Footing Science for Horses

The field of footing science involves understanding how different kinds of footing affect equine health.
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A riding surface impacts the entire equine musculoskeletal system; here’s what researchers are learning about footing biomechanics

In Joe Johnston’s Hollywood depiction of Hildalgo, Viggo Mortenson as Frank Hopkins stoops down to scrape up some of the sand covering the arid Saudi Arabian ground where his colorful mustang will race. His expression is grim, his mouth in a frown as he studies this "track." It’s clear he knows the surface is far from ideal for racing, even for hardy mustang hooves.

A less-than-ideal riding surface is an understandable concern. Tragic racehorse accidents frequently call the surface they run on into question (For instance, who could forget Eight Belles’ heartrending pair of broken fetlock joints after coming in second at the 2008 Kentucky Derby, or Rewilding’s cannon bone break mid-race at Britain’s 2011 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes). Upper level sport horses, like the 2010 World Equestrian Games (WEG) triple-gold dressage champion Totilas or the 2006 WEG individual eventing champion Toytown, sustain lameness-causing leg injuries and have to withdraw from major competitions. Amateur competition mounts and pleasure horses might be retired early due to conditions such as navicular disease. And these scenarios call us to consider: Was it because of the ground they trotted on?

Questions like this lead researchers to study "footing," which refers to the surface horses are ridden or worked on in arenas and fields and on tracks and roads. The field of footing science involves understanding how different kinds of footing affect equine health

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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