Aqua treadmills speed conditioning in horses

Exercising while immersed in water can not only help a horse speed recovery from illness or injury but can aid in restoring strength and stamina.

Water treadmills have long been used to rehabilitate equine athletes after injury, but a new study shows that they can speed cardiovascular conditioning in healthy horses as well.

By allowing a horse to exercise while immersed in variable heights of water—from hoof to stifle level—aqua-treadmills provide low-impact resistance that aids in restoring strength and mobility while minimizing the risk of re-injury.

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Researchers from the University of Calgary in Canada used some innovative equipment in collaboration with Washington State University to explore the benefits of aqua-treadmills for healthy horses using nine unfit Thoroughbreds. Six of the horses were conditioned on an aqua-treadmill filled with stifle-height water for 18 days, and three unfit horses were conditioned using the same protocol on the same treadmill, but without water.

Before and after the training period, the cardiovascular fitness of all the horses was evaluated at a racetrack by measuring their peak oxygen consumption capacity.

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The data showed that horses who exercised on the aqua-treadmill exhibited a 16.1 percent increase in peak oxygen capacity---a key measure of cardiovascular fitness---while the horses trained without water had no increase in capacity.

The researchers conclude that equine athletes can benefit from the aqua-treadmill conditioning protocols even if they are not recovering from injury.

Reference: “Conditioning equine athletes on water treadmills significantly improves peak oxygen consumption,” Veterinary Record, September 2019

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