There is not much bibliography about the track grounds but there are a wide range of products and techniques in the market and many experiences in building indoor arenas for different uses, climatic conditions and in a variety of materials. We now know that traditional track grounds are a failure: simply distributing some kind of dry goods with draining tubes, and covering them with the final layer of the chosen material for horses to work on, will not do.
To begin with, track grounds must not be designed for multiple uses. The construction of an ideal track for a particular equestrian activity, let’s say for 3-day-events, would never be the best possible track for Dressage, although its cost may make us act differently. The natural characteristics of the track’s subsoil and its climatic conditions are also significant factors to bear in mind when choosing the track’s materials and design. This is especially true for outdoor tracks; indoor arena conditions can be easily altered so they will be less important for our choice.
In any case, tracks have a durability which is directly related to the materials employed, and to their use and maintenance. There is also a process of adaptation: this means that new tracks are not immediately perfect and it is the horses themselves who will gradually mix and smooth out all components until their optimum state is attained. After this point, if we are not careful, deterioration would begin.
Usually, soil in its natural state will not adequately resist continuous use by horses. This is why artificial tracks must be laid. The constructing philosophy of these tracks consists in achieving a surface which is uniformly soft (springy) but also resistant to continuous use by horses, animals of significant weight (plus the riders’), that move upon wedge-form hooves which dig into the ground when landing and then push off with a “spoon” effect. This is the main obstacle that tracks designers encounter: horses’ particular way of moving causes surface layer fines to become “finer and finer” and sink down towards the track’s support layers. Moreover, the “spoon” effect makes the stones of the support layer work up towards the surface.
The main aim is to obtain a surface which does not give in when wet, whose resilience does not greatly vary with horses’ weight, and which, when dry, forms the less amount of dust possible. It should contain materials with a low noise factor and which are resistant to erosion and decomposition. It must be flexible to reduce the effort made by the horse’s legs, tendons and ligaments, but it should not be too deep because walking on it would then be difficult and horses would get tired quickly. Finally, we must be able to get a track with reasonable installation and, especially, maintenance costs.
A track ground which meets the basic equestrian requirements should take into account the following details:
- The existing natural soil which, improved, will serve as base: it must be a perfectly levelled base (achieved by means of agglomerating elements and/or mechanical stabilization) with a good load capacity. It should contribute consistency, horizontality and draining. This last point, in outdoor tracks, is probably the most difficult to determine and implement.
- Support layer: it serves as consistent base for the surface layer. The support layer presents a packed upper section and a lower loose or non-packed section. It must be sufficiently consistent to ensure that it will remain flat and even when used by horses and when maintenance vehicles wheel over it. Apart from showing a good packing, it must be highly resilient. This is very important, especially in footings designed for show-jumping, since their surface layer wears out sooner. It should also show a certain degree of flexibility in order to reduce the force of the horseshoes’ impact. Finally, it should allow for the elimination of any excess of water.
- Transit surface layer: this is the layer which is in direct contact with the horse and where help is most frequently needed. The basic requirement is that it be a “loose” surface: this can only be achieved using non-bonding materials, where binding forces cannot act. The type of materials used, their mixing, particle size distribution and the density of the mixture when watered and used, will eventually determine the final result.
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