Measuring the Properties and Characteristics of Equestrian Surfaces

Footing facts

Measuring the Properties and Characteristics of Equestrian Surfaces

When you buy an expensive item, such as a car, some measurement of the performance of the car for instance in the form of top speed, mileage per gallon, or emissions has been carried out. 

In some cases a particular measurement might be a regulated measurement, such that the property it measures can be said to perform to a particular standard. 

Why is it then that with such an expensive product as equestrian footing, there are no accepted standards covering the performance of equestrian surfaces.  Worse still, the majority of surface suppliers offer no standards or measurements on their products.  In our experience neither do they use measurements when they install surfaces to

ensure the footing has been manufactured correctly and installed correctly.

Indeed even at the highest competition levels there are no accepted standards, and the surface at one event can be very different from the next.  The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) , the governing body for Equestrian Sport has recognised this problem and has initiated research aimed at defining what the standards should be and reproducible ways of measuring surface properties.

A white paper partly funded by the FEI was published in April 2014 which provides background knowledge on the interaction between horse and surface, with a view to subsequently devising standards for equestrian surfaces.  In it, 5 parameters were identified as important measures of a surface, around which standards could be developed.  The parameters Impact Firmness, Cushioning, Responsiveness, Grip and Uniformity together describe the important features of a surface in relation to horse and rider engaged in equestrian sport. 

For instance the first three parameters relate to the impact of the hoof on the surface and its subsequent lifting ready for the next stride.  Most riders will have noticed the difference in impact between a very firm surface such a tarmac road, and a very soft surface such as loose sand.  The response of the hoof to each of these is quite different.   

Clearly the fourth parameter, grip, will relate to cornering, stopping and accelerating.   The final parameter, Uniformity, speaks for itself.  Ultimately these parameters will need to be measured and will have to fall within certain values in order for a surface to be considered FEI acceptable.

Here at Attwood we have always recognised that objective measurements of the properties of equestrian surfaces are required rather than simply relying on the subjective feel of the surface.  Because no equipment is commercially available to measure these parameters, we have developed tests and equipment to measure key properties, such as those listed in the white paper.  The methods and equipment used to measure these properties are so valuable to us that we don’t share them externally as we feel they give us a significant edge over our competitors.  We use these measurements both in quality control when we manufacture our surfaces, and when developing new and improved surfaces.

Of course there are, what can be described as ‘second level’ parameters that are not direct measures of the final surface, but measurements of the properties of the components that make up an equestrian surface.  Such a second level measurement might be the grain size distribution of the sand.  This parameter is usually measured by a sieve analysis where the sand is shaken through a stack of sieves of gradually decreasing size and weighing the amount of sand retained by each sieve. 

The largest grains are retained on the sieve with the largest holes whilst the smaller grains can fall through these to be retained on the sieves below with smaller holes. This grain size distribution is very important in partly defining the final properties of the surface.  Another is the amount of additive such as fibre or fabric/felt incorporated into the sand, and this can be measured by separating the sand from the additive and weighing the two fractions.

How many of the suppliers you have dealings with measure even these basic parameters let alone the complicated parameters such as Impact Firmness and Cushioning?  We routinely meet customers with failed surfaces who tell us the supplier used no measurements at all, either during manufacture or post installation.