What is an Above-Ground Aquatred?
The first underwater equine treadmills were concreted down into a pit that was filled with water. Studies were finding that horses rehabbed more easily from injury and could be better conditioned for performance. As everything in the medical field evolves, so does therapy equipment. Over the last decade, above-ground equine Aquatreds have grown in popularity. They offer more versatility in treatment and conditioning programs, so they have become the go-to equipment for most rehab facilities. The biggest benefit to the above-ground is being able to adjust the water depth for different sized horses and for targeting different muscle groups for fitness. It’s like going to the gym and only using one machine. You get benefits, but not the total package.
What Do the Water Levels Do?
The deeper the water, the more weightless the horse is in exercise. In a rehab setting, a therapist would use water that comes up to the shoulder to decrease the weight of the horse by around 60 percent. This allows them to mobilize joints and begin fitness much quicker after injury than they would if working on hard ground. The horse will stride out easily, increase lung capacity and have a low-impact workout. Water that reaches the forearm helps to condition the upper leg muscle and really increases stride on running horses. At this depth, they will still pull through the water and be mostly buoyant.
Water levels that are just above the knee, at the knee, or below the knee are similar to a person working on a stair climber machine. The horse will automatically want to pick up and step over the water, so you get great range of motion in the hip/sacroiliac region. It also helps build core strength and topline. These workouts are key for horses recovering from kissing spine or EPM, but all competition horses can benefit. Rodeo horses are bound to run in muddy arenas at some point, so equine therapists can condition the lower leg muscles and soft tissue in a controlled situation so the horse is better prepared to prevent injuries on unstable ground. Dropping the water level down to just the ankle creates an even a harder workout.
Faster = Harder
Aquatreds are designed for the speed and movement to create resistance. The faster the horse goes, the more the water splashes up on the door and then back like a wave against the horse’s legs. This is where a horse can really build airway function and get the cardio aspect of the workout, but it’s still low impact. Even documented bleeders don’t bleed while on the Aquatred, so it’s a safe workout for all types of horses. A horse can work as hard or as gently as needed with the same equipment. For injuries and post-surgery horses, rehab specialists will have the horse work slowly and focus on rebuilding weak areas. Horses just needing fitness can be pushed harder to focus on cardio and muscle mass.
Who Uses an Aquatred?
Most people are familiar with seeing Aquatreds used in a rehab setting, but a lot of private farms own their own units as well. Farms that specialize in sale prep and show fitting find them especially useful for working large numbers of horses with limited staff. Aquatreds are also scattered throughout racetracks across the U.S. for horses that are going to be in one location for a season. Training barns that must work around unfavorable weather conditions also benefit in fitting horses in a climate-controlled workout. It’s not a replacement for riding and training the horse but a great tool to get the edge up on the competition.
Superior Therapy LLC offers advice and several training options available for anyone considering purchasing an Aquatred.