Horse Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy is, in its broadest definition, simply the use of water in the treatment of an injury or as part of a conditioning program. The healing properties of hydrotherapy are based on its mechanical and/or thermal effects, and makes use of the body’s reaction to hot and cold stimuli, to the pressure exerted by the water, and to the sensation of the water itself. In therapies where a horse moves in the water, such as with the underwater treadmill, the water also provides buoyancy to lessen shock and resistance to improve the cardiovascular workout. Circle Oak uses two primary hydrotherapeutic modalities in its rehabilitation and conditioning programs: the HydroHorse™underwater treadmill and the ECB cold saltwater spa.  Depending on the particular situation, they can be used separately or in conjunction with each other.  

HydroHorse™ underwater treadmill

Circle Oak Equine boasts a custom-designed HydroHorse™ underwater treadmill. The HydroHorse™ is an in-ground, submerged treadmill, with heated water and whirlpool jets and is a key component of many of our treatment and fitness programs. The HydroHorse™ provides a controlled, buoyant environment for low-impact exercise, and speeds the return to fitness and performance.

What is the HydroHorse™ used for?
We use the HydroHorse™ both for rehabilitation and fitness programs. It is effective in treating bowed tendons, pulled suspensory ligaments, splints, bucked shins, saucer fractures, joint injuries, post surgical recovery and many other conditions. In addition, use of the HydroHorse™ adds significant tone and conditioning to the back and stifle muscles and forms the cornerstone of a low-stress fitness program for horses that need to attain or maintain competitive condition.

Why is the HydroHorse™ so effective?
Our HydroHorse™ underwater treadmill builds muscles and cardiovascular strength in a partially buoyant environment that reduces stress and concussion by up to 60 percent. The horse exercises in a controlled environment, in a straight line on a flat surface, using its normal gait, with full range of motion and the same muscles that it uses on traditional surfaces.
Unlike swimming, which uses a different set of muscles and does not replicate the workout that the horse receives on land, the HydroHorse™ builds topline and leg muscles with the added benefits of the therapeutic effects of the warm water and the Jacuzzi jets.

My horse doesn’t like water. Will he go into the HydroHorse™?
Most horses acclimate quickly to the soothing feeling of the warm water and the ease of exercising in a buoyant environment. They don’t realize that the resistance of the water is actually giving them a cardiovascular workout superior to what they would receive on the ground! We ease ‘first-timers’ into the HydroHorse™ using a variety of low-stress techniques such as lead horses, gentle urging from behind and allowing them to watch other horses go through for a while before their turn arrives. In very rare instances we have used sedation for the first experience. Our handlers are experienced, calm and relaxed and the horses pick up their attitude.


ECB Cold Saltwater Spa

The ECB Coldwater Spa is a self-contained unit that uses very cold salt hydrotherapy to treat and prevent lower leg injuries in horses.

What does the cold water do?
The saltwater in the spa is aerated and chilled to a constant 35° F. The hyper-cooled saltwater reduces limb temperature (and hence inflammation) far beyond traditional icing techniques, thereby inhibiting enzyme degeneration of tendons and ligaments post-injury.

Saltwater at this temperature is denser, which allows a far greater concentration of oxygen, which, combined with the aeration, greatly increases the overall oxygen content of the spa solution, which is believed to promote healing in the same way a hyperbaric chamber does. Exposure to this low temperature results in a significant, drug-free reduction of pain. As the legs re-warm after treatment, blood flow is greatly increased to the injury site. The aeration massages the horse’s legs, increases oxygen content, stimulates blood flow and cleanses open wounds.

Why salt water?
The Epsom and sea salt solution acts as a hypertonic poultice, which means that it draws inflammation out of the horse’s limbs far more effectively than fresh water. The salt also aids in wound cleansing.

What is it used for?
The spa is a drug-free* therapy used to treat all forms of lower leg inflammation and injury, including:

  • Tendonitis (e.g. injury to the superficial and deep digital flexor tendons)
  • Desmitis (e.g. suspensory ligament injuries)
  • Laminitis
  • Hoof bruises and abscesses
  • Splints
  • Bucked shins
  • Arthritis
  • Bursitis/synovitis
  • Open wounds and skin infections

Most fundamentally, the spa speeds injury recovery by dramatically lowering the leg temperature, thereby reducing inflammation and thus minimizing the damaging effect of fiber-deteriorating enzymes.

Can the spa be used to prevent injuries?
Yes! Regular use of cold hydrotherapy immediately after rigorous exercise removes many of the stressors within tissues before inflammation develops. The cold water also significantly improves surface bone density, which reduces the opportunity for bone-stress related injuries to occur.

*Mild sedation is sometimes advisable when first acclimating your horse to the spa.