Research Journal

Synthetic Tracks Easier On Limbs

An ambitious experimental study was conducted to compare ground reaction forces and hoof accelerations among dirt, synthetic and turf racetracks. Force measuring horseshoes and accelerometers were attached to the front hoof of three Thoroughbred racehorses, and each horse was exercised at the trot and canter on each surface while an onboard computer recorded the data.

The synthetic surface had the lowest peak accelerations, vibrations and ground reaction forces of all three surfaces. Hoof vibrations on the synthetic surface were less than 70% of those for dirt and turf surfaces, and peak ground reaction forces on the synthetic surface were 83% and 71% of those for dirt and turf. 

Hoof vibrations were highest for the turf surface during hoof landing and largest for the dirt surface during hoof take off. The hoof received less shock, described by the authors as a less violent impact, on the synthetic surface compared with the dirt and turf surfaces. The synthetic surface also provided the most consistent footing and most stable interface for the hoof.

Although limited by the small number of horses and the fact that all synthetic (or dirt or turf) surfaces are not the same, these results suggest synthetic track surfaces may help lower the risk of injury for Thoroughbred racehorses. The authors caution against making broad generalizations to all synthetic tracks, but suggest the magnitude of the effects seen here support the idea that training and racing may be safer on synthetic tracks.

— Setterbo et

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Albert Kane

Albert J. Kane, DVM, MPVM, Ph.D.

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