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Dressage superstar Valegro, aka Blueberry, visits the Equine Therapy Centre at Hartpury each week with his groom Alan Davies for a session in their Aqua Fit water treadmill.

We caught up with our blogger Fizz Marshall, manager of the Hartpury centre, to find out more about this therapy and how Blueberry’s use of the equipment differs from the average horse.

Why Valegro uses the water treadmill

Fizz explains: “Blueberry comes to us as part of his normal work regime about once a week regularly throughout the year, increasing to twice a week in the build-up to championships.

“Carl and Charlotte like the water treadmill because it makes him move through the range of movement they are looking for in his work, but in a really nice, relaxed and non-intensive way. So he has this on the days when he’s having an easier day.

Read more about Valegro

“We use the water around hock height for Blueberry, so we put him through a big range of movement in both his front and hind legs. The water treadmill encourages the horse to ‘sit’ behind — which is what you’re looking for in a dressage horse. It makes them drive with the hind legs and helps them to take the weight off the front legs.

“The unique thing about Blueberry on the Aqua Fit compared to other horses is his ability to flex the part of his spine that sits underneath the saddle upwards. Most horses in the water drop this area down. This allows him to generate a different type of movement in that part of his back to any other horse we know.

“Blueberry, or any horse, works much slower in the Aqua Fit than when walking over land. This allows him the time to go through that bigger range of movement we’re asking for. We adjust the speed of the treadmill to the individual horse to cater for that.

“With a longer stride duration and a lower stride frequency, the horse takes bigger, longer steps and the water encourages the hind legs to step underneath giving more power. This helps to build up the important muscles in the hind quarters and over the lumber area of the back.”

Benefits of a water treadmill for horses

The benefits of working horses in a water treadmill include:

  • improving the horse’s range of movement
  • building muscle with minimum stress on the front legs/hooves
  • low intensity so suitable for both fit horses and those returning to work after injury

Video by Lucy Merrell