Many factors have an influence on injuries to racehorses as they train and compete. The equine hoof and limb must absorb the force generated with every stride, and repeated concussion on a firm track surface stresses muscles, tendons, bones, and joint structures. The surface qualities of each track are somewhat different, and these characteristics are more easily managed than some other factors such as genetics or behavior of other horses in a race.
In a study designed to investigate the relationship between racetrack surfaces and injuries to racing horses, researchers used a track testing device to compare the dynamic properties of a dirt surface and a synthetic surface. The testing device was designed to simulate the impact of a horse’s hoof, and various velocities and angles of impact were investigated at three track locations. The effect of repeated impacts was also measured.
The synthetic surface was generally softer and showed lower maximum force, load rate, and stiffness than the dirt surface. Repeated impacts increased the hardness of the dirt surface, highlighting the importance of regular maintenance as horses use the track. Because landing on a harder surface produces more concussion to the hoof and limb structures, the researchers suggested that trainers should avoid exposing horses to precompacted track surfaces, especially when conducting high-speed training.