Equine Summit Tackles Competitive Horse Health Care

The Well-being of the Competitive Horse was one of three major industry issues addressed during the Kentucky International Equine Summit.

Today's summit agenda was comprised of panel discussions entitled:

  • The function requirements for competition,
  • Biomechanics and equine locomotion,
  • Surface technologies in equine sports, and
  • The initial experience: artificial surfaces.

The panel on function requirements for competition focused on how environmental factors, such as shoeing, training techniques, and exercise to modify muscle fibers and alter bone, can increase a horse's performance while minimizing the opportunities for injury.

During the panel for biomechanics and equine locomotion, it was agreed that a lack of uniform standards to diagnose lameness, criteria to determine racetrack safety, standard track maintenance protocol, farrier certification, and introducing farrier technology in veterinary schools are issues everyone in the business should seek to resolve.

"A broad commitment from the entire industry to understand these issues is absolutely essential," said Michael Peterson, MS, PhD, of the University of Maine.

The third panel, which covered surface technologies in equine sports, discussed footing for Western horse shows, horse racing, jumping, hunting, and dressage. The speakers concurred the biggest challenges they face are working with the materials made available to them, the dearth of any protocols to determine what is an acceptable surface, and insufficient education of each surface's maintenance workers.

The main problem of maintaining any surface is regulating water composition, which varies widely for each event. For Western events such as reining, 3 to 4% moisture content is deemed ideal, while for jumping that figure is roughly 12 to 15%.

The panel on artificial surfaces concentrated primarily on the new synthetic surfaces for racing.

Polytrack Surfaces, installed at Arlington Park, Del Mar Racetrack, Turfway Park, Keeneland Race Course, and Woodbine Race Course, claim a 50% reduction in catastrophic injuries since each installation.

However, concerns about the surface's ability to adapt to varying temperatures and slower race times have raised a red flag for many in the industry.

All speakers thought a reluctance to accept artificial surfaces as a means to promote safety of both horses and jockeys was based on an obsession with speed.

"It is a complete myth that synthetic surfaces are slower than the old dirt," said Jim Pendergast of Polytrack Surfaces. "They are as fast, if not faster, than before."

The summit was jointly sponsored by the Equine Industry Program in the College of Business at the University of Louisville and the Equine Initiative in the College of Agriculture at the University of Kentucky.

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