Tuesdays with Tony
Have you guys heard about the new World Equestrian Center in Ocala? I hear it’s just incredible! The stalls are fit for a king, possibly even a very entitled cat. The arenas are impeccably groomed with world-class footing. The entire grounds are utterly perfect, or so I have been told by just about everyone who walks through the clinic doors. My very own Dr. Lacher had the pleasure of competing there this past weekend and she reports nothing but amazing things about the facility, staff and overall wondrous and magical place that is the World Equestrian Center. I can only guess it to be the equestrian’s Disney Land, as it sure sounds magical.
Hearing how wonderful the World Equestrian Center is got me thinking about what type of events they can have there and how diverse of a facility it must be. Of course they host Hunter/Jumper events, but what else? They also will be holding dressage events, three-day-eventing, polo, breed-type events, and a lot of other things. I thought back to my recent blogs about lameness and it got me wondering about what kind of footing would be so universal to be able to facilitate all things equestrian. Digging deeper, I pondered, what kind of footing would be best for rehabilitating the lame horse? As it turns out, there’s a lot to know just about the ground you ride your horses on.
A Footing Overview
In general, the basics for footing for all disciplines are the same. A firm base with a top layer that provides a little give without breaking away when your horse pushes. Whether turning a barrel, jumping a stadium jump, bounding over a table in a cross-country course or performing an elegance piaffe in dressage, a weak base that gives to pressure sets you and your horse up for dangerous situations and potential injury. A base that is “sticky” can cause your horse to feel stuck and exacerbate their movement, leading to soft tissue injuries. Similarly, a “loose footing” will not provide support to your horse’s feet and legs which puts undo stress on their tendons and ligaments, leading to injury.
There is such thing as a surface that is too hard. Imagine galloping across an arena that’s as hard as concrete. The concussion on the joints of 1000+lb horse creates inflammation in their joints, causes micro injury and can potentiate the development of arthritis. Not to mention how slippery that might be! Add in a horse that has shoes on and wow, the concussive forces are increased exponentially. A carriage horse whose main job is on asphalt is probably very much prone to the development of joint inflammation and arthritis. I have been told they make special driving shoes for those big guys which help absorb some of the shock when they are working. One of my minions who has carriage horses explained to me that they do not work their horses on hard surfaces for more than an hour or so at a time, which definitely allows them to have longer careers.
Should you find yourself in a situation where you are riding on hard footing, I suggest packing your horse’s feet at the end of the day with products such as magic cushion or animalintex poultice. This will help draw the sting out and make your already-spoiled horse feel like a million bucks.
Soft Tissue Injuries
As I have already mentioned, loose, deep, or sticky footing can place your horse at risk for soft tissue injuries such as suspensory tears or tendon strains. That being said, certain disciplines require a little bit of a looser top surface to their arenas. Reining horses, for example, require a looser footing so they can obtain those awe-inspiring sliding stops. On the other hand, a grand prix jumper would really want to avoid deeper footing. If the footing gave way underneath as they are propelling themselves over 5’ high fences, it could lead to injury. Similarly, landing from a jump on soft footing puts more strain on your horse’s tendons, ligaments, and joints resulting in inflammation and injury.
Unfortunately, you can’t always ride in places like the World Equestrian Center. That means you and your horse may be presented with surfaces that are not what you would consider ideal. If you do find yourself in a situation where the footing is not ideal, don’t be afraid to withdraw from the competition. Your horse’s legs aren’t worth risking. Trust me, my docs don’t want to have to tell you your horse needs 6-12 months off to heal an injury.
At the end of the day, I always recommend standing wraps for a horse who has worked hard and will be stalled overnight. A nice poultice or liniment under the standing bandage will make you feel better and your horse will probably appreciate it as well. However, if you plan to turn your horse out at the end of the day or weekend, forego the wrapping. Standing wraps can get wet, twist, and slip which can also lead to injury. If you are unsure about any bandaging for your horse just call my docs, they will be happy to answer any questions.
Yes, I am saying it, the unspoken word: LAMINITIS. Every horse owner’s worst nightmare. The good news is laminitis, if caught and addressed early on, is not always the death sentence that you assume. I have many a-blogs about laminitis and would love to discuss it further, but this blog is about footing. How does footing apply to laminitis, you ask? Well, that is a wonderful question.
Almost always, if your horse has been diagnosed with laminitis, my docs are going to recommend confinement to a stall. The caveat with stall confinement is they’re going to recommend very deep, soft, sand footing in the stall. The deep, soft, sand allows for your horse to move and stand in a way that the footing moves under them and becomes a naturally balanced surface where they can obtain the most comfort. A stall with rubber mats and deep shavings can provide a similar dynamic, however, it is not exactly the same and the results of your horse’s comfort may vary.
If you do not have the ability to stall your horse, the next best option would be a small paddock or round pen with loose footing in which your horse can find his comfort spot. The key to laminitis is to help your horse find where he is most comfortable, and once that’s achieved, inflammation in the feet reduces and healing can start to occur. A soft surface alone probably won’t resolve laminitis, of course. It takes a dedicated team: your veterinarian, your farrier, and you to give your horse the best chance of recovery. If you have a barn cat, that could help, too, so there’s always someone in charge.
While not every facility can have the best footing in the world, you, being the diligent, caring, overprotective horse owner that you are, can play a huge role in reducing injury. Horse owners are the most observant group of people in the world, which means you will know when the riding surface is not ideal. But just because it may not be perfect doesn’t mean you can’t ride, it just means you need to be aware of the situation and be smart about what you ask your horse to do.
Should you find yourself in a situation where your horse has come up lame or sore, don’t fret, me and my docs are here for you. We can get to the root of the problem, maybe perform some acupuncture or spinal manipulation, and get you and your horse back to the arena without missing a beat.
Until next week,
P.S. If you want to learn more about these soft tissue injuries, my humans have a variety of podcasts where they really get into the mechanics of it. You can find them all for free right here on my website, over on the Podcast Page. And if you are a Patron of the podcast, they even have videos on all kinds of cool things like rehab exercises, building core strength to prevent injury, and more.
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!