Equine surfaces research/consultancy

An equine biomechanics expert from UCLan SENS has led the world's most extensive study into the effect of arena surfaces on the health of sport horses.

Dr Sarah Jane Hobbs is the lead author on a report published by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) which examines the effects of surfaces on orthopaedic health and performance of sport horses in training and in competition.

The Equine Surfaces White Paper is the result of a four-year collaboration between eight equine experts from six universities, three equine and racing-specific research and testing centres, and two horse charities in Sweden, the UK and United States.

Key properties described in the paper are footing, and the effects of footing on horses' physiological and biomechanical responses, as well as the optimal composition, construction and maintenance of arenas for maximising equine performance while minimising injury risk.

Current methods of measuring the physical properties of surfaces, and the essential surface preparation and maintenance techniques, are also discussed in the paper in terms easily understood by riders, trainers, course designers and arena builders, in order to guide future progress in providing suitable competition and training surfaces for sport horses.

Dr Hobbs, research lead in equine biomechanics at UCLan, commented: "The London 2012 Olympic Games was the first time science played a major role in getting the construction of the temporary arenas right for the horses to compete on.

"At that time it became clear that we needed to pool together our current knowledge and use this to develop standards for arena surface testing, which would ultimately help to reduce the risk of injury. I wrote the first section of the white paper whilst watching the British team jumping and dancing their way to gold medals.

"Up until now the terminology that is used to describe the functional properties of arena surfaces has been at best unclear and it is often vague or confusing. In the paper we defined the functional properties of arena surfaces in a detailed engineering context.

"We used these descriptions to develop terms for what we believe are the most important functional properties for riders to perceive and evaluate. We then linked these terms to the most appropriate methods of measuring them mechanically. This means we can quantify the terms that riders can perceive and that allows us all to begin to talk in the same language."

The paper has been funded by the FEI, World Horse Welfare, the Swedish Foundation for Equine Research and the British Equestrian Federation. Dr Hobbs has worked with seven equine scientists and researchers in the UK, USA and Sweden.

"The Equine Surfaces White Paper is the biggest international collaboration of its kind, and is vital to understanding how surfaces work in order to reduce injury risks to horses," said John McEwen, FEI 1st Vice President and Chair of the FEI Veterinary Committee.

"Now, thanks to scientific research, and extensive support and partnership between welfare charities and horse sport, we can fully understand how the right surfaces, with the necessary preparation and ongoing maintenance, can extend the working lives of sport horses and produce the best performances."

The highlights of the paper were presented on the first day of the FEI Sports Forum 2014 by Lars Roepstorff, Professor of functional anatomy of domestic animals at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

"We now have the latest scientific knowledge on equine surfaces contained in one place, thanks to an intensive global effort over several years," he said.

"The Equine Surfaces White Paper is a living document, and we will continue to update it as we develop our knowledge on surfaces and their influence on horse performance and soundness with new scientific studies and surface data, which is absolutely key as horse sport continues to grow around the world."

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