Horsemen often rely on hot walkers and treadmills as opposed to hand-walking as an efficient method of conditioning, rehabilitation therapy, and for cooling horses down after work. These devices come in many shapes and sizes, each with its own unique characteristics and benefits. Walkers allow several horses to be exercised or cooled off simultaneously, providing time saving systems and quicker results.
Traditional Hot Walker (or Lead Walker):
This style of hot walker has been used by trainers and farm managers for years. An example of this would be the units made by Priefert (www.prieferthorsewalkers.com). It is comprised of two or more arms which allow the horse to be tethered while moving in a circular motion. For maximum safety, the horse should always be tied with an emergency release knot or quick release snap.
Free Style Walker (or Exerciser):
The European type of panel walker, such as those made by Kraft (www.kraft-horsewalker.com), is a safer alternative than the traditional version. The horse is not tied with a lead rope or clip, allowing for a less restrictive movement with minimum resistance. This results in a more relaxing experience with the development of better muscle tone.
Treadmills are designed to exercise one horse at a time, and can be used for conditioning, rehabilitation, or developing a young horse. There are various models available. Examples include Kraft (www.kraft-horsewalker.com) and Horse Gym (www.horsegym.com). The straight forward movement is preferred over the circular motion of traditional walkers and most treadmills have adjustable inclines to increase conditioning.
Water Walker (or Exerciser):
Water walkers can take the form of a treadmill, like Hudson Aquatic Systems (www.hudsonaquatic.com), or free style walker, with the added benefit of hydrotherapy, which aides in the healing tendons and relieving joint pressure while building muscle. This can be an ideal choice, however, special attention should be given to keeping the water sanitary, and regular cleaning is essential.
In general, it is recommended that horses be at least 3-4 years old before training them on a walker or treadmill. Always start very slowly to allow the horse to become accustomed to the motion. An emergency stop button is essential and horses should never be left unattended on any mechanical device.
If you are considering the addition of a hot walker or treadmill as part of your facility, there are many options to choose from. Thorough research will help determine which type of device will provide the best fit for your equine operation. No matter which product you choose, keep in mind the safety features and precautions to assure you and your horses gain the maximum benefits while keeping risk of injury low.