Do water treadmills help or hinder lameness?

Water treadmills are becoming increasingly popular as rehabilitation and training tools, particularly in horses with ligament and tendon injuries.

They provide a means of exercising a horse on a straight line and on a firm surface, without the weight of a rider. They are also beneficial in reducing weight bearing due to buoyancy when deep water is used. The use of water treadmills for humans, and for rehabilitation in dogs, has been considerably investigated, but there is relatively little investigation into their use in horses.

Picture credit: Hartpury University

Researching water treadmill use

Working with Hartpury University, our research has looked at how water treadmills are being used to treat horses. We found significant differences between training and rehabilitation sessions at different centres, with horse fitness, age, weight and condition all having an influence. Our research confirmed that more study is needed to give informed guidance on the most effective way to use water treadmills.

So that’s what we’re doing! Along with Hartpury University and Centaur Biomechanics, we’re looking at the short and long-term effects of water treadmill use. One study is following horses which are regularly exercised on water treadmills as part of their long-term training programme. The knowledge we gain from this should help in developing guidelines for optimal water treadmill use in rehabilitation and training.

There are concerns that inappropriate water treadmill use may aggravate injury. We’ve found that programmes using water treadmills differ from session to session – generally due to a lack of scientific evidence available, so this is something we’re keen to solve.

Carolyne Tranquille
Carolyne Tranquille, Senior Research Assistant, Equine Orthopeadics

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Research lead

Carolyne Tranquille

Carolyne Tranquille

Senior Research Assistant, Equine Orthopeadics

Read Carolyne Tranquille's bio