Whether a private ménage, busy livery yard or competition venue, the demands on arena surfaces have increased. Arenas are being used more than ever; riders expect the surface to suit a range of disciplines and be fit for use whatever the weather. A surface that isn’t performing, is at best, annoying and disruptive, and at worst, has the potential to cause injuries.
All riders should have a working knowledge of the benefits and potential risks of a surface before asking their horses to train and perform on it, as the ability to keep a horse sound while working at a desired level of performance depends on the interaction between the horse and its environment.
Riders are rightly cautious of running horses on slippery, deep or hard ground outside of the arena, but, inside of it, tend to trust that all surfaces are created equal, when unfortunately, this is not the case. Recognising that the surfaces a horse trains, works and competes on, play a crucial role in enhancing or limiting the horse’s ability to perform and in determining the risk of injury, is key to a rider’s success.
The loads applied to the horse’s body during training and competition can have a beneficial effect, as exercise strengthens the musculoskeletal tissues and improves the function of cardio-respiratory systems; increasing fitness. These loads, however, may also have a detrimental effect, causing injury; If the loading is too great or if the loading is repeated too frequently, then it predisposes the horse to orthopaedic injuries.
Sudden overloading in a single incident can cause injuries such as fractures, however, the effects of minor overloading which accumulates over time, eventually results in a ‘wear and tear’ injuries such as osteoarthritis or tendinitis.
Asking a horse to repeatedly perform on poor surfaces can damage joints, soft tissues, muscles, and hooves, as well as the respiratory and vascular system. Therefore, creating a proper riding surface is necessary to maintain a horse’s safety, longevity, and performance.
With 30 years’ experience in providing surfaces for a range of equestrian disciplines, Equestrian Direct knows that training a horse to achieve a high level of performance while maintaining soundness, involves an integrated approach to equine management and training. It requires a great breadth and depth of knowledge and experience to fully understand these interactions. The surface on which a horse is worked is an important part of this, both in terms of the physical properties of the surface itself and the way in which the surface is used.
Equestrian Direct’s Turfloat is an elite performance surface which closely replicates the natural qualities of turf, mimicking the binding ability of top soil. By providing a secure footing, it allows the horse to travel across the top of the surface and not through it. Fibres in the surface help to prevent the sand from riding ‘dead’ and provide an element of life from the surface.
Hard, ‘dead’ surfaces have been found to increase the likelihood of the injuries below, due to the high frequency vibrations and concussive forces from impact:
- Bone and joint-related injury – commonly in the distal limb. Overload in a single event can cause an acute injury, such as a pastern bone fracture or collateral ligament tear. However, repetitive stress will cause micro-trauma and eventually lead to changes in orthopaedic health; usually described as chronic or overuse injuries.
- Foot soreness – specifically front foot soreness and concussive injuries linked to show jumping on hard ground, due to rapid deceleration and high loading rates
- Superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT), deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT) and suspensory ligament injuries in the forelimb – influenced by the high strain on the SDFT of the trailing forelimb in the last approaching stride to the fence
- Hind limb lameness in dressage horses, due to suspensory ligament or tarsal joint injury
Turffloat can be used for gallops and both indoor and outdoor arenas, as either a completely new surface or as a top up. Turffloat has been a surface choice of Solihull Riding Club and has been used at both the Olympic, and World Equestrian Games.
For a more general all-round surface, Flexiride is cost effective, all-in-one all weather surface which is low maintenance yet does not compromise on its injury reducing properties. Flexiride offers exceptional ‘cushioning’ qualities to enhance horses’ natural athleticism and reduce potential for lameness. It has high impact absorbency, is environmentally friendly and does not freeze, blow or rot.
Installation and Maintenance
How a surface performs in the long-term is due to the combination of material, layout and maintenance. There is unfortunately no one-size-fits-all solution due to external factors such as location, usage and weather conditions. A well-built base with a high-quality surface, which is regularly maintained, will provide a consistently ideal surface which gives a sound footing every day.
The base must be uniform and level, with an adequate drainage system. Traditionally a rigid base is used, such as limestone, crushed concrete or porous tarmac. Drainage must be installed to ensure the surface recovers quickly from rainfall; preventing soggy, waterlogged, and even frozen surfaces. However, if the drainage is too permeable it may cause the surface to dry out, becoming deep and dusty.
All surfaces will need some form of maintenance during their lifetime, which can include poo-picking, watering, harrowing, levelling and rolling. The large variation in base construction, drainage, surface materials, environment and usage, means that methods of maintenance will be different for each surface type. In some cases, such as extreme weather conditions, surfaces may need further maintenance such as: deeper harrowing or work in specific areas of high usage, as well as upkeep of drainage systems, or a top-up of surface materials. For example; a short-term solution to a deep, dry, dusty surface due to warm weather is to level, water and roll the arena; replacing the moisture which has been lost, however, the beneficial effects will only be temporary. Surface top-ups are a quick and cost-effective solution. A top up of a multi-purpose surface, such as Flexiride, can be used to improve footing and retain moisture on the majority of existing surfaces. Flexiride works as an insulating layer stopping the surface from drying out in the summer and preventing it from freezing in the winter.
The reasons for maintaining an arena surface are to reduce compaction and to improve or maintain consistency. Uneven surfaces with varying moisture content and compaction can reduce the horse’s confidence and balance – as uneven footing increases the incidence of tripping and slipping – uneven surfaces are associated with a higher risk of injury.
Reduce the risk of injury
- Horses are at greater risk of injury due to increasing work level and intensity, poor footing, and lack of fitness
- A high- quality, well maintained arena surface will provide good footing with a consistent surface that is neither too deep nor too thin is crucial to injury prevention. Bad footing, such as ground that is hard, deep, uneven, or slippery should be avoided whenever possible
- A sufficient warm-up and cool down as part of each training session will greatly reduce your horse’s chances of suffering an injury
Horses for courses All Equestrian Direct surfaces are suitable for most types of equestrian disciplines. As a leading company in the arena surface industry, Equestrian Direct is able to provide customers with a personal service that is tailored to the needs of the horse and rider, providing top quality riding surfaces to suit all requirements and budgets.