Hydrotherapy

Last month I did some practice teaching at a yard which is also a rehab yard, and they have a water treadmill. The seed was sown, but I didn`t get any further than thinking it would be interesting to see a horse using the treadmill. Then a couple of weeks ago, a friend told me that she had been with another friend to use one at a new rehab centre, very locally to us. The types of horses the treadmill helps sounded similar to Otis, so she thought she`d share the knowledge with me.

As this rehab centre was a lot closer to me, and they had an introduction offer, I thought it would be interesting to take Otis along. It wouldn`t do him any harm, and it would be very interesting from my point of view. So I gave them a ring and booked him in.

I was telling my physio guru about the water treadmill, and she thought it was an excellent idea. She also told me that there had been a study that showed no difference between the effects of the treadmill between horses who travelled to use it, and those who were on a rehab livery programme. i.e. travelling to and from hydrotherapy didn`t reduce its positive effect. Which, to be honest, hadn`t even crossed my mind. But always good to know.

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Otis travelled as well as ever, and waited patiently whilst I filled out the relevant forms. Then he was introduced to the treadmill.

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Always the sceptic, and possibly because I was behind him, not leading him towards it, Otis had a good look at the strange contraption. However, as with most males, the way to his heart is through his stomach so a few pony nuts did the trick. I was really impressed with the quiet, patient approach. Otis was given as much time as he needed to take in the machine. Once he had stepped onto it, he was walked straight through the tunnel and around to go onto it again. The second time he was much more confident, and walked straight on.

This time, because he stood quite contentedly on the treadmill, the front door was shut. And then the back door.

I think by then Otis was more interested in delving into the lady`s pocket. He was effectively cross tied, with me holding a rope on his right, and an assistant holding the rope to his left. This is to help keep him straight because apparently a lot of horses practically bounce from wall to wall the first time they use the treadmill.

The treadmill was turned on, and with a look of surprise Otis started walking. It moved at quite a pace so it took him a few minutes to find his rhythm and to stay in sync with it. But the nice thing was, there was no rush. The treadmill was noisy, but everyone was calm and reassuring him.

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There were two cameras to look at; one was above Otis, so you could see how straight he was walking, and see if there was any asymmetry in his back movement. The second was at hoof-level, and showed his stride pattern – the length and cadence. While he was getting into the swing of it, I had a good look at both cameras.

Next, the water was gradually let in. He didn`t change his pace and didn’t seem overly worried about the splashing around. The water rose until it was just above his fetlocks. I think you can adjust the depth of the water according to horse fitness as deeper water creates more drag so means they have to work harder. A couple of times Otis slacked off a bit, and ended up closer to the back of the treadmill, but a little encouragement and he caught up again.

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Watching the cameras now, I could see his stride had gotten longer and he was flexing his joints more to lift his legs higher out of the water. The water splashing on his belly also caused him to use his abdominal muscles too.

Water treadmills are increasingly popular with horses on rehab programmes because it allows you to increase their workload without stressing their joints or jarring their limbs.

I`m not sure how long Otis was walking in water for, probably about fifteen minutes. When it came to finishing, the water was drained out and the treadmill slowed until it stopped. After some treats for Otis, the front door was opened and he was led out. You could see his walk had improved already, and he almost looked a little run up from where he had been using his abdominals – a bit like me after a Pilates class!

His legs were washed off with the hose and then disinfectant sprayed over his legs. Just as a preventative measure as other horses use the treadmill. Of course, Otis stood perfectly still while he was being washed … none of the dancing around that he does with me!

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I haven`t booked to take him back yet as we`re having a hiccough with his rehab … I`ll tell you more when I’m emotionally strong enough. But once he`s back on track I will definitely be booking him in for some more as you could see an immediate benefit. Plus, I was eyeing up the vibrating weighbridge-looking thingy which is supposed to be good for healing collateral ligament damage.

Here is a video of Otis on the treadmill

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