How Ground Surfaces Influence Performance Horses

Research team examines how footing can help and hinder equine athletes

Farriers and equine veterinarians invest a great deal of time and effort into mitigating the injury risks with the equine athletes in their charge. Much of that focus falls on the ground surfaces that these performance horses compete on.

Farrier Takeaways

  • Maintenance and preparation of the surface can have major effects on its properties, and therefore on the horse’s performance and risk for injury.
  • Impact is often the easiest to assess, but vertical loading should not be ignored as it is more critical to injury risk.
  • Increasing the hoof’s penetration in the surface reduces the impact shock and the maximal forces of loading rates.

“Ground surface can, of course, affect performance in any sport, including humans,” Dr. Nathalie Crevier-Denoix told attendees at the International Society of Equine Locomotor Pathology Farrier Day at Peninsula Equine Medical Center in Menlo Park, Calif. “It also has been demonstrated that surface can be a risk factor for injury.”

The development and continued ad­vances of synthetic surfaces have in­creasingly mitigated the risk. According to The Jockey Club’s 2018 Equine Injury Database report, there were 1.1 fatalities per 1,000 starts in 2017 among Thoroughbred racehorses competing on synthetic surfaces, compared with 1.74 fatalities on dirt.1 When The Jockey Club first started compiling the data in 2008 to 2009, there were 1.49 fatalities on synthetic surfaces and 2.1 on dirt.2

An Imperfect Surface

Although there are fewer catastrophic injuries on synthetic surfaces, the surfaces have some drawbacks and they do modify locomotion, says Crevier-Denoix, who…

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Jeff cota 2023

Jeff Cota

Jeff Cota has been a writer, photographer and editor with newspapers and magazines for 30 years. A native of Maine, he is the Lead Content Editor of American Farriers Journal.

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