The more time I spend with Pangea, the more I think that I really have found a little diamond in the rough. Despite her little stubborn streak, she is quiet, tractable, easy, and entirely too smart for her own good. Oh, and sound and fine and amazingly well trained to boot. Bonus after bonus. She has her little issues, that's for sure, but for the most part she's a total peach.
Wednesday morning, I got up very early in order to be at the barn hooking up my trailer and loading miss Pangea. Our destination: my workplace, so that Pangea could have her first AquaTread experience! I've been lucky enough in the past to have access to a dry treadmill when rehabbing Gogo, and am now lucky enough to have access to any number of therapies that I need for Pangea should she ever need them. The AquaTread is also a perfect tool for conditioning, which is what I intend to use it for in this case.
A little bit more about our AquaTread, from the HydroHorse website:
"The HydroHorse LLC Submerged Treadmill Systems are a high tech engineering combination of a treadmill, whirlpool, and swimming pool. They are designed to aid in the therapeutic healing, strengthening, conditioning, and training of all types of horses. In essence, the horse is partially buoyant in a specially designed water filled tank, which at the same time allows contact with the treadmill.
Unlike traditional swimming pool therapy, the horse can exercise in a controlled environment, using its normal gait and the same muscles as in use while exercising on the track without undue stress or trauma.
This form of exercise in temperature controlled water with the powerful therapeutic effects derived from the system’s Jacuzzi jets ensures proper and controlled conditioning for virtually every facet of the animal’s body while reducing concussion and thus rendering the equine athlete to be better equipped to withstand the rigors of performance and to remain competitive for longer periods of time. Equine treadmills are also known as Aquatreds, or Aquacisers but the function remains the same.
How Treadmills Help Horses Recover From Injuries:
Our aquatred systems may be used for treating injuries such as bowed tendons, pulled suspensory ligaments, bucked shins, and saucer fractures, quarter cracks or foot problems and generally for the rehabilitation of the animal after any injury or surgery. The lungs and heart of the animal receive maximum conditioning, which increases their capacity thus minimizing possibility of bleeding while performing. Bones become denser and more compact and the tendency of the perisoteum of the cannon bones becoming inflamed is greatly reduced and can be virtually eliminated with the aid of a treadmill.
Properly controlled exercise in the treadmill adds significant tone and conditioning to the back and stifle muscles and would make ‘tying up’ during the early stages of training less apt to occur. There are known cases, where a horse was badly injured but after treatment on a treadmill system, came back to be a winner!
Why Treadmills are Better for Horses:
HydroHorse LLC Systems are designed to relieve stress. They have been proven to be powerful tools for rehabilitation, training and conditioning of horses as the animals are less traumatized because they remain in contact with a solid surface beneath them, under controlled conditions.
Our systems allow a horse to exercise basically the same muscles, tendons, and ligaments used when working out on the track without the constant unyielding concussion of the surface track. The buoyancy of the water displaces approximately 40% to 45% of the body weight – while contact with the treadmill and thrust of working against the water still affords sufficient concussion to promote bone density and encourage muscle development, while minimizing injury. This cannot be achieved in a conventional swimming pool where movement involves "up-hill" thrusts and an unnatural ‘all-out’ type of flexation, which could be harmful and could cause ‘stress’ and ‘trauma’ for the animal.
How HydroHorse LLC Treadmill Systems Help in Conditioning:
Early conditioning on treadmill systems helps tendons, ligaments and joint capsules to tighten and increase in tensile strength and thus prepares a horse for the heavier training required to prepare the animal for the race track or equestrian shows. Additionally, this form of hydrotherapy involves a massaging action produced by air and water jets, which create a whirlpool effect smoother and more constant than can be done by hand.
Horses love this relaxing and invigorating form of training and both vets & trainers agree that this hydrotherapy system is physically and psychologically beneficial to the animal."
When Gogo went on the AquaTread for the first time, she walked right in like she couldn't care less. We NEVER see that the first time... it takes some persuasion and positive reinforcement on almost every case. We use any combination of tools - buttrope, crop, voice, chain over the nose - but we NEVER force them, drag them, hit them, drug them, or pull them in. We let them take one tiny step at a time if they need to, and for however long it takes. With this approach, and positive reinforcement, we always get the horse in within a few minutes, and we don't have one single seasoned horse who doesn't walk right in.
As for Pangea, she walked into the chute and gave it a good hard look. She had seen two "role model" horses walk in before her, so she had a basic idea that this thing was not a horse-eating monster, but she paused to think about it for a moment. With a little encouragement (me lightly pulling her lead rope, my other handler standing near her hind end clucking and twirling her crop), she hunkered down, snorted a time or two, and then walked herself right in. Seeing as we get some that launch and leap in, some that slide in on their hind legs, and some that flail and resist the entire time, this was so easy!! It didn't take her more than a minute or two to get in. Once on the treadmill, she figured her legs our pretty quickly, and we settled for a nice power walk for 15 minutes. A 15 minute session in the pool at the trot is equivalent to trotting for an hour in an arena in terms of muscle work... so there is so much less wear and tear and pounding on legs! They build the muscles they need without experiencing the same level of hard concussion that they would on solid ground. (There is undoubtedly a need for concussion in order to strengthen bones and tendon/ligs, but not so much that you risk fatiguing the muscles and, in turn, stressing these structures. It's all about walking a fine line.)
At the end of her 15 minute walk, Pangea was pooped. It's hard work, walking against the resistance of water! Her heartrate was up, and she was breathing rather heavily. Her vitals returned to normal quickly, but the fact that a simple walk caused her to be that tired shows how seriously out of shape she is. (Under saddle, she has broken a sweat every time... at a walk. So out of shape. Seriously.)
Good mare! Aside from pawing in the barn (urrrrrrrg), she was lovely. We'll be back for the AquaTread again next week!