in a controlled manner over the first few days after an event can help mobilise joints and reduce problems.

Finally, making sure horses are appropriately shod, trimmed, balanced and studded, can help limit uneven forces and loading across the horse’s ligaments and joints.

Simon Woods BVSc MRCVS

Fyrnwy Equine Clinic www.fyrnwy.co.uk

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