To Trot Or Not To Trot?

I saw recently a debate about trotting on roads on one of the networking sites, so here is my opinion.

When we were younger we were always told never to canter on the road; avoid slippery roads, walk carefully along it when it`s very shiny; walk down hill. They were the golden rules we abided by. So we regularly trotted along the road, or up the steep hill (hence why our ponies had hindquarters the size of Clydesdales) I don`t remember a single one of them having a splint. Or a days lameness.
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Now everyone says “beware of concussion injuries from trotting on the road”. Exactly how much trotting are you doing?!? And how fast? Surely the faster you go the heavier the footfall, the more the concussion. Or are we riding weaker boned animals, who are more susceptible to concussion injuries? Are people going out for hacks and hammering along the road for two hours a day? In which case I fully accept that their horses will suffer some form of shin splints, the way human athletes would. Or are the roads harder? Are people using more roads compared to tracks, mainly because of urbanisation reducing the number of available bridleways? Are these people balanced riders?

I remember training for my stage II, when you learn about fittening a horse for hunting or competing. The BHS tells you to trot to strengthen the tendons. Yes I know the BHS can be quite old-fashioned …
But they do have a point that just working on soft ground risks pulling or damaging tendons. Then what if you go to an event and the ground is classified as hard? And all your preparation takes place in the school? Surely you are at high risk of injuring your horse? So what are the options? Withdraw any competition with “hard ground”? Only enter competitions that you know have a soft surface? Or train your horse so that his body is well adapted to cope with all conditions?

When hacking in wet conditions do you stay in walk? Surely a little trot on the road a) to warm you up, and b) is better than trotting or cantering on the uneven, slippery tracks. Then in mid summer, aren`t the tracks almost as hard as the roads? I find that when I hack in the winter I tend to stick to roads and have some trots, especially a steady one up a hill to really get my horse working (helps when you have a few fresh riding school horses too … send them up the hill and then they`re sane enough for the client lessons) and in the summer, we revert to the tracks and woods and have lots of fun in there.
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Swings and roundabouts; and everyone has an opinion, and I`m sure some horses can cope with hard ground better than others so a big factor is knowing your horse, particularly if they have a previous injury. But surely it is better for the horse and for you to mix and match so that they can work safely and happily on all types of terrain, and then you have a lot of variety in your hacks. I don`t think people can rigidly stick to one viewpoint and the judge people for being on the opposite side of the fence.

7 thoughts on “To Trot Or Not To Trot?

  1. saraannon Dec 12, 2013 / 2:23 am

    But surely it is better for the horse and for you to mix and match so that they can work safely and happily on all types of terrain… a resounding yes to that!

      • saraannon Dec 12, 2013 / 7:02 pm

        I was glad to read it as I don”t know whatever happened to the idea that conditioning a horse included hill work, roadwork and working in deep footing (sand or plowed fields). Now horses are expected to stand in a stall 23 hours a day but still be fit when we decide to take them out competing… and then people are shocked and surprised when the horses get injured!

  2. Becky Dec 13, 2013 / 5:49 pm

    I think I was brought up in much the same way: the additional rule for us was that (providing it wasn’t downhill) we were to trot single file around corners we couldn’t see round on the roads (to get around them faster and shorten the window of opportunity for a vehicle to fly round as they couldn’t see us and spook the ponies). I, and many other people, would absolutely still advocate the use of trot work for fittening – so many people think canter is better, but it’s a lazy way of increasing a horse’s fitness; canter is so much easier for them as they’re pretty much pushing off with both hind legs (where the engine is) at the same time, meaning they have to put less effort in, whereas the footfalls of trot mean that they only have 50% of the power so have to work much harder.

    I suspect it’s got a lot to do with horses being far more cosseted these days: riding abroad a lot has meant I’ve seen horses which are far skinnier than those who live in the UK and, initially, this worried me. Until I sat on one, realised they were very fit sport horses and could go all day. Horses in the UK are over-fed and under-worked (as a friend of mine says, “obesity is a growing problem”!), and therefore they’re going to be more injury-prone. Too few horses have access to year-round grazing (to quote Carl Hester’s long-time vet, “the best way to keep a horse fit is to keep it moving”), and are therefore stabled too much, so again will lose fitness very quickly.

    This has turned into a longer rant than I meant to, sorry! I wanted to say that I agree with you, so I think I’ll leave it at that. Thanks for posting 🙂

    • therubbercurrycomb Dec 13, 2013 / 8:30 pm

      Thanks for the rant; I love hearing everyone`s opinion so long as they`re not having a go at anyone.
      I tend to agree with you about horses being cossetted; how many horses now wear boots and wraps, compared to twenty years ago?
      Another thought I have is that it`s crazy that there is such a view that “thin is beautiful” with regard to humans. But thin, or slim, horses is seen as a negative and obesity is best!

      P.S. Glad you agree about the trotting for fitness! I had forgotten about trotting around corners to get out of the way, even though I do it most days. 🙂

  3. kshai1715 Dec 13, 2013 / 8:29 pm

    I do a TON of driving on the roads with my horses. I’ve got 3 that go out on the roads, and a typical drive in anywhere from 3-6 miles. I have one pony that has logged probably 700 miles on the roads alone in the last 7 years. My QH (pictured) has logged just over 200 in the last 3 seasons. My mini has just started his big road adventures, and has about 30 miles on the blacktop.

    The roads I use are actual ROADS, they are not gravel side passes, or country lanes. They are 25-40mph blacktop roads.

    All of my horses are barefoot. I do a mix of speeds on the roads, from walking slow and pokey to a real forward walk, to slow steady trots (sometimes for 2 miles) to a true “road gait” trot, which is forward, forward, forward.

    I prefer the long periods of stamina building steady paced trots on the roads, and tend to reserve the long 3-4 miles of quick road gaiting trots (for cross country marathon for showing) for the trails, so they’re not beating their feet up on the roads.

    On the roads, my horses will usually do about 4 miles per hour, with a combination of walking and trotting. I don’t think that’s too quick or too slow. I think it’s just right. On the trails, I can easily clock them at 6-8 mph, which is competition speed, so I know I’m right on target. It is easier for them to get the speed on the grass vs. the blacktop.

    I have noticed over time that my hackney & QH do/did get tender footed from the road work. We usually go out on the roads 1-2 day a week, with another 1-2 days in the arena, and 1-2 on the trail (they do only work 3 days a week, so every week is a little different and I try to mix it up).

    I noticed especially with my QH, while wearing shoes, that he was starting to not want to stride out well on the roads. In 2012, I pulled the shoes off my hackney and got hoof boots, for his fronts only, and they made a huge difference for his level of apparent comfort on the roads. So early in 2013, I did the same with the QH. Shoes off, hoof boots on for road work. Barefoot the rest of the time.

    That’s panned out very well for both horses. The mini doesn’t have any issues, but its’ also not like he can really stride out, and since he doesn’t weigh that much, I just don’t see any effect on him with the streets.

    Although I as a rule do NOT canter on blacktop due to concussion, I have here and there allowed a little bit of canter on roads, especially going up hill. I’d say my QH has probably cantered less than 50 strides on the roads, and my hackney- who can trot at 18MPH, has no need to canter on the roads! LOL!

    • therubbercurrycomb Dec 13, 2013 / 8:41 pm

      Thanks for this post; it`s really interesting, especially from the driving perspective.

      Most of our horses have shoes on in front, some are behind, and it`s only really the ponies who are barefoot. Mainly because we live in a very flinty area, but ideally most of them would be barefoot.

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