Like all professional athletes, race horses follow strict training programs to stay in peak physical condition. Jogging, pacing, galloping, and breezing are routine, and some harness and thoroughbred trainers incorporate hydrotherapy and swimming into their horses’ daily regime. Hydrotherapy includes cold salt water spas, water treadmills, salt therapy chambers, and swimming in heated pools. Swimming develops muscle tone, improves cardiovascular fitness, increases lung capacity, and improves range of motion while reducing stress and concussion to legs and feet. It is also excellent rehabilitation after certain injuries or surgeries.
Horses naturally know how to swim, and their huge lungs help keep them afloat. In the wild, they had to swim across rivers and lakes in search of food and shelter. They paddle and move their legs similar to trotting while keeping their heads above water. Equine pool designs are either straight with an entrance and exit ramp or circular with a depth of between 12 – 14 feet. One or two handlers walk along the perimeter of the pool with lines attached to the horses’ halters to steady their heads.
An aerobic exercise, swimming is tiresome work for a horse, and a 3 minute swim is equal to a 3 mile gallop. Swimming reduces stress on lower limbs and joints, reduces inflammation, and improves circulation while developing muscle tone and fitness without weight-bearing exercise. Because of the physical and mental benefits of swimming, trainers around the world include swimming in their regular training routines. On many Caribbean islands like St. Croix, St. Thomas, and Barbados, swimming and walking in the ocean are part of a race horse’s daily exercise schedule. Also, in foreign countries including Japan, Hong Kong, and Australia, swimming is widely used for training race horses, and training centers and race tracks offer swimming and hydrotherapy on their grounds. Trainers also incorporate swimming to relieve boredom and promote mental freshness and stimulation for their horses. In the United States, several race tracks have added swimming pools on their grounds including Canterbury Park in Minnesota, Thistledown in Ohio, Northfield Park in Ohio, and Turf Paradise in Arizona, and top harness and thoroughbred trainers use the pools to add variety to their horses’ routine and to soothe sore, aching muscles and stiff legs. Also in Pennsylvania, a number of horse farms are equipped with equine pools and high-tech therapeutic equipment.
In Chester County, PA, Maui Meadow Farm, “the oldest working thoroughbred farm in PA” offers equine swimming and rehabilitation to boarders and ship ins. Located just 10 minutes from New Bolton Center and convenient to race tracks in the Mid-Atlantic region, the farm works closely with veterinarians to provide rehabilitation and conditioning to horses recovering from injuries or surgeries. Managed by third generation horseman, Charles Lyman III, Maui Meadow’s indoor pool measures 60 feet by 30 feet with a depth of 12 feet, and for added safety, every horse is accompanied by at least 3 handlers. Their facility welcomes ship ins and horses of all ages. Like human athletes, older horses and those with osteoarthritis benefit from swimming by increasing their range of motion.
Another facility opened in 2019, Amulet Farm, located in Belle Vernon, PA, in the southwestern part of the state, about 25 miles from The Meadows Race Track, offers horsemen a selection of state-of-the-art
therapy for horses that are recovering from an injury or conditioning for the track. “We are a full service rehab and conditioning center that includes an Aqua Pacer underwater treadmill, a salt therapy chamber, and an ECB cold water salt spa,” explained Janet Collins, owner and manager at Amulet. “It’s about 50 – 50 horses that we rehab after an injury and the other half use our services as a conditioning tool. All horses must be cleared for therapy by a veterinarian. The underwater treadmill is a low-impact, high resistance workout for the horse. We control water temperature, speed, and duration. The ECB spa is filled with salt water and Epsom salts and the water temperature is 35. Horses stand in the cold water about 20 minutes and the jets of air massage the legs while the cold water numbs their legs and reduces swelling and inflammation. It’s great therapy for tendon and foot injuries. The goal with our therapies is to get horses back to the races.” Other amenities include an automated walker, ½ mile training track, and a salt chamber which helps respiratory conditions and hydrates skin cells. Some top harness trainers utilize the farm to freshen up their horses before a racing campaign.
Another horse farm, Wingate Farm Equine Spa, located in Wind Gap, PA, about 50 miles from Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs Race Track is a standardbred training facility equipped with a training track, an indoor swimming pool, and cold salt water spa. Trainers boarding at the farm have the convenience and benefits of swimming their horses and using the spa to supplement their training and treat and prevent injury. Instead of hosing a horse’s legs for twenty minutes, the cold salt spa achieves the same goal, and instead of jogging, swimming tones muscles and improves fitness. As more trainers introduce hydrotherapy into their training programs, Pennsylvania race horses as well as horses around the globe benefit from the positive results