Horse and human health impacts of indoor arenas explored

Staci McGill is surveying horse owners, managers and riders on several different aspects of indoor arenas focused around horse and human health. Photo: Bob Coleman
Staci McGill is surveying horse owners, managers and riders on several different aspects of indoor arenas focused around horse and human health. Photo: Bob Coleman

Do you and your horse cough more when you’re riding in an indoor arena? What about stumbling? A Kentucky researcher is looking to learn more about the health effects on both humans and horses using indoor arenas, an areas where, to date, little research has been conducted.

Master’s degree candidate Staci McGill is gathering information on how environmental exposures and arena design impact heat transfer, air quality and the health of both horses and riders.

McGill, from Kentucky University’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, is seeking feedback via an online survey asking owners, managers and riders about air quality, conditions, arena footing and associated health outcomes in horses and humans.

It also includes questions about arena design, such as footing, maintenance, the number of windows and doors, the arena environment and if horses are stabled in the same building.

The covered arena at the Singapore Turf Club.
The covered arena at the Singapore Turf Club.

“I am a rider who has always been conscious of the fact that our horses are athletes. We ask them to do so much for us, and yet I’ve seen so many who are coughing or tripping and just not performing to the best of their ability,” McGill said. “I wondered if the environment they are in affects them, and I wanted to learn more.”

McGill said the survey will examine if there are common characteristics or designs used in the construction of indoor riding arenas, determine what ventilation is used and if there are areas of concern from a health perspective. The accumulated data will ultimately result in advice on better design to provide the healthiest environment for horses, riders, trainers, instructors and spectators of equine sports.

McGill’s advisor, livestock systems extension specialist Morgan Hayes, said that some common environmental challenges in arenas such as dust levels and moisture management are suspected. “Quantifying the percent of arena owners and occupants with environmental concerns will assist with prioritizing research needs.”

UK Ag Equine Programs director Mick Peterson said indoor arenas continued to be built based on experience rather than science. “This engineering research will help inform efforts within the industry to develop a more systematic understanding of the materials and designs of equine arenas.”

Kimberly Tumlin, assistant dean in the UK College of Public Health, is also one of McGill’s master’s degree committee members. She said the research would consider both environmental and occupational health. “This survey combines one of the first lines of assurance of environmental and occupational health, the design and engineering controls to minimize or eliminate environmental exposures. The participants in this survey will help us understand how design factors impact health outcomes, particularly in temperature and respiratory exposures.”

McGill’s area of concentration is livestock systems engineering and controlled environment engineering.

Other advisors on McGill’s committee include Joseph Taraba, bioenvironmental engineering extension specialist, and Bob Coleman, extension horse specialist.

The survey includes questions for owners, managers, and riders who have or use an indoor arena facility.

The questions cover a multitude of topics such as arena design and construction, footing, maintenance, arena environment, and perceptions of health outcomes associated with arena environments. Responses will enable the researchers to make better recommendations for the design and construction of new indoor arenas.

The survey will take about 15-20 minutes to complete, and can be completed up to a week later once started. It closes on July 24.

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