The benefits of treadmill training on racehorses

Feb 8, 2022 | Racehorse training

advantages of the treadmill in training racehorses
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Treadmill has long been utilized in scientific study because it enables for exact analysis of horse movement and activities adaptation. It is, in fact, a preferred tool among veterinarians and academics. However, during the past two decades, several trainers have used this equipment, and it has become a helpful tool for horse training.

What are the various impacts of treadmill training on the growth and performance of racehorses?

This article discusses the advantages and disadvantages of this type of training.

What effect does treadmill training have on the racehorse’s performance?

Decreased energy expenditure allows for more intensive training

Famous trainer Mike de Kock feels that “although your horse may not have the pedigree or talent of their opponent, fitness is the one area where you may overcome him.” Treadmills provide you that extra fitness and “edge.” That’s how significant they are.”

Horses, like people, spends less energy on treadmill because the operating conditions are less demanding (no rider, no floor problems). Due to the obvious difference in energy expenditure, the horse may exercise at higher speeds than on the track while yet experiencing the same physiological restrictions.

Thus, training might be designed to increase the horse’s endurance, speed, or physiological capacity. In this way, targeted treadmill training can benefit the horse’s fitness, speed, and even physiological growth.

Scientific study: improvement of speed and aerobic capacity

Matsui A, Hada T and Jones J investigated the advantages of treadmill exercise in a study published in Acta Veterinaria Scandinavia. In this study, 12 thoroughbreds were divided into three groups and subjected to three different training programs: 

      • Group 1 was conventionally trained solely under saddle 
      • Group 2 received treadmil exercise once a week for two months in addition to their saddle training
      • Group 3 received treadmill exercise once a week for eight months in addition to their saddle training

All horses’ aerobic capacity and maximum speed rose at the conclusion of the trial, while maximum heart rate fell in all groups. Indeed, training (of any kind) enables horses to develop and evolve their physical abilities.

However, there was a clear difference in the evolution of the last group, which trained under saddle and on a treadmill for eight months. The horses in this group developed greater metabolic power, aerobic capacity and oxygen carrier concentration in their body (red cells, hemoglobins). 

For instance, the running speed required to reach VO2max (amount of oxygen consumed during exercise) was higher in the later two groups, with 764 m/s in group 1, 809 m/s in group 2, and 804 m/s in group 3. However, despite nearly comparable velocities in the last two groups, group 3’s VO2max was 8.86 percent higher.

The multiple benefits of treadmill training for racehorses 

In addition to the physiological advantages of treadmill training for the development of racehorses, it also offers a number of benefits in its use. 

Training without soil or weather constraints

The treadmill’s first benefit is that it has a smooth, shock-absorbing surface and can be used both inside and outside in a sheltered area. It is, therefore, an excellent alternative to maintain training in optimal safety conditions despite poor soil or bad weather. 

Individualized training

Furthermore, the treadmill has a multitude of slope and speed options. These factors may be used by the trainer to manage the impacts of his or her training, to build precise programs based on targeted muscle groups, and to personalize the training to match the particular demands of each horse. The trainer can concentrate on the growth of the hind limbs by inching the treadmill, for example, because these settings require the hind limbs to carry greater weight and produce more propulsion.

Standardized tests

The treadmill is also a useful tool for standardized tests. The settings not only allow for individualized training, they also allow for standardized training by aligning  horses’ exercise conditions. This makes it easier to compare the abilities of your horses in an objective way. 

Riderless training

A final advantage of the treadmill is the ability to train horses without a rider on their back. These conditions can be optimal for young horses that are still growing. It offers the ideal circumstances to progress without carrying a load on their backs as well as their legs. 

What are the drawbacks of treadmill exercise?

Treadmill training does not prepare horses for race

However, in the previous study, treadmill training was only a complement to training under the saddle. In fact, While treadmill training helps horses to progress and vary their work, it is insufficient to prepare a horse for racing conditions.

Treadmill training differs from the reality of racing where many factors influence the horse’s performance, such as the quality of the ground, the weather, the competitors, the jockey or the driver… Training on the track is, therefore, more relevant in terms of data and performance since the conditions are closer to real racing ones. 

A different locomotion

Furthermore, studies show that locomotion is different on a treadmill. In fact, because the movements of the horses are provoked by the movements of the treadmill, it is less natural. The duration of contact of the limbs with the ground is longer, and the suspension period is reduced compared to exercise on a track. Thus, it is important to take a step back from the data collected during treadmill workouts; although they may reflect a certain progression, they are not comparable to those collected during training on track. The transfer of data from the treadmill has to be done with appropriate caution.

Cost in time and money

Finally, treadmills are expensive and not accessible to everyone. Furthermore, unlike track training, where horses can be trained in groups, you can only train one horse at a time on a treadmill. Thus, many of the advantages of the treadmill require an investment in time (having the time to individualize the training) and money (price of the treadmill). 

Conclusion

Finally, treadmill training might be advantageous due to the numerous options available with this tool. However, it can only be used as a supplement in racehorse training. Indeed, if track training may replace the treadmill, the reverse is not conceivable.

Sources:  

  • OLDRUITENBORGH-OOSTERBAAN, M., BARNEVELD, A. and SCHAMHARDT, H., 2010. Effects of weight and riding on workload and locomotion during treadmill exercise. Equine Veterinary Journal, 27(S18), pp.413-417.
  • Ohmura, H., Matsui, A., Hada, T. and Jones, J., 2013. Physiological responses of young thoroughbred horses to intermittent high-intensity treadmill training. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, 55(1).
  • Buchner, H., Savelberg, H., Schamhardt, H., Merkens, H. and Barneveld, A., 1994. Kinematics of treadmill versus overground locomotion in horses. Veterinary Quarterly, 16(sup2), pp.87-90.
  • Orange, F., Degueurce, C., Pourcelot, P. and Denoix, J., 1995. Comparaison de la Locomotion du Cheval Sur Tapis Roulant et Sur Piste. Archives of Physiology and Biochemistry, 103(3), pp.C162-C162.

Keywords: treadmill, racehorses, training, physiological capacities, aerobic, advantages, limitations