Controlled walking exercise is an integral part of most rehabilitation programmes. This is usually performed in hand or on a horse walker, however some cases may also benefit from exercise on an aqua treadmill. Aqua treadmill exercise can also be used to increase cardiovascular fitness and strength in horses in work.
The horse enters the treadmill while the tank is empty and the chamber fills quickly with water to a pre-set level, depending on the horse's injury. The horse is not 'swimming' but moving in a natural outline in a low to non-concussive environment. The different depths allow for varying degrees of support/resistance and movement. The treadmill is set to the desired speed, which may be at walk or trot.
The buoyancy of the water reduces weight bearing stress on the joints and soft tissue structures, allowing an increased range of motion, while at the same time the high resistance (12 times more resistance than air) leads to increased muscle activity and enhances neuromuscular control. Hydrostatic pressure helps to reduce oedema (swelling), decrease pain and promote circulation. Cold water is particularly useful in reducing swelling and decreasing inflammation, while warm water can be used to promote blood flow to the affected areas. When water levels are high, horses demonstrate an increased stride length and decreased stride frequency, which leads to increased back extension and flexion, helping to build up back muscles.
The aqua treadmill is a highly effective full body workout, naturally improving respiration and the benefits will be seen on dry land with an improved joint flexion, increased stride length and suppleness through the back, helping the topline. Muscle tone, stamina and strength improve dramatically and the horses really enjoy their sessions.
This type of therapy is ideal for:
- Tendon and suspensory ligaments
- Degenerative joint disease - increase joint flexion
- Fitness without any concussion
- Kissing spine - increase gap between dorsal spine processes
- Sore back, weak hind quarters or shoulders
- Stifle weakness or soreness
- Re-educate muscles
- Core muscles, strengthening and suppleness
- Walk and trot controlled exercise programmes
This slow motion video of the water treadmill shows how effective this can be in encouraging the horse to increase stride length.