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Depth of arena footing
 Moderated by: DrDeb  
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janllo
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Joined: Sat Oct 10th, 2009
Location: Illinois USA
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 Posted: Thu Jan 12th, 2012 04:14 am
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Dr Deb,
           thanks for the most educational and thought provoking forum.

My question is, if a sand arena is deeper than four inches should I ride in it?

I read in one of your conformation articles, given that turf would be the best footing, to ride in footing less than four inches. Is this only if the horse has weak hocks, or a general rule to keep all horses sound?

The arena in question is more like six inches deep and I have difficulty walking in it. My arthritic knees hurt afterwards so I wonder about the horses.

Janet

DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Jan 12th, 2012 06:59 am
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Jan, yes, deep loose footing is dangerous for horses. It's for the same reason that you've already noticed -- deep, dry sand is hard on the joints, because when the foot is placed against the sand and weighted, the particles slide and slip so that there is little stability. In other words, when a horse or a person tries to locomote on deep, dry sand, because the substrate under the foot is unstable, a lot of wobble gets transmitted up the limb. This translates into sideways movement that neither the human knee, nor most of the joints of the horse below the elbow, are designed to accommodate.

If you have a choice when you go for a run on the beach, I'll bet you do not choose to run in the dry sand that is above the swash of the water. What people choose instead is to run where the sand is wet. Wet sand is fairly soft, and yet provides a stable base for the foot. Therefore, when you run on the wet sand, it doesn't hurt your knees, ankles, or hips.

The biggest danger that horses face from being regularly schooled in deep, dry sand footing is that they will develop ringbone. Ringbone gets started because of either slam or jerk -- these are terms describing the sides of a medio-laterally unbalanced hoof -- the instability of deep sand footing imitates this medio-lateral imbalance. The early side is the "slam" side, while the late side is the "jerk" side. The slam side experiences excessive concussion which reacts directly upon the supportive tissues, i.e. bone and cartilage that form the bones of the limb and the joints. The jerk side experiences excessive tension which reacts directly upon the tendons and ligaments, i.e. they get jerked. It is jerk especially that provokes ringbone to get started. Ringbone is nothing other than the ossification of the "roots" of the collateral ligaments and the smaller parts of the suspensory apparatus. A horse that gets ringbone will likely never regain full soundness, and although most ringbone horses can be ridden, it must be judiciously. They lose much of the elasticity and "bounce" in their movement. So ringbone is definitely something to be avoided or prevented if at all possible.

You definitely should go to management with a copy of this transmission, and see if you can get them to do one or more of the following:

(1) Scrape some of the footing off. This is economical anyway, as excessive footing is not only bad for the horses, it's wasteful of money. Excess footing can be stored under a tarp and replaced into the arena as needed.

(2) Plow fibrous material into the sand. If your stable beds on straw this is very do-able and again is an efficient and economical use of resources. Two inches of straw mixed with two inches of sand makes really nice footing. If it's indoors, the life cycle of this "mattress mix" will be about four years, depending on how much it gets ridden on. If it's outdoors, it will last only a couple of years. However, most farms that manage their arenas this way continually add straw, so as to continually refresh the footing. Bedding with a lot of urine in it should not be used indoors, of course, because it will make nitrogenous fumes; but this is easily avoided by properly training the stall-cleaning staff.

(3) Plow shavings into the sand. This is similar to the above, but it takes more shavings than straw to achieve the same nice mattressey consistency.

(4) Mix the sand with wood strippings, bark strippings, or "long chip". One important caution on this: NO WALNUT WHATSOEVER -- one single step into walnut shavings will cause almost any horse to founder, and it will be so bad with some that the horse will need to be put down. NO WALNUT. Doug fir, redwood, and other "softwoods" are fine, the same types of wood that give you your bagged stall shavings.

(5) Mix the sand with shredded rubber.

(6) Install a good sprinkler system, and permit anyone to turn it on whenever they see the need; or else management turns it on several times per day, or just before peak arena use hours, during hot weather.

(7) Provide alternative riding grounds, preferably mowed pasture, so that those wishing to ride in the pasture can do so. The "riding pasture" can be rotated among available pastures, often the pasture that is being "rested" from grazing.

This ought to give you some ideas to discuss. In my experience, the more committed management is to providing the best possible footing, the more they are rewarded by increased business. A good arena pays for itself. -- Dr. Deb

 


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