How To Use A Water Walker
There is a common misunderstanding in some racing parts that Water Walkers are only for horses with injuries or ailments that need non-concussive exercise. We fundamentally disagree with this and would like to provide you with our experience on how we use our Water Walker to condition horses.
High Intensity Cardiovascular Workout:
This type of exercise will improve the strength, conditioning and fitness of any horse. With this type of workout the horse will exercise in the water at close to full speed (7kph) with the resistance jets on creating an increased level of resistance. We have monitored the heart rate of many horses during this type of workout and it will reach in excess of 160bpm. The time of this workout will vary depending on the fitness and strength of the horse. This workout is not for the feint hearted and we typically only use this for horses at the end of their pre-training regime.
Strength & Conditioning:
In our experience, this is the most common application for Water Walker use. Walking in a volume of water and with resistance is like weight training for horses. Horses are required to use their own strength and balance to propel themselves through the water. There is a cumulative benefit of doing this regularly as part of a structured program. At Aquagait this looks like 30 minutes walking at 3-4kph in water just under 1m deep. This does not have a major impact on cardiovascular fitness as heart rate remains fairly normal but the impact on muscle mass and improved blood circulation really brings on the physical development and strength of the horse. The 3 areas of the body we see greatest development in are: Top-line condition, hind quarter volume and muscle mass and shoulder muscle mass. To achieve results a cumulative workout program for 2-6 weeks is needed.
Post Exercise Recovery:
We do the majority of our trot, canter and gallop/pace work on our treadmill. Post this workout every horse will be washed and then spend between 10-20 mins cooling down or recovering in our Water Walker. The hydrotherapy effect on the body post concussive exercise is excellent in helping to relax muscles which have become tense and fatigued, improve blood flow which helps with recovery/post exercise soreness and reduces any inflammation that may have been caused from the concussive exercise.
For horses with orthopaedic or soft tissue injuries, exercise in a Water Walker is a great way to help with recovery and to build strength and condition. There are a variety of ways to tailor the workout to help with rehabilitation. Typically for horses with tendon or ligament injuries Water Walker exercise is incorporated after a period of box rest and some treatment. Going too early can be detrimental however if incorporated at the right time it is great for reducing inflammation and increasing blood flow of fresh oxygenated blood through tissue fibres. There is also plenty of research in humans to suggest hydrotherapy is great for building bone density and we believe the same would apply to horses.
Interestingly, one of the most consistent benefits we see in using our Water Walker is the mental stimulation and invigoration that almost all horses demonstrate. Whether the horse is have a mid racing preparation freshen up, is in pre-training or is months into a rehab program, we see genuine improvement in the horses behaviour and demeanour with regular exercise in the Water Walker. We have had many horses come to us with what can only be described as a 'hot' temperament and displaying signs of anxiety or highly strung behaviour. After a week of consistent and controlled exercise in the Water Walker we see demonstrable changes in behaviour and attitude. The longer they experience this type of calming exercise the more their behaviour improves.
How do we use it for Pre-Training?
All horses in pre-training at Aquagait start off their programs with 7-10days of Water Walker exercise for between 20-30mins each morning. As they progress to incorporating treadmill exercise or riding under saddle the Water Walker is used for recovery post workout and as an alternate exercise workout on non treadmill / track work days. This means that horses in pre-training at Aquagait are in the water everyday and they love it!
How do we use for Freshen Ups?
Very similar to the above. Depending on the length of the freshen up the horse may only exercise in the Water Walker daily for up to 30 minutes. Some may have some light treadmill exercise incorporated which would then be complimented with a 10-20 minute recovery in the Water Walker post workout.
So, whether you horse is fit and well, suffers from an arthritic or chronic condition or is recovering from an injury there is a place in its life for Water Walker exercise. If you would like to know more or to discuss how we might be able to compliment your training regime, please get in touch.