Hydrotherapy and Your Equine Athlete

by Rob Keene DVM and Michael Guerini, Ph.D. (www.hydrot.com)

For many years veterinarians, trainers and other equine enthusiasts have used water as a therapy for sore limbs and muscle injuries. After a long day of work, or a vigorous exercise routine, many people take the opportunity to indulge themselves in a few moments of pleasure with a water-jet massage in their home spas or showers. Hydrotherapy spas are wonderful for people but not practical for the horse owner or trainer when you consider cost limitations and design problems. Ideally, a stream in our backyard or training facility would provide an excellent means for relaxing not only the rider but also the equine athlete.

Cold hosing is a simple form of hydrotherapy and a new injury can benefit from being cold-hosed for about 20 minutes multiple times a day or as directed by your veterinarian.

Why does hydrotherapy/cold hosing work?

Enzymes and proteins are released when cells are injured by a cut, trauma, or over-exertion and this caused the blood vessel walls in that vicinity to dilate and become more porous. Infection and inflammation fighting cells move to the area and extra fluid goes to the spot and carries oxygen and proteins for tissue repair. Tissue damage also triggers the secretion of hormones that are responsible for much of the pain the horse feels.

Pain, heat, and swelling, the three main symptoms of inflammation occur to varying degrees depending on the region, severity, and type of injury. As we all know, pain helps prevent overuse of the affected area. Heat results from the increased blood flow to the injury site and swelling (or edema) helps immobilize the area. The safest way to begin the healing process is to use the horse’s circulatory system to remove excess fluids not needed for healing. Drugs such as phenylbutazone can reduce swelling and heat but they might mask pain and delay or confuse the diagnostic picture.

The application of cold hydrotherapy triggers three basic reactions. First, it reduces cellular metabolic responses so that less oxygen is necessary since this can trigger hypoxic injury. Cold therapy also decreases the permeability of the blood vessel walls to reduce the amount of fluid accumulation and by cooling the area, it acts as a topical analgesic.

With the advent of the Equine Hydro-T, the benefits of a human hydrotherapeutic spa, along with the convenience of a backyard stream, are combined into one product. The patented Equine Hydro-T attaches to a hose at the barn and directs a pleasant, pulsating hydro-therapeutic massage to the tendons, joints, and muscles that have experienced a workout or injury.

Throughout the years in my veterinary practice, I recommended using a regular garden hose to help reduce swelling and provide a therapeutic treatment for medical problems associated with injury or strenuous workouts. When describing this therapy to clients I often used a shower massage analogy to explain how this treatment could help their athlete. While driving away I always contemplated the need for a massage unit like those found in most people’s showers or spas. I also was discouraged at the inconsistencies inherent in using a garden hose. The Equine Hydro-T answers this need by providing inexpensive, consistent, pulsating hydrotherapy using a convenient handheld instrument that is also a great tool for routine bathing.

The best part of the Equine Hydro-T is that it is also excellent for bathing your horse so it has multiple functions.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).  Dr. Rob Keene is a veterinarian from Montana.

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