Experts from three continents gathered at a special two-day equine surfaces forum held at the FEI headquarters in Lausanne (SUI) last month.

A total of 36 equine, veterinary and footing specialists from Belgium, Canada, Germany, Italy, Malaysia, Netherlands, Switzerland, the UK and United States came together to discuss standards for arena surfaces in Jumping.

The forum, which was opened by FEI President Ingmar De Vos, was held just over a year since the Equine Surfaces White Paper, the world’s most extensive study into the effect of arena surfaces on the orthopaedic health of sport horses, was published by the FEI.

Dr Harald Müller, FEI Director of Education and Standards, was joined on the speaker panel by John Roche, FEI Director of Jumping, John McEwen, Chair of the FEI Veterinary Committee, and Dr Mick Peterson, Executive Director of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory and Mechanical Engineering Professor at the University of Maine.

Dr Lars Roepstorff, Professor of functional anatomy of domestic animals at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Dr Sarah Jane Hobbs from the University of Central Lancashire, co-authors of the Equine Surfaces White Paper, also addressed the international delegation as part of the speaker panel, which was moderated by Tim Hadaway, the FEI’s Director of Games and Championships.

Collaboration, consensus

Six years of FEI-funded research was presented at the forum, in order to form a basis for developing performance standards for Jumping surfaces.

Delegates were presented research findings that found that the performance of arena surfaces is characterised by the five parameters of impact firmness, cushioning, responsiveness, grip and uniformity, and that three components are required to ensure the performance of surfaces, namely the correct material and design, proper installation and appropriate maintenance.

A consensus emerged at the forum that procedures around these three components will evolve into standards and education that can support manufacturers, organisers and protect horses and riders.

“Everyone attending the forum has practical experience of events from all over the world, and everyone voiced the need by equestrian sport to demonstrate commitment to consistent footings at major events,” said Dr Mick Peterson. “It is critical that we retain our momentum so that we can provide consistent surfaces for all of the major events in the next year.”

“The discussions were extremely constructive and will provide the framework for a first surfaces standard to be developed, which will be a major step forward,” said Dr Lars Roepstorff, who presented the Equine Surfaces White Paper findings at the FEI Sports Forum 2014. “Everyone was very open about sharing their knowledge to promote the welfare of the horse, which is where our focus always stands.”

Equine Surfaces White Paper

The Equine Surfaces White Paper, which is available to download here, is the result of a four-year collaboration between eight equine experts from six universities, three equine and racing-specific research and testing centres and two horse charities in Sweden, the UK and United States.