Angela Calvert from The Farmers Guardian talks about hydrotherapy and uses an owner of an ECB Equine Spa as the perfect example.
Taking the waters, equine spa style - by Angela Calvert
The benefits of cold, salt water to horses’ legs has been known for hundreds of years. Cold hosing, standing in rivers and walking them in the sea are all traditional ways of treating lower leg injuries.
Although horses tend to be slightly nervous at first, most of them find the spa a relaxing experience once in as the water aeration helps them to relax, as well as massaging the legs.
However, increasingly, thesetreatments are being replaced by the use of equine spas, which can now be found in many professional yards and rehabilitation centres. They work on the same principles of temperature, salt concentration, water depth and aeration as sea water. Cold water spas can be used on numerous types of lower leg problems, including tendon and ligament injuries, arthritis, mud fever, sore shins, windgalls, laminitis, open wounds, abcesses, bruising and splints, to name but a few.
Debbie Harrod of Hob House Farm, South Kirkby, West Yorkshire was so impressed by the results when she had her daughter’s pony treated in a spa, that she and her husband, Ronnie, had one installed in their own yard and changed their business to fit around it.
Debbie says: “I took our pony to a spa in North Yorkshire for treatment to a sprained fetlock, but not only did it resolve that problem but, much to my amazement, the splint he also had disappeared at the same time.
“We had a showing and livery yard, but decided there was a gap in the market, in our area, so decided to just keep our own ponies, install a spa and concentrate on taking in horses for rehabilitation and treatment.
“It has been really well received and we have had some excellent results. It works well as a business too. As the horses are only here short term, we can fit it around other commitments, instead of having a set number of liveries here all the time.”
The spa is a self-contained unit, which is easy to install and requires minimal management and maintainance. “All we had to do was provide a building with electricity and running water. The spa arrived in the morning and we had a horse in it in the afternoon,” says Debbie.
No veterinary referral is required, although Debbie says they do like to work closely with the client’s own vet and in cases, such as laminitis, like to have access to any X-rays, for their farrier to see. Spa treatment is recognised by insurance companies as an alternative treatment. “We have not had any major problems with horses going into the spa, although they are often a bit nervous at first. A lot of them have been undergoing quite painful veterinary treatments and injections and when they come to us have really had enough of all that. “Once they get used to it they find the spa very soothing and actually seem to enjoy it.”
The solution in the spa is maintained at between 2-4 degC, to minimise heat and inflammation. This also provides analgesic pain management, as well as inhibiting enzyme degeneration of tendons, post injury. The salt solution acts as a hypertonic poultice and has a natural healing effect on wounds. Water density increases with salt concentration, which in turn increases pressure to aid fluid and waste disperal. Water aeration has a massaging effect on the leg and increases the dissolved oxygen content of the spa solution. Also, the horses tend to relax more than in still water, as can be demonstrated by reduced heart rates. The depth of water is proportional to the pressure exerted on the leg, which aids fluid and waste dispersal; this can be varied according to position and severity of injury.The water is sampled daily and water hygience is maintained by a combination of fine filtration, chlorination, cold water and salt. These factors not only prevent further microbiological infections, but actually help treat pre-existing conditions.
Wendy Hewitt’s pony suffered serious wounds to the front of his hock, when going through electric fencing tape. She says: “The wound was horrific, you could get your fist in it. He had extensive veterinary treatment, including staples and stitches, but when these came out, the wound completely broke down again. “He was extremely distressed and in enormous pain and I didn’t think we would ever be able to show him. But after three weeks of spa treatment the healing was unbelievable. There is now hardly any visible traces of the injury.”
Remedial blacksmith, Darren Arnold’s own, 20-year- old pony had severe laminitis, but after spa treatment is now living an active working life. Darren says: “As a blacksmith, I had tried all the mechanics of getting him right – to no avail. I think, with laminitis, the spa firstly eases the pain and increases the circulation. This encourages them to move around, which also getting the blood flowing and this is something that, as a blacksmith, I can’t do.
“I have recommended it to a number of my customers for all types of foot problems.”
An increasing number of racing and competition yards are now installing spas, not only to treat injuries, but as a preventative measure. The regular use of cold therapy, immediately after hard exercise removes many of the stressors within tissues, before inflammation develops.
Cold also significantly improves surface bone density, reducing the opportunity for bone stress related injuries.
Debbie says; “We don’t work miracles and people have to be prepared to give it time. In most cases it is a week before we can see significant changes and with things like splints it can take a long time, but does work.”