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By Daniel H. Grove, DVM

Arena footing comes in a wide variety of substrates. There are natural and man made materials used in their composition. In this article we will learn a few basics and then discuss some factors to look at from the veterinary side of injuries and their prevention.

When selecting a footing for your arena, there are some factors to take into consideration.

1) Shock absorption: Shock absorption or cushion is going to take strain off of the legs of your horses. While they do have built in structures to help with this, anything you can do to aid can be beneficial. If you run on concrete you are more likely to be sore than if you run on grass!

2) Dust: When our equine athletes are performing, the are breathing. Higher dust content in the air will result in an increase workload or the respiratory system. The body will not only have to breathe harder, but it will have to clean out all of that dirt from the respiratory tract. This can also increase the risk of irritating the tract and having allergic flares.

3) Traction: Your footing needs to hold up to those sharp turns for a barrel, hold those feet together as the horse lands from a jump, or keep those back legs together in a sliding stop. Having the correct composition of materials can give you a leg up in the traction department.

4) Maintenance: How much work is it going to take to maintain your arena? The easier to keep it at its prime, probably the less time you will spend on maintaining it and more time to ride in it!

So those are some key points when picking out your footing, now let’s go through the first three on the list and show from my perspective as to why they are important.

1) Shock absorption: The equine body has built in shock absorption. The joint fluid in the cartilage is viscous like a light engine oil. The cartilage is like a sponge filled with this thick fluid. As the body puts pressure on this apparatus, it takes energy or force to expel the fluid. This absorbs concussion. Also, soft tissue structures like tendons and ligament have some stretch to them. If you ever watch a horse in slow motion while going along, a good example you can see is how the fetlock moves closer to the ground when loaded and springs back up when unloaded. The structures have limitations on how much force they can withstand. Any help with a footing that has some give to it can help to minimize damage to these structures. Some examples would be stress fractures, bone chips, and tears in soft tissue structures like you suspensory ligaments.

2) Dust: Dust can be very irritating, not only to the respiratory tract, but also the eyes and skin. The lungs work to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. Filling the air the horse is breathing with excessive particles makes that job harder. The filters of the nose and the mucus lined tract all have to work to remove those contaminants from the system. Watery eyes and plugged tear ducts can all occur with excessive dust.

3) Traction: Traction needs are going to vary depending upon your discipline. A dressage arena will likely have more traction than a reining arena. If you have too much traction and are trying to do a sliding stop, your are not going to go as far as you would like. If you are turning a barrel and your footing gives way, your horse is going to fall and potentially break something.

Is there a perfect footing out there? Probably not. We work with a variety of materials to get as close as possible to what would be ideal for our use. When thinking about your next footing for your arena, take some of these things into consideration when in your planning stage. There are several professional companies out there that are experts in trying to provide you with the best footing possible and they can be a source of excellent information.


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