Equine hydrotherapy is a form of rehabilitation that involves lowering the horse into a pool of water and having it walk on an underwater treadmill. This type of therapy is used on horses to aid in the healing and strengthening of muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones after an injury has occurred. It also can be used as a means of enhancing performance and endurance to prevent injury in otherwise healthy horses or as a means of exercise. There are four main components to proper equine hydrotherapy: aeration, water depth, temperature and the amount of salt concentration in the water. All of these factors will be contingent upon the reason that equine hydrotherapy is being used and, if the horse is injured, the location and extent of the injury.
Equine hydrotherapy is begun by slowly lowering a horse into a pool of water that has an underwater treadmill at the bottom. After the horse is in place, the treadmill begins to move, forcing the animal to walk at a given pace. Submerged jets of water along the sides of the pool are directed toward the legs of the horse, thereby creating a massage-like effect. The buoyancy of the water relieves pressure on the horse’s body, allowing just enough impact to help build bone strength.
Aeration includes the use of underwater jets that not only massage the horse but cause enough turbulence in the water to induce a calming effect. Horses have been shown to exhibit higher heart rates in still water than in water that is moving. Also, oxygen circulation in the water is increased by the jets, and this is believed to assist in the healing process.
Water depth in equine hydrotherapy will vary depending on many factors. In general, the greater the depth, the more pressure exerted on the tissues. This is especially important in instances where fluid has accumulated in the event of an injury, because the pressure aids in dispersing that fluid.
The water used in equine hydrotherapy is cold. It is not so cold that it damages tissue, as prolonged exposure to ice water can, but it is cold enough that it has a numbing effect and prevents fluid buildup in the event of an injury. The water temperature is normally computer controlled and ranges from 36-39 degrees Fahrenheit (about 2-4 degrees Celsius).
Salt concentration in equine hydrotherapy will vary depending on many factors. The type of salt used also varies. Though it is used sparingly, it can promote healing of open wounds and assists in drawing out any fluid accumulation around an injury.