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Conditioning Horses on Water Treadmills

Date Published: 05/06/2019

Due to their size and strength, horses commonly develop musculoskeletal injuries.  The treatment depends on the specific injury, but just like people with joint or muscle injuries, physical therapy and rehabilitation are part of the recovery process.  In fact, rehab after musculoskeletal surgery is about as important as the surgery itself in many human patients. 

Unfortunately, rehab in animals has been slower to occur as it is not easy to rehab a painful injury or surgery on an animal as you can’t tell them that they need to do a certain exercise to help them recover even if it’s uncomfortable.  However, in the last few years rehab has come a long way in pets as some veterinarians specialize in rehabilitation of injuries using various techniques, and some of these techniques are also used in horses.  One of the techniques used by veterinarians to rehab horses after injuries is a water treadmill, but the water treadmill is also used for conditioning horses. 

However, until recently, there was no research indicating the effectiveness of underwater treadmills on conditioning horses.  A team of vets from Calgary and Washington State Schools of Veterinary Medicine indicated they set up a study to evaluate fitness in horses trained on treadmills with and without water.  In water treadmills. the water was filled up to the level of the horse’s stifles, which added resistance and increased exercise intensity without increasing the speed of the treadmill belt or incline.  Results in horses training on the water treadmills revealed a 17% increase in average speed over horses trained on a treadmill without water. This occurred without having to increase the concussive forces on the horse’s musculoskeletal system, which minimizes injury.