Study: Arena Footing Can Increase Risk of Injury

Every equestrian knows the importance of good arena footing. A slip, trip, or stumble could result in serious consequences for both horse and rider. Every owner wants to provide the safest conditions for his or her equine athlete, but the lack of information on artificial arena surfaces makes it difficult to arrive at the best footing choice.

A recent study published in the November 2010 issue of The Veterinary Journal by the Animal Health Trust Centre of Equine Studies (AHT) in Suffolk, U.K., and the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine's Evidence-based Medicine unit at the University of Glasglow in Scotland determined that the footing in a dressage arena is one of the major risk factors for horses developing a lameness.

"Many horses are working on artificial surfaces, but there is little known about how these surfaces could be associated with problems or injury," said Rachel C. Murray, VetMB, MS, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, of the AHT and lead author on the study.

A survey returned by 22.5% of the 11,363 registered members of British Dressage found that wax-coated surfaces were most associated with a low risk of injury, while sand and woodchips were likely to become uneven in both wet and dry conditions, thus elevating the risk of injury.

Sand was most associated with horses tripping, with coarse sand more likely to cause loss of balance than fine sand. Woodchips were nearly 13 times more likely to cause slipping than other surfaces.

Adding PVC, rubber, or wax to sand footing improved the density of the surface material--making it less likely to be uneven--and reduced tripping and slipping. A sand and rubber mix was not as stable as when rubber was used as a top layer over sand.

The base surface choice is also important for keeping the footing even and preventing problems during riding. A limestone base changed the least over different weather conditions, while crushed concrete could make a surface uneven due to its poor drainage capabilities.

"Riders should take care riding on arenas that change with weather conditions, particularly if they become deep or boggy, or on arenas that are not kept uniform across their surface," said Murray.

The number of horses ridden on a surface between each leveling further contributes to the evenness and uniformity of the footing, the researchers noted. They explained that the surface becomes more compact, with less elastic return and greater risk of injury, as more horses work on it between maintenance sessions.

"The surface used should relate to the type of maintenance the owner can do," said Murray, "A good wax-coated surface may need less maintenance per horse in order to keep reasonable surface properties compared to a sand surface."

The abstract of the article, "How do features of dressage arenas influence training surface properties which are potentially associated with lameness?" was published Oct. 2, 2010, and is available on PubMed.

About the Author

Megan Cassels-Conway

Megan Cassels-Conway is a third-year veterinary student.

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