In a 15-minute session, on average, the horse flexes the limbs 600 times. This is the equivalent of doing 6 raised poles 100 times in a straight line.
What are the benefits of this controlled and tailored exercise?
Increased Core Stability
Increased Joint Range of Motion
Improved Muscle Tone
Increased Cardiovascular Fitness
Reduced Concussive Impact
The treadmill is unique in its offering to the equine. Be it for rehabilitation purposes, strengthening or fitness, the beauty of the water treadmill is you can control the horse's speed and stride length via the water depth, and most importantly, the horse finds its own balance and rhythm and settles into the exercise.
For those of you interested in some of the science behind the use of the treadmill please read on !
“Exercise in water offers many potential benefits for equine athletes, including improved aerobic capacity, increased joint range of motion through the limbs and back, improved use of arthritic limbs, whilst minimizing segmental accelerations of the forelimb and decreasing impact shock.
These benefits suggest that water treadmill exercise can be a useful addition to a wide variety of training and/or rehabilitation programmes." Nankervis et al 2021
Water creates resistance; when we walk through ‘air’ there is no resistance, it’s easy. Walk through water, and suddenly your balance, co-ordination and muscles are going to be tested. The resistance therefore, stimulates muscle development and encourages engagement of the core muscles, improving proprioception.
Joint range of motion (ROM) describes the amount of movement that joint has. Poor joint ROM can indicate that there are underlying issues with that joint, such as stiffness, pain or arthritic changes. A healthy joint ROM means that the muscles associated with that joint is capable of working through a longer length, which in turn helps to build strength and dynamic controlled movement. This should, therefore, decrease injury potential to that joint.
Research (Mendez-Angulo et al 2013) shows that the joint range of motion (ROM) in the equine limb is greater when walking in the water treadmill compared to walking without. As water depth increased, the stance phase of the stride (weight bearing) decreased, and the swing phase (movement) increased.
Conclusions from this research suggest that the water treadmill is useful for horses during rehabilitation and the depth of the water affects the amount of change to the ROM.
In simple terms, hydrostatic pressure is the pressure that the water applies to the body whilst it is submerged. Hydrostatic pressure increases or decreases depending on the level of water. The more water there is, the more support (buoyancy) is given to the body. The increase in water depth decreases both the stress on the joints and the weight of the body. Hydrostatic pressure therefore helps to:
- A study in 2020 by Greco-Otto et al, looked at the difference in peak oxygen consumption for unfit horses exercised on a dry treadmill, and on a water treadmill. The results showed a 16% improvement from pre to post conditioning for those horses exercised on the water treadmill.
The oxygen consumption for those exercised on the dry treadmill did not change.
A recent study by Tranquille et al (2022), showed that changes to the depth of the water has a direct effect on the amount of movement in the thoracic and lumbar spine, as well as the pelvis. This increase in spinal movement therefore promotes the activation of the core back muscles, namely the Multifidus group.
The Multifidus has a vital role in stabilising and supporting the spine. It also has a huge number of ‘receptor’ cells which relay information to the brain about proprioception, balance and co-ordination. This knowledge is hugely significant when rehabilitating the spine post-surgery, both in terms of developing the core muscles as well as being careful not to create too much movement too soon.