Indoor arena air quality a concern for many, survey findings suggest

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Three in every four users of indoor arenas have concerns around dust, moisture levels and/or a lack of air movement, the findings of a survey suggest.

Graduate student Staci McGill, from the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, set out to learn more about the air quality of indoor horse arenas.

She was surprised to discover there was a lack of existing research available, so forged ahead with an online survey on indoor arenas in partnership with other researchers from the university.

The survey was framed to gather information on arena design and construction, footing, maintenance and the arena environment.

Owners, managers and riders were asked about arena construction characteristics, air quality, arena footing and associated health outcomes in horses and humans.

The survey garnered more than 450 respondents, with initial findings indicating that 77% of respondents were concerned about dust, moisture levels and/or the lack of air movement.

“It’s mind-blowing that this hasn’t been done before,” said McGill, a graduate student in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering. “We know these issues exist, but no one has ever documented the concerns.”

Initial findings show trends with arena age and construction costs.

An example of changing trends is lighting. The use of LEDs has increased, while the use of metal halide lights has dramatically decreased. LEDs look to be surpassing even fluorescents in newly built arenas.

The size of arenas has shifted to greater square footages in newer arenas and, as expected, larger arenas also tend to be more expensive to build.

The definition of an indoor arena varies by where respondents live and how their climate impacts horse sport participation. Primary riding disciplines, wall and window configuration and footing materials, such as the presence of fiber, all varied by region as well.

The major finding is that the arena is a complex environment. Facility design, management, footing, usage and amount of horse activity within the space all interact to affect the environment in an indoor arena.

McGill said next steps include tackling the three big issues of dust, moisture and lack of air movement using a systems approach.

A multidisciplinary team is critical to providing solutions and guidance that will work for the equine industry.

She is interested in conducting site visits to facilities from all breeds and disciplines as part of her research.

Kimberly Tumlin, assistant professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Environmental Health in the university’s College of Public Health, described the project as an important collaboration.

“Together we can positively impact horse and human health by establishing conditions that are health protective.

“We know that horse-human interactions have many positive outcomes. This research helps define environments and potential exposures that may affect the quality of these interactions.”

A University of Kentucky study examined the air quality of indoor horse arenas. Photo: Bob Coleman

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