Equestrian sport professionals, jockeys, and people in the business of horse-riding instruction invest a lot of resources to ensure that their horses are taken care of. But if the horse doesn’t perform well, they tend to blame the animal.
However, there’s more than meets the eye.
Factors, such as the equestrian arena surface affect a horse’s performance and confidence. This factor is often overlooked. Hence, it’s critical to install and maintain a comfortable arena surface that prevents injuries in horses and allows optimum performance.
Building an effective and safe equestrian arena is more than just creating a perimeter and erecting fences around it. There’s a whole science behind making these spaces safe, durable, and consistent for sports horses.
In this post, we will offer all the information you need to choose an ideal surface for your equestrian arena. Let’s begin with understanding how the arena surface affects a horse’s performance and health.
How Arena Surfaces Impact Sports Horse’s Performance
An arena surface is a place where sports horses spend most of their time. Hence, the surface you opt for should be deformable enough to absorb the energy impact. Further, it should offer enough spring for the horse to move around with ease.
To understand the interaction between the arena surface and your equine partner, let’s look at the three phases of a horse’s footfall.
- Landing Phase
During this phase, the hoof touches the ground and comes to a stop, sliding forward and downward into the surface. This causes the bones in the horse’s leg to collide, causing shock waves and vibrations (concussions). These shock waves are distributed through the surface and the leg.
- Loading Phase
Here, the hoof is carrying the entire weight of the horse and the rider. The fetlock and flexor tendons absorb the shock and the pressure under the frog (the part of a horse’s hoof, located on the underside) stimulates blood circulation through the hoof. The loaded weight changes as per the activity like landing from a jump or galloping.
- Rollover Phase
During this phase, the heel rotates off the surface, pushing the horse into the next stride.
An ideal arena surfacing will support the horse through these three phases while minimizing concussion, absorbing shock, and returning energy to the horse. Any surface that’s too hard, uneven, or loose (dusty or shifting) can steal the horse’s confidence in their strides, eventually landing them at a vet’s clinic.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Horse Arena Surface
Arena surfaces are constantly influenced by surface irregularities, compaction, drainage issues, and climatic conditions. A surface that’s too hard and irregular could injure horses, negatively impacting their performance and health.
For instance, an uneven arena surface could lead to tentativeness of footing, thus causing bone, joint, and hoof injuries.
As mentioned earlier, a suitable arena surface should support the horse through all the footfall stages. For this reason, the surface should offer a combination of firmness, cushioning, cupping, rebound, and traction.
The firmness of a surface determines the level of support and shock absorption it will offer to the horse. A hard and compact surface like packed clay or concrete offers adequate support but will not absorb the shock, causing the horse to modify its stride.
Similarly, a soft surface like dry rolling sand lacks support, leading to damage to the supporting tendon, ligaments, and muscles.
The ability of a surface to dampen shock during the loading phase is referred to as cushioning. A hard and compact surface lacks adequate cushioning, thus leading to stress when the hoof is loaded with the horse’s weight.
On the other hand, soft and loose surfaces offer too much cushioning (but no support!). Thus, the horse’s body has to work hard to get support and energy. This results in inflammation and ligament tear.
An ideal arena surface can offer adequate support and cushion, thus providing enough resistance under the hoof and allowing the horse to effortlessly move to the roll-over phase.
The frog in the horse’s hoof has a big role to play in improving the blood supply to the hoof capsule and up the leg. This process is referred to as the hoof mechanism. The type of arena surface you opt for should support this mechanism.
A hard surface will cause minimal frog contact, affecting the blood supply to the hoof capsule. This causes issues, such as navicular disease and laminitis. A soft surface, on the other hand, will not offer enough resistance to maximize the hoof mechanism.
Opt for a surface that cups into the sole and the frog, thus encouraging adequate blood flow through the hoof capsule and the legs.
Rebound refers to the return of energy to the horse after the weight is applied. A hard surface will return energy too quickly, causing additional shock that will be taken by the horse, causing injuries.
A soft surface will return energy too slowly, forcing the horse to use its energy to push ahead. This can strain the horse’s respiratory system and injure its muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Hence, you need a springy surface like rubber that rebounds energy at the same rate as it’s applied.
Adequate traction is needed to absorb the shock during the landing phase and get maximum traction during the rollover phase. Too much grip will stop the horse too quickly. It can prevent the toe from rotating on the surface for the rollover phase, straining the leg muscles.
Also, a slippery surface will cause the hoof to slide, lowering the confidence and performance of the horse and increasing the risk of skids.
Besides the above-mentioned factors, an ideal arena surface should be durable and easy to clean and maintain.
Rubber Surfacing: An Ideal Choice for Equestrian Arenas
When we consider the features of an ideal equine arena surface, rubber surfacing seems to fit the bill. Here’s why rubber surfaces are being increasingly preferred for horse-riding arenas.
Rubber surfaces are ideal for a horse arena (regardless of the discipline) as they uphold the horse’s health and performance.
For instance, these surfaces offer secure footing (not too deep or too firm) for dressage horses. They provide a stable surface for jumpers, allowing them to turn quickly without skidding. Similarly, horses involved in arena polo need a surface that allows swift movement and maximum grip. Rubber surfaces are ideal for these arenas too.
Thus, rubber surfacing is a versatile surface option, well suited for all the disciplines mentioned above.
- Excellent Traction
Rubber has a low coefficient of friction and is well-known for the grip it offers. Being active and springy, rubber surfaces allow the hoof to slide and get enough stability. The surface isn’t harsh on the bones and joints of the horse as it reduces concussion.
- Good Shock-Absorbing Potential
Rubber surfaces provide an optimal level of shock absorption and return adequate energy to the horse. This is key to boosting the equine’s performance and reducing the risk of injuries to its bones and joints.
- High Durability and Low Maintenance
Rubber surfaces are resilient to heavy hoof traffic and the wear and tear due to everyday riding. Moreover, the surface requires minimum maintenance. In case of damage, you can always get in touch with a local rubber surfacing installer who will refurbish the area within no time.
Installing a well-engineered arena surface like rubber surfacing is critical for the health and performance of your equine friends. Since rubber surfaces are durable and offer high traction and adequate cushioning, they reduce injuries and boost the horse’s performance.
If you are considering a horse arena resurfacing, get in touch with River Rock Resurfacing. Our team specializes in installing rubber surfaces for equestrian arenas. Contact us today for building a safe and durable arena.