Recycled tyres ideal for the equestrian arena

Recycled tyres ideal for the equestrian arena

A mixture of Mathe Group rubber crumb and sand has been used in the equestrian arena at Simbithi Stables and is ideal for working horses.

Rubber crumb produced by Mathe Group’s rubber truck tyre recycling plant in Hammarsdale, KwaZulu-Natal, has proved a highly successful addition to equestrian arenas, adding yet another innovative application to this company’s product range.

After a phone call from Stephanie Ashley-Cooper, who manages Simbithi Stables, two months ago, company head, Dr Mehran Zarrebini, began researching the possible application of rubber crumb in equestrian arenas.

“It has been used in the equestrian sector in America and Australia but not in South Africa until now,” says Zarrebini.

Locally, rubber crumb, which is produced from used truck tyres delivered to Mathe Group’s Hammarsdale plant, has been used to manufacture rubber flooring and paving and acoustic underlays for carpets as well as for foundations for sports fields utilising artificial grass.

Zarrebini uncovered a study done by the equine research team at the Animal Health Trust (AHT) in Newmarket, UK, which showed that the best types of surfaces to prevent injury to horses are sand-rubber combinations or wax-coated arena surfaces. According to this and other studies, a sand and PVC mix, woodchips, and grass can cause severe injuries in sport horses. A sand and rubber mix, on the other hand, provided the best cushioning and prevented hoof slippage, significantly reducing potential injuries to limbs.

Ashley-Cooper contacted Mathe Group looking for a softer surface for the arena that is used by 16 horses stabled on the Simbithi Eco Estate near Ballito on the KwaZulu-Natal East Coast. While some are used for leisure riding by residents, many compete in dressage and show jumping at a high level.

She says that, just like human athletes, it is becoming increasingly important for equestrian athletes to work out on the best surfaces to achieve peak performance. While hockey and soccer players have access to astro turf facilities, horses needed something more suitable than conventional arenas in South Africa which comprise a clinker base with river sand on top.

In addition to compromising performance, this puts the horses at risk of severe injuries to their lower limbs and tendons, she says.

“A number of different substances – including coconut husks and fibre – have been used to provide better cushioning and to prevent hoof slippage. However, these solutions are often extremely expensive. We were looking for a more affordable solution that did not require further investment in equipment needed to rake the surface of the arena each morning.”

Zarrebini sent samples of different sizes of rubber crumb. Ultimately, the first order of five tons of 2 to 7mm rubber crumb was delivered in April.  A second five-ton order followed shortly afterwards.

The arena measures 30m x 60m and the surface comprises one quarter rubber crumb to three quarters sand.

Ashley-Cooper says the rubber crumb was mixed with the sand in the arena, and performance has improved significantly over time as it has been repeatedly recombined in with the existing substrate and is levelled and raked daily.

“The surface gets better and better as we use it. The horses working there seem to float over the surface instead of sinking into the sand. The rubber crumb has created a lighter surface that has a certain bounciness.”

“However, one of the chief advantages is the value and longevity that comes with the use of rubber crumb which does not degenerate with use, the weather and repeated watering as products like coconut husk do, needing to be frequently replaced,” says Zarrebini.

In addition to using rubber outside, Zarrebini and Ashley-Cooper have also discovered another use for products made from recycled rubber in equestrian facilities.

Rubber crumb i-mats have been placed on the concrete floor of the horses stables at Simbithi for comfort and prevention of sores.

Samples of rubber vulcanised mats produced at Mathe Group’s sister company, Van Dyck Floors in Mobeni, were also sent to Simbithi Stables. These were placed over the concrete floors of the stables.

Ashley-Cooper says horses usually sleep on a bed of wood chips placed on the concrete floors. The rubber mats are far warmer and more comfortable for the horses and also prevent the sores that often result from horses getting up after lying down to sleep on hard concrete floors.

An added bonus is that the use of rubber mats over the concrete floors means that less wood chip bedding is needed.

She says less wear and tear on the horses’ hooves and legs in the stable environment could result in her ultimately investing further in rubberising walk ways as funds become available.

Zarrebini says that finding more and more applications for recycled rubber tyres is a commercial and ecological success story. Until a few years ago, tons of used tyres were building up into a potential environmental disaster in South Africa as there seemed to be very few uses for the products that would result from recycling them.

That has now changed, and Mathe Group expects to reduce approximately 200 000 used truck tyres into rubber crumb and other useful products during 2018 alone.