Something that you won't find in every horse stable or at every pre-training establishment is an equine water walker. Let's face it, they are expensive to build and maintain, not too many people know how to best use them and to get a return on your investment is not straight forward.
So, in this Insights article we would like to share with you more about what we do to condition horses using our water walker and the benefits that come from it.
Simply explained, training in a water walker is resistance training for horses. Horses walk in a volume of water using their own strength to propel themselves through the water. This type of exercise has proven to have multiple benefits.
Additionally, you enjoy the benefits of hydrotherapy as well. It is well documented for both humans and horses that hydrotherapy is terrific for muscle relaxation, it increases blood circulation which is vital in muscle recovery, aids in joint mobilisation (particularly arthritic conditions) and relieves stress / impact on the body.
Our water walker has unique functionality, we know of only two other walkers in Australia which have the same functionality. We have 4 high flow current pumps evenly distributed around the circumference of the walker. When switched on, these pumps create a significantly greater resistance or current for horses to walk against which stops any potential whirlpool effect.
The video below gives an indication of the strength of the current that can be directed against the horse to build both strength and endurance.
We concentrate on two main things when conditioning horses in our water walker.
Firstly, its about building muscle tone, strength and endurance through progressively increasing workload. For example most horses will start on a daily workout without any resistance pumps being used. Gradually over the course of the horses stay we will increase both the time of the workout and the intensity of the resistance. In our experience, we see the greatest improvement in muscle strength and tone through the horses hind quarters. Further, we have noted in many horses a much stronger and more developed top line in horses which use the walker regularly.
Secondly, its about building aerobic fitness. This is achieved through controlling the speed of the walker and the time spent working in it. Typically horses will start at 15 minutes or 20 minutes with a speed setting of 2.2kph. Gradually we will increase workout time to 30 minutes this combined with added resistance really gets the horse working. We have monitored horses heart rates at a range of different speeds and resistance levels and we are able to safely achieve sustained heart rates in excess of 120bpm for normal workouts, which is a robust aerobic workout for any horse. Importantly this is achieved with minimum stress or impact on joints and tendons.
Aside from the physical benefits, the mental stimulation and enjoyment horses derive from exercising in a water walker cannot be underestimated. This is particularly important if you are planning to send your horse to a water walker facility for a freshen up. Most of the horses we have conditioned at Aquagait (and we are talking in the 1000's) really enjoy the experience. It is most evident by the pouring and splashing and their physical demeanour when they are in the water.
Finally, it should be noted that we do not take a cookie cutter approach to conditioning horses on our water walker. Every horse will respond differently to the exercise and we closely monitor every horses condition and demeanour. If it’s not helping we will tell you straight up. For precision we measure their weight daily to ensure we achieve the desired outcome. For most horses in our care we incorporate a program of water walker exercise and controlled exercise on our equine treadmill to achieve the best results.