Keep dust to a minimum in arenas, barns, and paddocks for both aesthetic and health reasons
A group of friends and I were riding in my outdoor arena the other night, really kicking up the dust on a warm summer evening. As I took a break, I watched the hazy plumes billow across the pastures and thought to myself, “I sure hope the windows in the house are closed.” Dust, I figured, is a fact of life when you have horses—a minor inconvenience you learn to live and put up with. Right?
Not so, says Ann M. Swinker, PhD, who worked as an extension horse specialist and associate professor of equine science at Pennsylvania State University, in State College, prior to her retirement in 2017. Swinker says dust is actually quite hazardous to both human and animal health.
“The problem with dust is that people are actually more susceptible to damage compared to livestock, who have much bigger lungs,” she says.
In a 2006 study Swinker conducted while working at Colorado State University, she found that the incidence of the respiratory infection bronchitis was 35% higher for riding instructors than for the general population (5.4%, American Lung Association, 2001), simply from working out in all that dust. Thirty-nine percent of riding instructors reported wheezing, usually associated with a cold or respiratory infection. The prevalence of reported asthma was 17% and physician-diagnosed asthma was 14% among riding instructors, compared to 6% and 12%, respectively, in the general American population. Twenty-three percent of the respondents had a history of pneumonia, and 25% of this group had been hospitalized.
These statistics point to one thing: All that dust you’re inhaling when you’re working with horses is harmful to your respiratory system as well as theirs. In this article we’ll break down how to control it both in the ring and around the barn.
The Arid Arena
“You know you’ve got a problem in your arena if you reach down to grab a handful of footing and it runs through your fingers,” Swinker says. “Then you know it is way too low on moisture. You want to be able to see at least a little clumping of damp arena footing material.”
Swinker started out as an animal physiologist doing nutrient work. Forty years later she is helping horse farms meet regulatory standards with manure management and other practices. A horse person herself, Swinker has raised Arabian horses since the ’60s, and she sees a lot of issues with manure and dust control. “It fits hand in hand,” she says.
Manure is composed of fine organic material. If it’s not picked up, that material either binds with water in the rainy season, turning into mud, or it dries out in the summer sun, becoming extremely fine organic material that blows away in the wind as dust. Swinker’s research shows that the finer pieces of organic material are likely to travel deeper into human lungs, causing increased incidence of respiratory disease.
Swinker says the best way to avoid dusty arena footing is to begin with the right footing—the least dusty option. “Sand is the gold standard in arena footing,” she says, explaining that most all arena footing products need sand to stabilize. Shredded tires, shredded tennis shoes, fiber products, crushed wood … each of these products usually still needs sand of some sort mixed in. “Coarse washed sand that’s not too fine is best,” Swinker says.Click here to see more...