Racetrack Surfaces Key To Keeping Horse And Rider Safe - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Racetrack Surfaces Key To Keeping Horse And Rider Safe

Proper footing is imperative to keeping horses and riders safe, no matter what discipline they are competing in, and footing has been a growing focus for researchers around the world. Mick Peterson, PhD, the director of the University of Kentucky Ag Equine Programs and also a faculty member within UK's Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Department, is deeply interested in footing and keeping competitors safe. Peterson is also the executive director of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory (RSTL), which he founded with Wayne McIlwraith, BVSc, PhD, DSc, FRCVS, Dipl. ACVS, a professor at Colorado State University's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The duo have been examining surfaces at racetracks and equestrian venues for more than a decade, developing standards and protocols, and offering recommendations on footing. Peterson is considered one of the world's experts in the testing of competition surfaces, including dirt, turf and synthetic, reports the Bluegrass Equine Digest.

The goal of racetrack surface testing is to create a consistent surface everywhere on the track. Ensuring that the surface meets the criteria is fairly straightforward, notes Peterson. Testing track surfaces includes examining the track's composition, as well as how the surface holds up during use. Once these tests are completed, suggestions for improvement can be made regarding footing composition or how the footing is maintained.

Surface testing is not one-and-done; it should be part of regular track maintenance, Peterson notes. The Maintenance Quality System (MQS), which was developed by RSTL, is a methodical way to assess and maintain the surface of a track or arena prior to an event. The MQS can also assist maintenance workers in enhancing the protocols they already have in place.

MQS first documents all necessary information about the surface, including track design, footing, and maintenance equipment and methods. Surface materials and local climate are taken into consideration on how the track should be maintained. The engineers inspect the track at the change of each season and also before a race meet begins, allowing for time to make any maintenance changes necessary to ensure a safe race meet.

The primary tool track surface investigators use is the Orono biomechanical surface tester (OBST), which replicates the direction, speed and impact of a horse's leading hoof traveling at a gallop. This tester allows for a consistent testing of cushioning, firmness, responsiveness and consistency. To gather data, the research team inspects the track at the same time each day and records specific measurements (like moisture content) in the MQS database.

The researchers can then compare the data with other days at the same track and with results from other tracks that have been tested with the OBST. As the testing is continuous, constant improvements can be made in track surfaces.

The BED reports that Peterson said one goal of surface testing and maintenance stands out to him. “My primary interest is in the safety of the horse and rider,” he said. “Many participants are focused on the performance aspects, but to me that is peripheral. When we talk racing, the biggest risk to the rider is a catastrophic injury to the horse. So we need to keep the horse upright and the rider up to protect the rider and horse.”

Peterson feels that the Equine Injury Database, which shows whether surface improvements have made a difference in the horse and rider safety and well-being, is the “gold standard” that defines surface testing and development's success.

Read more at the Bluegrass Equine Digest and The Horse.


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