Gravity is the culprit. The only thing keeping a top-heavy, one-thousand pound horse from plopping to the ground are four long, thin legs.
Mother Earth’s gravity is exerting a lot of pressure on those legs, and when a racehorse is on the job, running flat-out with a 120 pound jockey in the saddle, there’s even more stress on its legs and joints.
So it should come as no surprise that the most common problems for thoroughbreds are leg injuries. And the best way to recover from these injuries is equine water therapy – or as we outsiders might say … the horse swimming pool.
In addition to stables and a practice track, one of the services provided by the Thoroughbred Center outside Lexington, Kentucky is an equine pool. Our timing was perfect, and we watched four yearlings going for a dip – some for rehab and others just for exercise.
“What is really great about hydrotherapy in its most extreme form–swimming–is that you can bring a horse who might otherwise not be able to do any conditioning work at all (because of an injury) to almost total fitness. If you have a pool, you can challenge your horse’s musculoskeletal system and cardiovascular system without concussing the injury.” –thehorse.com
Horses aren’t naturally strong swimmers, so a few laps in the pool is a serious workout. Four to six laps was typical for the horses we saw, but some complete as many as 20! In the video, the loud snorts are a good indicator of how hard these yearlings are working, as well as a segue into an interesting piece of trackside trivia: horses can’t breathe through their mouths; all respiration is only through their nostrils. I bet you’d snort and flare your nostrils too.
Another obvious benefit of swimming is getting the horses in shape. In the run-up to Keeneland’s annual yearling sale, many trainers use the pool to, in the words of the manager, “take the baby fat off the yearlings so they look buff.” To get top dollar for your horse, the flab has to go.
My trip to the Thoroughbred Center was a delightful day of firsts. The horse pool provided another glimpse of the hard road that thoroughbreds must travel to achieve success. Everyone into the pool!
James & Terri
1. Bonnie U. Gruenberg via Wikimedia Commons