FOCUS ON FOOTING
FROM "HORSE CANADA" - NOV/DEC - 2015
Regular maintenance is as important as footing materials used; failure to do so can cause unevenness, varying moisture levels, and compaction - all injury risks to horses.
More than 30 equine, veterinary and footing specialists from three continents gathered at a special two-day equine surfaces forum held at FEI headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, in July, to discuss standards for arena surfaces in jumping and its effects on the orthopaedic health of sport horses.
A consensus emerged that procedures regarding three components - the correct materials and design, proper installation and appropriate maintenance - will evolve into standards that can support manufacturers, educate show organizers and protect horses and riders.
MATERIAL & DESIGN
Research has found that the performance of arena surfaces is characterized by the following:
Impact firmness: The shock experienced by the horse and rider when the hoof contacts the surface.
Cushioning: How much a surface is supportive compared to how much it gives when riding on it.
Responsiveness: How active or springy the surface feels to the rider.
Grip: How much the horses' foot slides during landing, turning and pushing off.
Uniformity: How regular the surface feels when the horse moves across it.
Consistency over time: How much the surface changes with time and use.
It was noted that, in recent years, there has been an increasing trend towards the use of artificial and synthetic surfaces rather than grass in competition arenas. Climate, year-round use, ease of maintenance, rider awareness of performance and injury risks and more readily-available surfaces composed of silica sand and other materials due to an increase in the number of manufacturers and suppliers are all factors in this shift.
Many top venues such as Spruce Meadows, Aachen and Hickstead, still opt for grass surfaces, however, which provide the horse with a more 'natural' footing. The functional properties are highly dependent on the quality of the root structure and the moisture content, and judicious maintenance is necessary to avoid compaction, which increases density and hardness. Poor-quality or overly-wet turf can lack 'shear resistance' (resistance of the surface to penetration) and necessitate the use of shoe studs.
A uniform, level base and adequate drainage are essential to arena construction. Perforated pipes dug deep into the ground are often used beneath the surface, with screened limestone (preferred), crushed concrete, or porous asphalt traditionally applied above. In areas with lower rainfall a clay base can be used. Woodchip or rubber beneath the top surface can provide additional shock absorption. Adequate drainage must be installed to ensure the surface recovers quickly from rainfall, but a surface that is too permeable will not be able to retain moisture during dry spells. Specialised drainage systems such as Equaflow™ and Ebb and Flow allow drained water to be re-added to the surface via a storage tank and automatic pump.
Surface maintenance involves watering, harrowing, levelling, rolling and/or grading, which will reduce compaction and improve or maintain consistency around the arena. Uneven surfaces, varying moisture content and compaction are associated with a higher risk of injury to horses.
Emerging evidence suggests that horses change their gait patterns based on even minor changes in surface preparation; therefore, regularly altering surface preparation can stimulate different gait patterns which can be beneficial to training and conditioning. Older horses or those with chronic conditions may benefit from only exercising on surfaces prepared to limit the development of further degenerative changes.