Comparing Horse Arena Footing Measurements, Descriptions

Researchers determined that the equestrian community has still not reached a point where it can objectively—or even subjectively—compare arena surfaces in a reliable manner, especially for certain qualities like responsiveness and uniformity.
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Footing description terms remain subjective, and not everyone agrees about what’s “good” and “bad” when it comes to arena surfaces, researchers said. | Photo: iStock
The world’s leading show jumper keeps arena surfaces of different venues in mind when he selects a horse for an event.

“Some jump better on grass, others on sand, and for others the differences are more subtle,” Kent Farrington said after receiving the Longines Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) World’s Best Jumping Rider award earlier this year. “You have to know what works for each horse and plan accordingly.”

While that might make sense, riders can’t always know what the surface is like before they head off to the show. They could always call the organizers or other riders who know the arena to get their feedback. But aside from the difference between grass and sand, how can you describe different arena surfaces’ firmness, cushioning, springiness, grip, or consistency? What exactly do those terms mean, and do they mean the same thing for everyone?

“What we’re lacking is an objective way to measure arena qualities so that everyone’s speaking the same language, from riders to organizers to designers to suppliers,” said Lars Roepstorff, DVM, PhD, professor of equine functional anatomy at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, in Uppsala, and FEI scientific veterinary advisor

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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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