The type of footing on which a horse performs strongly influences whether the animal has a long and productive career, or whether it has that career cut short because of unsoundness or injury. Footing also influences how well the horse performs. Bad footing often is equated with a poor performance, and good footing frequently is equated with a stellar performance. Unfortunately, with footing, it is not a case of one size fits all.

The type of competition has a bearing on footing. The jumper, for example, requires a surface that is more yielding than does the dressage horse. The reining horse needs a surface that allows it to perform its signature sliding stop, yet is firm enough that it can demonstrate its other moves — figure-eights and spins. The cutting horse needs a surface that is relatively deep and forgiving as it makes sudden stops and hard turns. The list goes on.

Racetrack surfaces also vary. A typical Thoroughbred racetrack is far different than a typical harness track. Because of the tremendous concussion with each stride, the track on which a Thoroughbred runs must be relatively deep and yielding. The trotter and pacer travel at gaits that are far less concussive and, as a result, race on much harder surfaces.

If we are to understand the difference between good and bad surfaces, we must first understand exactly what happens when a horse travels over that surface.

Hilary M. Clayton, BVMS, PhD, MRCVS, holder of the Mary Anne McPhail Dressage Chair in Equine Sports Medicine at Michigan State University, has spent much of her professional life studying equine locomotion. (A problem she faced at this writing involved the type