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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Otis’s Rehab – Weeks 11.5-13

Last time I updated you on Otis I wasn’t feeling too positive, but I went away and decided that when I’d lunged him he was probably still tired from his couple of heavier days of exercise, so combined with the deep, dry arena, wasn’t feeling his best.

I gave him a couple of days off, then lightly hacked him, and on the weekend the arena was rolled. So I rode him in the school, on a much firmer surface and he felt much better. The odd nod, but when looking back at the videos I felt that the stride length was staying consistent, but he wasn’t quite connected so was dropping the contact and nodding his head – bridle lameness perhaps?

Since then I’ve found the balance between one lunge, one schooling session, and three hacks (with the odd trot around the arena if he’s not worked hard on the hack) a week to build him up slowly. Hopefully by increasing the trot work, by longer hacks or popping in the school for a couple of laps, his fitness will improve. I’ve been very conscious of getting him to take the contact forwards, and to create that steady connection. To help, I’ve also been using side reins on the lunge. There’s still the odd misstep, but I’m hoping as his strength improves this will disappear. I’ve also been focusing on the quality of the trot and canter, so that he uses himself most efficiently and will be less likely to injure himself as we progress. 

The positive thing I’ve felt, is that his left canter feels better than his right (although they were much more even today) and his injured leg supports his entire weight in left canter. So it can’t be that bad, can it? 

I feel that I’ve got a handle on his weight now. He’s not gaining weight, and his neck is no longer cresty. Hopefully by keeping a close eye on his grazing and the slow increase in his workload will start toning the muscle and burning the fat.

I did however, have the saddler out yesterday. I’ve been using my dressage saddle as this is the wider of the two. However, it had to be widened by two gullet sizes! Into an extra wide! The saddler then put my wider gullet into my jump saddle, which is still a little narrow and perched on top, but it didn’t move while I rode, even with my loose girth. So at least I have the option of both saddles, even if I don’t use the jump saddle for a month or so. 

Can you remember I did a blog about zoopharmacognozy a couple of months ago? Well I bought a sample selection pack, but Otis doesn’t seem to be fussy and eats all of the herbs that I offer him! So I’m just feeding him them one at a time, and if I notice a huge difference in his well being I will investigate further. One herb I bought, called Eyebright, is supposed to support the functioning of the eye. Otis’s right eye tends to run in the wind, or with flies, so I thought I’d give that a go. A pinch each day in his feed and there’s no gunk in the corner of his eye – I’m really impressed! 

The plan is to continue how we are, adding in five minutes more every few days and to get plenty of video evidence for me to reflect on. I have put myself down for a riding club dressage weekend in July. It may be ambitious, but I felt I needed an aim. It will only consist of one lesson  on each of the two days, so a far cry from the fitness demands of Pony Club camp. It should help my teaching as I can get hints and tips from other lessons, and if the worst comes to the worst and Otis isn’t up to it then I’m sure I can borrow a horse for the weekend. 


Otis’s Rehab – Weeks 5-8

It’s been a while since I updated you on Otis and his rehab.


Matt has taken priority for the last few weeks, which I think has benefited Otis because it’s given him more time with a gentle work load to hopefully build up his strength. Weekdays, I’ve done three 30-45 minute hacks, sometimes riding, sometimes leading from Matt. Then on the weekends he’s gone out for an hours hack. 

The farrier felt Otis’s feet were better balanced last time he came, but did say that he had taken more hoof off the left side of Otis’s dodgy foot so I may notice a difference…

I can’t say I did, but it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve felt a wonky step. 

This last week I’ve upped Otis’s workload, starting with an hours hack on Sunday, and then on Monday and Wednesday I rode him and led Matt out on similar length hacks. He still felt fine, and I managed to have a couple of trots with them both.


Then today, most excitingly, I took Otis out without Matt, and we had a canter! Two to be precise, one on each lead. Apart from the dodgy transitions, the canter felt good. And the subsequent trot felt fine too.

Onwards and upwards! He is having his pelvis tweaked again next week, and after Matt goes home on Sunday I will carry on with four hour long hacks a week, possibly doing a longer one on weekends, and see how Otis copes with this level of work. I’m also planning on boxing him to some new hacking routes on some weekends just for a change of scenery and to provide a bit of variety to his work. 

Otis’s Rehab – Weeks 2 and 3

There wasn’t much to report last week with Otis’s rehab and it was very much hanging in between treatments, so I thought I’d leave you all in suspense until today.

I was still doing a combination of long reining and hacking out in walk when I last updated you; I wasn’t overly happy with what I was feeling and that was playing on my mind a lot.

The on the Thursday of that week (ten days ago now) he had his red light therapy session. I won’t go into huge detail as a blog on that is in the pipeline, but since the red light I have noticed that the sidebone hasn’t had heat in the area (which there was on the Thursday) and the treatment enabled me to solve the conundrum.

  1. When trotting, Otis didn’t feel limpy in front, but generally all wiggly.
  2. His exercise sheet kept slipping to one side.
  3. He responded to pressure over his sacro-iliac and the right hock was “active” during the red light therapy.


I’d solved it! His pelvis, which has always had a tendency to slip, had rotated and dropped. I hypothesised that a lack of muscle tone had meant that a little slip in the field or slight compensation for his injury, has just caused him to get out of alignment.

Typically, I only came to the conclusion on Friday, when I rode him after the red light therapy, and that night he lost a shoe. So the weekend was out, not that I would have done much now I’d twigged the problem, but it would have been useful to have been able to long rein him gently.

Anyway, I waited until first thing Monday morning to speak to my farrier, because I know how much I appreciate being able to switch off at weekends and not think about my diary. He couldn’t come until Wednesday. My next port of call was to speak to my vet/chiropractor friend, who could come out on Friday to see Otis, but she agreed with my theory and felt it was definitely worth checking his alignment.

I’ve kept Otis on this supplement of natural anti-inflammatories, and once he had his shoe put back on I long reined him Wednesday and Thursday as he was definitely a bit bored of his time off. He was up to no good on Wednesday as halfway through our walk, he decided to take me down a very narrow, overgrown footpath. Bracing myself like a tug of war champion I managed to stop him, and we had to rein back out of this mess! Thankfully he’s remembered his manners since then.

Friday’s Mctimoney treatment found good muscle tone – not surprising really as he’s all flab at the moment – but his pelvis has rotated and dropped. This took two corrections because he’s so flexible, but he did show signs of release. To help stabilise the pelvis we need to build up more muscle over his hindquarters, which I guess will mean lots of hill work being incorporated into his rehab.

This morning was the first time I could ride Otis since his treatment, and I feel so much more positive! His trot felt more normal, none of that strange disconnected feeling I had between the right hind and left fore. Was there a slight limp in front? Possibly? But it was very marginal and certainly not every stride.

My next job is to email the vet, tell him my research, progress, and find out how he thinks I should continue but I feel it will be longer hacks, plenty of hill work, and bring in more short trots. 

Otis also needs his hind shoes putting back on, so I’ll speak to my farrier about that too.

But I feel a bit more in control of our journey now. I have a couple of questions for the vet, have got some answers, and can plan the rehab with another chiropractic treatment in April. 

Unfortunately I’m not really sure of the success of the red light therapy because it coincided with the lost shoe and the McTimoney treatment, but it is interesting that I’ve not felt heat in that foot since, so it’s possible that the red light reset the cells (I’ll explain the theory of it more in that blog post) and the foot is in a better state to start increasing the workload.

Otis’s Rehab – Week 1

I thought everyone would appreciate a regular update as I bring Otis into some sort of work, and any research, management techniques, trials and errors that I meet.

Last weekend I took Otis out for a couple of 30 minute walks, with a trot on the good tracks. Nothing had changed in his diet, routine etc, but I needed to get a baseline of how he feels to compare to in coming weeks.

Then I did a lot of research into joint and mobility supplements, spoke to my physio/vet friend and another physio, who is a bit of a witch doctor, and both agreed with my research that natural inflammatories were the best place to start as they will help stop the tendons being aggravated. I also wanted something to help regenerate tissue so any damage to tendons was repaired quickly. No one supplement offered this combination, so I have opted for a bespoke supplement which can be adjusted according to Otis’s response to it. This has four ingredients; botswellia serata and turmeric, which are both natural anti inflammatories; GLHCL which is glucosamine HCL and regenerates connective tissue; MSM which improves circulation. I guess the MSM means toxins are removed from the area quicker. These ingredients all seem logical and reasonable, providing Otis responds well to them so I will just have to try. The supplement arrived on Thursday so we are still on the loading dose and I’ll have to see if I feel there is an improvement over the next couple of weeks.

Someone told me to ensure Otis is receiving sufficient Vitamin E as this helps repair and recovery. I looked at feedstuffs that are high in vitamin E, and linseed is very good. Otis is already fed cooked linseed powder, so this morning I fired off an email to that company to get confirmation of levels of vitamin E. If I have to change linseed suppliers or the form of linseed, in order to get enough vitamin E into his diet then I’ll consider that once they have replied. I’d rather have one supplement that provides two elements than two different pots.

If this supplement doesn’t work then I will give him a week’s break to get it out of his system before trying a different set of ingredients. 

Otis was shod last week and is now on a five week cycle, so that will just require me to keep an eye on how much his toes are growing and if I feel he is still getting enough support from the shoes for the whole duration. He’s not shod on his hind feet at the moment, but I’ve a feeling I might need to put them back on next shoeing. But again, I’ll just go with the flow.

I’ve also done lots of research into photonic red light therapy and this week another friend who uses it to manage her horse’s foot condition is going to come and see Otis and show me her lights, how they work and if Otis responds to them. I won’t go into too much detail here as it’s an interesting potential blog subject, but photonics has been developed by NASA and uses red light to “reset” cells so they are vibrating at a healthy level and kickstarts them into correct functioning. Google it if you want, there’s plenty to read out there!

If Otis doesn’t respond to the photonics then someone suggested magnetic therapy, which I haven’t researched much about except that I do know my cynical Dad found that it reduced his symptoms of carpel tunnel syndrome. Depending on the effectiveness of the photonics I will look at other therapies.

I want to try things one at a time to find out what Otis responds to. Additionally, the witch doctor physio told me about a client she had who had thrown every therapy and supplement under the sun on her horse’s splint, basically feeding it, until it grew humongous! Obviously there is a balance to be had here between providing nutrients to aid healing and providing nutrients to grow. She did think that my idea of supporting his injury through his foot with additional support of a therapy was the way forwards.

Chatting to my physio/vet friend, we agreed with each other that whilst with tendon injuries you avoid deep going in rehab and bone injuries you avoid hard ground, Otis has an element of the two. We’re going to avoid extremes of ground, but use a mixture of softer to firm going. 

This week has been half term so I’ve long reined and ridden Otis three times during the week, and both weekend days. I felt that he was better yesterday afternoon, so he’s spending his first night out tonight. I prefer riding in the mornings and I’d rather he’d had a leg stretch before I got on. Then I shouldn’t have the effect of standing in complicating my assessments of his way of going.

I still worry that Otis won’t tell me when it hurts. He’s such a patient, quiet horse who always tries for you, I’m concerned that he will “grin and bear it”. Today though, I felt quite positive as he jogged a little on our hack and was very keen, looking around at everything. He was shattered by the end as we’d walked up a steep hill, so I hope the worried look in his eye was just muscle fatigue rather than foot pain. 


I’m feeling more positive than last week when I heard his diagnosis, but there’s a long, rocky road ahead of us as I find the right balance to help him.