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Winter is Coming. Is it too Cold to Use a Water Walker?

As we move into winter and the cooler temperatures that come with it, we sometimes get asked the question about how cold the water is in our water walker and what it means for horses. So we thought we share our view on cold water therapy.

To start, here is some background on our water walker. It is housed inside a 1280 square metre barn with 3 open walls. In summer this stops the harsh sun and warmer temperature from heating up the water too much, typically in summer water temperature is between 18° and 22°. In Winter we see water temperature drop to a range between 10° and 13°. We also restrict the depth of the water to 950mm which means the horses body is never totally submerged in the water. We don't want to create the buoyancy effect as the aim here is to walk not swim.

We believe the benefits of cold water therapy are compelling and could go as far to say that the benefits of using a water walker in Winter might slightly outweigh any other time of year. We think the best summary of cold water therapy was written in an article titled The Power of Hydrotherapy from 1999 in leading publication The.Horse.Com and we quote below the articles author Karen Briggs:

"The application of cold hydrotherapy to the skin surface triggers three reactions. It works at a cellular level, restraining the metabolic response of the cells, so that they can better survive the not-so-beneficial side-effects of healing. In essence, it puts them into a state of hibernation, so that the cells need less oxygen to function, and thereby suffer less hypoxic injury. Cold therapy also decreases the permeability of the blood vessel walls, limiting the flow of enzymes that sound the alarm and thus reducing the amount of fluid that accumulates in the area. As anyone who has held an ice pack to a black eye knows, the cold also numbs the area to a certain degree, acting as a topical analgesic."

Most horses in training carry with them residual inflammation and/or soreness from workload. This is cumulative over their career and almost unavoidable when you consider they weigh between 450kgs and 600kgs and they are frequently exercised with a rider under saddle. Hydrotherapy can and does play an important role in helping to reduce inflammation and soreness associated with this. In cold water these benefits are enhanced and can only be helpful in conditioning your horse and keeping them sound.

We should also not underestimate the mental stimulation and effect on the horse when exercising in cold water. It simply rejuvenates the animal and helps them to relax. We constantly see an improvement in the mental state of horses when they are regularly exercised in our water walker.

So if you are wondering should I or shouldn't I, our strong recommendation is don't hesitate to maintain a hydrotherapy routine for your horse throughout winter. This can be beach work, ice packs, water walkers, hosing, swimming or any mixture of them all.

click here to read the full article referenced above.


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