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

Split Saddles

A post on social media caught my eye a couple of weeks ago. An Australian had put a photo of her saddle up, saying that many people ask her at competitions if her saddle was broken. It wasn’t, but it’s an innovative, modern design that hasn’t made it into the grassroot market.

Obviously this meant that I had to do a bit of research.

Stuebben, of which I’ve not got much experience except for their old saddles which I never seemed very comfortable; have developed alongside Equi-soft, a type of saddle with a split tree.


This design, either as a jump saddle or a dressage saddle, has a divided tree, which facilitates and adapts to a wider range of back movement. Apparently this split tree reduces pressure on the horse’s back, and adjusts well to the movement of the rider. You can see that by having two separate sides to the saddle, a left and a right, the seat aids should be clearer and more precise because the pressure won’t be distributed to the opposite side. Which leads me to wonder if the seat aids could be too much for some horses – those with sensitive backs or heavy riders? 

Having the split in the saddle also improves ventilation to the horse’s back, and helps prevent muscles overheating. I assume Stuebben have done some research using thermography, so it would be interesting to see results from a similar, independent study. 

On a slightly different note, and I’m sure men will identify more with this, the saddle seat relieves pudendal nerve pressure (after a bit of googling I’ve discovered this nerve causes pelvic pain and supplies feeling to that region), which helps prevent injuries to that region – we’ve all winced in sympathy as someone’s crashed down onto the pommel, so surely having some preventative measures is a bonus.

The saddle also has a stirrup bar that can be adjusted to four positions which will mean that those of us outside the range of “normal” won’t have to look at specially made saddles to accommodate long legs (I don’t count myself as one of these people). It also means you can adjust your seat from cross country to showjumping by adjusting the position of the stirrups rather than just adjusting the length of your stirrup leathers. According to their website, the way the stirrup bars attach mean that the rider’s weight would be distributed more evenly and effectively.

The girth straps are also a new design, being attached to elastic rings, which relieves pressure, improves breathing, and allows the ribcage to expand more.

Unfortunately for me, this saddle is priced way out of my price range, probably why I’ve only experienced tired, old Stuebben saddles previously, so I’m unlikely to experience the benefits of these technological advances. Perhaps if anyone is ever running a study on the effects of different saddles, investigating effects on performance, as well as physiological measurements, then they can get in touch and Otis and I will be happy to oblige!

A Bit of Imagination 

This post is going to involve you using a bit of imagination. 

We were sat eating breakfast/brunch/elevenses/lunch (depending on what time you got up) around the kitchen table after having done the yard. As we drank tea and ate the bacon and runny-egg sandwiches conversation turned to the weather. And more importantly, how it was forever changing it’s mind.

For example, it’s sunny during the day so the horses need lighter rugs on, yet some days are worthy of a fly rug and others you need to cover poll to tail to prevent a wind chill. This obviously provides a problem for those with more than one horse.

My friend was complaining how she’d taken rugs off her two mares and within half an hour it was pouring with rain and she was running to the field to put them back on. Her sister meanwhile, bemoaned the fact it took so long to de rug and rug up those in her herd. Granted, you could say she was being selfish by having ten under her care, but I could see her point. It is time consuming.

Otis trots over to have his rug put back on in the evening, whilst Llani runs away from the rug carrying monster (I.e. Me) and wastes so much of my time he has just gone down to a lightweight and he will have to trot round to keep warm at night. Anyway, it’s a pain in the bum, this wardrobe changing malarkey.

Then one of us (not me because I have an appalling amount of inspirational imagination) suggested automatic rugs. Rugs that take themselves over to the horse, drape over and fasten the buckles.

Imagine the special effects in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (the floating nightie) and you’re almost there.

These rugs could be remote controlled and utilised in this frustrating change of season, but also on the yard when grooming and tacking up.

You can just imagine saying to the horse “ok I’ll take the tack back, you get dressed”… You would save so much time!

So in fits of giggles we let our imaginations run wild, and then another thought popped into our heads – think of the spookiest horse you know, and imagine their rug floating across the field … Then picture the carnage as the rug chases this horse around the paddock before mimicking a lion and pouncing onto their back.

It kept us amused for a few minutes!

But on a more serious note, what yard cheats would you have? A robot mucker outer for starters!