Thursday, 28 November 2013

All about roadwork

I'm slowly working my way through the topics you asked about last week so here is a post about roadwork. 
There used to be a commonly held misconception that horses couldn't work on roads if they didn't have shoes on. This is something I've blogged about here, explaining why horses shouldn't really be walking on hoof wall at all:

Essentially, the myth was that feet would simply wear away with road mileage; this would be a big problem if it were true as most horses in the UK at least need to be able to cover some distance on roads as part of their normal exercise routine. Of course people ride on fields, tracks and bridleways as well but these are usually linked by roads so road mileage is essential.
I suspect the myth about feet wearing away came about because shod horses tend to have long hoof wall; if they lose a shoe and are out on a hard surface it quickly chips away until the hoof has the much shorter hoof wall typical of a hard-working barefoot horse. 

That's not usually a problem for the horse but it does make replacing the shoe more difficult and you can understand how it would seem - to someone who had never seen a really healthy hoof - that if the horse carried on with roadwork it would simply continue to wear away. 

In fact, of course, hooves adapt to wear by growing faster so roadwork - or any work on an abrasive surface - is a fantastic way of encouraging good growth...BUT there is an important caveat. 
If a horse is landing toe first (there is a long blog post here about toe first vs heel first landing) then roadwork is not such a good idea for several reasons: 
  • the foot is not able to effectively shock-absorb when it lands like this so concussion on joints and limbs is increased;
  • a toe first landing stresses the DDFT and if this is repeated step after step it will lead to damage and injury;
  • a horse landing toe first is much more likely to trip or stumble - and that's bad enough without it happening on a road.
However, once a horse has a good landing roadwork is an excellent way to strengthen and maintain the frog, digital cushion and whole palmar hoof - in fact its an extremely important part of the rehab horses' exercise programmes both here and when they go home. 

The fundamental rules to remember with roadwork are:
  1. check the horse is not landing toe first;
  2. increase mileage gradually as hoof growth will need a little time to adapt; 
  3. remember roadwork is more concussive so limit trot work, especially with older or arthritic horses or those with weak feet; and
  4. always wear hi-viz ;-) 


sidoney said...

Thank you for the information about roadwork.

It is useful to know that a toe-first landing precludes roadwork.

What would you recommend as transitional work for a horse with a toe first landing in order to improve the feet but before the horse is ready for roadwork?


Nic Barker said...

Any surface where the horse is landing heel first - usually has to be conformable eg sand, shingle.

Anonymous said...

I learned something important from this post - that tripping and stumbling can be a sign of toe-first landing and foot soreness. I've always thought of it as perhaps due to other things like EPM, which is a concern in the states.

Also, roadwork isn't really possible for most of us in the states - traffic is either too heavy for those of us who don't live in rural areas, or too high-speed in rural areas. Any alternative suggestions? We do have crushed limestone trails in some places, so perhaps those could serve a similar purpose.

Nic Barker said...

I'm sure tripping can be related to EPM too, Kate, but its common for owners to complain that toe first landing horses trip. The problem is often solved by a change in landing (though not if its caused by EPM, naturally!).

Any hard, abrasive surface can do a good job but uneven, hard surfaces can be too much of a challenge for a horse with weak feet or a medio-lateral imbalance so if that is the case, the smoother the surface the better. Tarmac, concrete, even very hard-packed stone or dirt trails would be worth a try.

sidoney said...

Nic thank you for your response.

I think this post has crystallised something for me that perhaps I should have understood, but hadn't. I'll run it past you to check.

A heel first landing has the highest priority.

Any change in work type or surface is contingent on the heel first landing being retained.

If the heel first landing is lost, the horse is not ready for the change.

If I have that correct, then regularly checking the landing, especially when there is a change, provides very clear and timely visual feedback for change and progress in the horse's work.

Nic Barker said...

Yep, pretty much bang on Sidoney :-)

cptrayes said...

Being without tracks or any chance of planners agreeing to them, I've been forced to rehab two horses using roads, but I walk in hand until they land flat. I also have hills, which I think helps, as downhill nothing lands toe first, and my impression is that uphill reduces the ddft impact of a toe first landing by changing the whole angle of the leg. That could be nonsense, but it's worked with two so far :-)


Unknown said...

I agree with the hill concept 100% . Downhill forces heel first which in turn plumps the digital cushion uphill as you say seems comfortable for reasons im not sure! My big question is what about the ussue if footsore over any stones?? Its my big wirry. Our immediate lanes are messy gravel sharp little stones all around. Unneven surfaces too. Its about 1 mile until nice smooth roads where my hirse us more comfy. Even then when cars pass you have to pull over onto the stoney edges and gimp gimp gimp! We have a good heel first landing in tarmac and even in riough dirt and stoney bridlepath in hand. Some dsys hes mire footy than others but do i carry on and work through the gimping or give up and boot him ir just give up lol? This is one of my biggest worries!

Nic Barker said...

I agree with you, C, that hills make a difference though I have one horse here at the mo who lands stubbornly toe first even down our rather steep drive :-(

For sure toe first UP hill (particularly on a steep hill) is normal for most horses.

Jessica, I don't think its fair or helpful to force a horse over ground they can't cope with so no, I wouldn't "work through" the gimping myself.

who am I????? said...

Ok so this is very clear thank you.

so my horses are having a little holiday at the moment whilst i focus on work. i was planning on starting work with them again in the new year but now i fear i need to check on landings of feet. I do not have a manage here so only have mud to work on i am in the process of planning my PP with different surfaces etc.

How in the mean time can i get their feet better if they do land toe first? i mean if i can not ride on the roads and my only other choice is mud? I do have a pair of boots and was going to invest in a pair of renegades but my trimmer said to not bother and spend the money on getting some shingle etc down!

thank you for your fab updates i am learning loads but a little advice would be fab thank you

who am I????? said...

so very sorry, just realised the mistake made by myself in adding the word but in the advice line was ever so rude. I am sorry it was clearly one of those post before proof read moments!