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FEI moves to introduce universal Footing Standard for the testing of all equestrian surfaces
In an effort to understand more about how surfaces impact horse health and performance, the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) established a Footing Standard Working Group back in 2018. Since its inception, the group has been working on creating standardised tests which examine and evaluate the quality of equine footings on five grounds:
Largely concerned with examining the very top layer of the surface, the impact firmness rating aims to measure and record the shock experienced by the horse when the hoof makes contact with the surface.
To find a surface with the ideal firmness, it needs to be one which is firm enough to provide support within minimal concussion, yet soft enough to aid in absorbing shock.
The cushioning factor of a surface should be determined by the level at which the surface can dampen the shock experienced by the horse as it comes into contact with the ground – i.e. how supportive it is vs. how much it gives.
Ideally, the surface should provide enough resistance to allow for good balance, distributing shock down through the arena surface whilst returning some energy back to the horse and allowing for freedom of movement.
The responsive quality of a surface relates to its ability to return to its original form after impact, as well as its ability to return some of the energy from the impact back to the horse.
The ideal surface is one that is active and springy, returning energy at the same rate as it was applied and aiding the horse in gaining momentum without having to overwork.
Affected mainly by the top layer of the surface, a surface’s grip rating is determined by how tight or compact it is. The grip element of a surface aids in absorbing shock during the landing phase, as well as providing support and traction in turns and on push-off.
Ideally, a surface will be engineered in such a way as to allow the hoof to slide and the ground to absorb any impact during landing, yet compact enough to provide stability for the horse, without being so hard to cause concussion or provide a landing which is harsh on the bones and joints.
The uniformity rating refers to how regular and consistent the surface feels across the entire area when the horse moves across it.
For a surface to provide a good footing, there should be no areas which rut, become over compacted or ride too deep. In this area, the surface sub-layers have a key part to play, as does regular surface maintenance.
Examining the biomechanics of horses and how they may be affected by the surface, the FEI Footing Standard Working Group has been concerned with analysing and quantifying the interaction between hoof and surface, with the objective of improving horse welfare by making adjustments to surface compositions to reduce the chance of injury, and ensuring fair sport by setting a standard for surface consistency at competition level.
As a result, it was proposed that there should be two key stages to the implementation of the new Footing Standard. The first will involve testing all competition surfaces with a ‘mechanical hoof’ (OBST) after they’ve been laid in-situ at the competition grounds. The second will involve the application and implementation of an agreed maintenance plan to ensure the surface remains consistent throughout an event.
Those in the industry are to expect further mandatory tests to be introduced to the standard following its initial roll-out. These additional tests are set to include Level 1 Materials Testing, Track-in-the-box testing, and Level 2 Materials testing.
With the implementation of the new standard having been somewhat delayed due to the outbreak of COVID-19, which saw all equestrian and sporting events cancelled in 2020, the FEI committee has recently approved a plan to ‘pilot’ the new standard at select FEI series events in 2022.
“The FEI Footing Standard was successfully deployed throughout the process of procuring, installing and maintaining the footing for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” says FEI Director for Games Operations, Tim Hadaway. “This involved prospective suppliers submitting footing for track-in-the-box testing, and then in-situ testing during installation, immediately prior to and then throughout the Games period.
“Results were compiled in daily reports made available to athletes, their support teams, and officials. The regular testing was a major influencing factor on the daily maintenance programme. A report of the daily in-situ tests conducted was made available to all participating athletes and their teams, which was much appreciated. We aim to continue this practice at the events where the FEI Footing Standard will be introduced during 2022.”
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