Conditioning Horses on Water Treadmills

Thoroughbreds conditioned on water treadmills increased both their VO2max and speed.
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Adding water treadmills to horses' conditioning programs could have beneficial effects while minimizing concussive forces. | Photo: Courtesy Persephone Greco-Otto

Manufacturers initially developed equine water treadmills for rehabilitation, but over the years they’ve gained popularity for conditioning horses. Despite their increased use, little research exists documenting how water treadmills affect horse fitness. And the research that does exist doesn’t support specific exercise intensity and duration for training.

To investigate, a team from the University of Calgary and Washington State University schools of veterinary medicine set up a study in which they evaluated fitness in horses trained both on treadmills with and without water. Canadian student Persephone Greco-Otto, who’s currently pursuing a doctoral degree in veterinary medical science, presented the team’s results at the 2017 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Nov. 17-21 in San Antonio, Texas.

Water treadmills have a revolving belt that horses walk (or trot) on in an encasement that seals and fills with water. The water adds resistance, increasing exercise intensity without increasing the belt speed or incline

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Michelle Anderson is the former digital managing editor at The Horse. A lifelong horse owner, Anderson competes in dressage and enjoys trail riding. She’s a Washington State University graduate and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in business administration and extensive coursework in animal sciences. She has worked in equine publishing since 1998. She currently lives with her husband on a small horse property in Central Oregon.

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