To Underwater Treadmill or Not: The Road To Recovery

The thought of combining horses and water can conjure up a wide variety of emotions and reactions from people involved with horses. Some owners will emphatically say “NO WAY” without a second thought; others turn to this unlikely combination willingly.

The underwater treadmill has become a more common conditioning and injury rehabilitation tool in the equine world during the past several years. Equine rehabilitation professionals and veterinarians recognize the benefits of underwater treadmill work based on water’s natural properties like buoyancy and high resistance. Given those benefits, horses that are trainable to underwater treadmill work are going to have less stress and trauma applied to tendons, ligaments and muscles than they might on dry land.

There are a lot of options to consider when looking into an underwater treadmill program for your horse. There are two very different types of underwater treadmill styles. The larger equine rehabilitation facilities have in ground water treadmills where the horse walks down a long, gradual ramp onto the treadmill deck that is underwater. The handlers are situated more above the horse. When finished, the horse walks up the other side on a gradual ramp out of the water. There are also a number of facilities that have above ground water treadmills where the horse walks up a short ramp onto the deck. Doors close and seal, the treadmill fills with water and then the deck starts to move. The water level on these above ground systems is more easily adjusted for each individual horse.

The bottom line is that some horses will adjust really well to this valuable rehabilitation and conditioning tool, and others won’t. The importance of researching available equine under water treadmill facilities and programs to determine if it’s the right thing for your horse is paramount.