Walking in water; could it be a magic ingredient in Valegro’s winning mix?


While dressage aficionados may already think that Valegro walks on water, new research emerging from Hartpury has shown that walking in water could be boosting the wonderhorse’s performance.

With Olympic gold medal winner Charlotte Dujardin OBE’s multiple world record holder enjoying regular sessions in the ‘Aqua-fit’ water treadmill at Hartpury’s Equine Therapy Centre, a trio of researchers have produced a paper that evidences how this kind of therapy can influence a sport horse’s performance and rehabilitation.

Recently published in the Equine Veterinary Journal, the research from Hartpury provides new information about how to use water treadmill exercise for the training and rehabilitation of sport horses.

The study focused on 14 horses from a range of equestrian sports, not only dressage.The paper, which is called ‘Water depth modifies back kinematics of horses during water treadmill exercise’ has been written by Principal Lecturer in equine therapy at Hartpury, Dr Kathryn Nankervis, Pauline Finney – a Masters in Equine Science student at Hartpury, and the Centre’s consultant osteopath Liz Launder.

Their study was conducted in Hartpury’s Equine Therapy Centre using 3D motion capture. The aim was to find out how water depth affects back movement in normal healthy horses.

Dr Nankervis said: “Our study showed that walking in water has the effect of rounding (flexing) the lumbar spine, but as water depth increases, the thoracic spine becomes more extended or dipped.

“This has implications for both the rehabilitation of horses with back injuries and the training of elite dressage horses. Dressage horses need to be able to flex (or round) the back in the area behind the saddle; and our work shows that walking in water does support this flexion.

“This is just one reason why water walking is being incorporated into the training of many top horses, including the current World, European and Olympic Dressage Champion, Valegro.”

Dr Nankervis added: “Water treadmill exercise is just one of the many treatment tools available to us within Hartpury’s Equine Therapy Centre. Through a programme of research, we aim to learn how best to use a wide range of exercises to both maintain performance in elite horses and recover horses from injury.”

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