Equine Care, Uncategorized

Common Questions about Hydrotherapy- The Aqua Treadmill

So, although I do not own an Aqua Treadmill (I’m not quite rich enough yet), I have experienced using the aqua treadmill, as well as having looked into the theory behind it.

So whilst hydrotherapy is becoming ever more popular, there is still a long way to go with educating people about it. Many people have the opinion “well Valegro goes on on so it must be good, right?”
Yes it is good, but like any training method, only if done so correctly.

Do I need to book in for a course of sessions or will one just help?

Whilst you may feel some effect after just one session, this is likely to be short term. The aqua treadmill is a form of rehabilitation as it seeks to alter and re-educate the gait. A course will always be advantageous to truly alter and improve your horses gait and muscles, this is better advised with your provider.

Will the aqua treadmill improve my horse’s fitness?

Horses on the aqua treadmill will normally exercise in walk, sometimes trot but less frequently so. Whilst the heart rate will be elevated, it will not serve as fitness increasing in the way that other activities would, such as the swimming pool. The aqua treadmill is more of a strength and conditioning tool. A study found that “compared to rest, there was no significant increase in lactic acid concentration in any horses at any speed or water level. Hemoglobin content and heart rates did increase with exercise”.

Will the aqua treadmill improve my horse’s straightness? 

Definitely, by working the horse evenly on both sides, the horse will develop more symmetrically which will improve it’s overall straightness. This is ideal for dressage horses but also all horses.

Will my horse be flexing or extending it’s back? 

When on the aqua treadmill, your horse will usually be flexing it’s back (lowering it’s head and using the ventral chain or underside of the horse to lift it’s back). This is obviously desirable although different water depths can have different effects.

What depth of water is best for my horse? 

This is dependent on your horses current state as well as your goals. Different water levels have been seen to engage different areas of the horse. At higher levels there is reduced bending of the back, although pelvic flexion increases and lateral bending decreases. Lower depths can have their advantages too as the horse must step up and over the water instead of pushing through, engaging the abdominals and quadriceps (great for if your horse has locking stifle). It is generally accepted that you go one joint up from the target area i.e. to improve fetlock function, the water would be increased to knee height. Scott et al., (2010) found that walking in water at carpus or ulna height decreased the stride frequency compared to coronet height. The benefit of a decreased stride frequency would be that the horse is engaging its core and stepping underneath itself sufficiently to increase stride length and decrease the stride frequency to maintain the same speed.

Will my horse need an acclimatization session?

Most definitely, most providers allow this session for a cheaper price and often involves lots of building of the horse’s confidence. Horses usually are loaded into the treadmill in a bridle with handlers to support and encourage the horse. It’s usually quite a loud piece of equipment so may take a few sessions for the horses to field totally comfortable.

What happens if my horse falls on the treadmill? 

Most treadmills have safety measures in place so an emergency stop can be performed if need be. Some are lazer triggered so if the horse falls and the lazer hits the opposite spot, it will automatically stop.

Should I continue to ride my horse whilst completing an aqua treadmill program? 

Definitely. Although the treadmill is hard work for them and if you are paying for sessions, you want them to be as effective as possible, it also can alter the gait due to the surface they are working on. There is a degree of buoyancy when working in water, therefore it is important to add it into a training regime. Including activities such as schooling, pole work, long reigning and hacking will give you the best results.

Can my lame horse go on the aqua treadmill? 

This is dependent on the place’s policy but generally no. This is a form of rehabilitation not therapy. Veterinary consent must be sought before your horse undertakes a session, usually the provider will sort this although they may ask their client to. Therefore it is usually at the vet’s discretion whether the aqua treadmill will help your horse. Although it is beneficial to horses coming back from injury due to the degree of buoyancy, as it will reduce concussive forces.

Is the water clean?

Whilst some providers will ask you to put a nappy on your horse, the water is not clean in the way that the equine spa is, as it is not treated with chemicals. The temperature between water in each water treadmill will vary, although studies have shown that 13°C is optimum so as to not increase heart rate too greatly.

If you have any further questions please feel free to ask me and I will answer as best I can. I am not trying to sell a product but just raise awareness of the benefits of the aqua treadmill for all horses, not just top competition ones.

To summarize, the aqua treadmill can be really beneficial for muscle development, straightness and muscular endurance. As well as this, it aims to re-educate the gait and improve symmetry and overall straightness. It does not improve cardiovascular fitness directly, although it will have some influence. It is also important to consider the rider effect too. There is no point in paying to improve your horse’s straightness for then it only to be affected by a crooked rider! Mechanical horse sessions as well as fitness and physiotherapy regimes can help with this. After all, the overall goal is to get the horse and rider working as harmoniously as possible together.

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