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Part 3: Equine White Surfaces Paper (FEI, April 2014)
15/03/2015 12:12:00

How to assess the performance of riding arena surfaces. Part 3 of a series summarising its findings

The world’s most extensive study into the effect of arena surfaces on the orthopaedic health of sport horses in the seven FEI disciplines and in racing was published by the FEI in April 2014.

The Equine Surfaces White Paper was the result of a four-year collaboration between eight equine ex-perts from six universities, three equine and racing-specific research and testing centres and two horse charities in Sweden, the UK and United States.  It brings together the latest data and published scientific papers on turf and equestrian arena surfaces, and the effects these have on horses in training and in competition.

A growing worldwide demand for equine riding arena surfaces in recent decades has meant that  individuals are looking to assess and quantify the whole range of arena surfaces available to their individual purpose and requirements.  Here we look at The White Paper's  findings on how the performance of a riding arena surface can be assessed.

Choosing the wrong surface

Making the wrong choice of equine surface for your particular requirements can potentially cause a number of issues.  Examples include where:
  • A hard surface may cause bone and joint related injury due to high frequency vibration and concussion.
  • Injury may occur due to the ‘stiffness’ of the riding arena surface.
  • ‘Shock absorbing’ elements can affect performance.

Equine surface performance criteria

The design and layout, materials used and maintenance will all impact on how a riding arena surface performs, which can be judged overall by looking at its:

1) Consistency 
  • this can be affected by many factors, such as variation in depth, which can cause the horse to be-come unbalanced and be the cause of lameness and may lead to the horse losing confidence in the footing.
  • moisture can affect consistency
  • regular maintenance of the riding arena surface will improve consistency
2) Impact Firmness
  • the shock experienced when the hoof makes contact with the riding arena surface which will be effected by the hardness of the top of the surface and the initial stiffness during primary impact.
3) Cushioning
  • cushioning refers to how much a surface is supportive, compared to how much it gives, when riding on it
  • Although a horse can exercise well on a surface injury can occur due to the ‘stiffness’ of the riding arena surface
4) Responsiveness
  • How active/springy the surface feels to the rider.
5) Grip
  • defined by how much the hoof slides on landing, turning and pushing off.
  • relates to the interaction between the hoof surface as well as the interaction between the surface materials that interlock and hold the riding arena surface together.
  • if studs are used, the interaction of the foot and arena surface is stronger and the surface may ‘shear’ at a depth below the interface, similar to pulling off a layer of turf during landing.
  • the angle that the limb lands and the speed of the horse will determine how much grip there will be
6) Uniformity
  • ie how regular the riding arena surface feels when the horse moves across it.
  • the consistency of the surface across the whole of the arena is important because,  even though it may look level, the impact firmness, cushioning, responsiveness and grip can change and the horse will find it difficult to adapt if there is inconsistency
7) Consistency over time
How the riding arena surface changes over time will be determined by:
  1. initial planning, layout and choice of surface
  2. the way the riding arena surface is used
  3. environmental conditions
  4. maintenance
An ideal surface should be consistent and provide a sound footing to fit the purpose of everyday use disregarding weather and environmental conditions. 

Consult the equestrian surface experts

Martin Collins Enterprises is the UK's top equestrian surface manufacturer and installer, with a growing international operation and prides itself on setting the winning standard in equine surfaces. 

Founded by Martin Collins over 30 years ago, its equestrian origins remain at the heart of the business today. The company provides a full construction service and undertakes projects which range from the single horse owner to large commercial projects, both racing and equestrian.

The Martin Collins Group has a proven track record for quality, durability & performance and an after sales service that is second to none.  It continues to invest in sophisticated testing equipment, scientific research and product development to provide the best level of support to the equine industry.  Click here to see its full range of equestrian surfaces or contact the team now to find out more.

Click here to read other articles in the same series.
Click here to download the full FEI report.

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