While many riders dream of having an indoor arena at their disposal for warmer winter or cooler summer riding, little research has been conducted on indoor riding environments. Essentially, it’s not clear how riding in enclosed structures impact horse and rider health.

To remedy this gap, a graduate student in the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering is conducting a survey to learn more.

Master’s degree candidate Staci McGill intends to gather information on how environmental exposures and arena design impacts heat transfer, air quality, and the health of both horses and riders. The survey will be available through July 24 at uky.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_cGxVEkR25RbJdmR.

The survey asks 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, number of windows and doors, the arena environment, and if horses are stabled in the same building.

“I am a rider who has always been conscious of the fact that our horses are athletes,” McGill said. “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. I wondered if the environment they are in affects them, and I wanted to learn more.”

McGill said her study 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 date will ultimately result in advice on better design to provide the healthiest environment for horses, riders, trainers, instructors, and spectators of equine sports, she said.

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

Another of McGill’s committee advisors, Mick Peterson, PhD, director of UK Ag Equine Programs, explained the importance of the research: “In spite of the association of horse arenas with human and equine health, they continue 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, PhD, assistant dean in the UK College of Public Health and another of McGill’s master’s degree committee members, added, “Environmental and occupational health are fundamental aspects of public health, and this research touches on both in the equestrian population. I am delighted to collaborate on a project that will provide a framework to potentially improve health outcomes across both occupational and recreational use of indoor equestrian arenas.

“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,” she said. “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, PhD, bioenvironmental engineering extension specialist, and Bob Coleman, PhD, extension horse specialist.


Author: Holly Wiemers