A long summer dry spell may make you want to leave the riding ring and head for the trails, but keep in mind that drought conditions can make for dangerously hard ground. The lack of moisture in the soil, combined with a die-off in ground cover, can make the footing on trails and other natural terrain so unforgiving that horses become more susceptible to hoof bruises and other concussive injuries. In addition, conditions like arthritis can be aggravated.
If you know the ground is hard, stick to a walk on unimproved footing. If you’re unsure, listen to your horse’s footfalls: Unforgiving ground will “ring” loudly under each beat, particularly at faster gaits, rather than producing the more muffled “clop” you’ll hear from softer, safer footing. When rains return and ringing stops, you can pick up the pace again.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #466, July 2016.