May 31, 2021

Female Veteran Opens New Equine Hydrotherapy Facility

R&J Equine (R&J) opened its equine hydrotherapy facility just outside of Lexington, VA, in March of 2021. R&J is an equine training, conditioning, and rehabilitation business that is helping horses with its unique equipment. The business is the only equine facility in the Valley with an equine water treadmill and cold saltwater spa. R&J has already worked with many horses and even a few dogs. In addition to working with animals, EKI promotes community involvement through open houses, clinics, and tours to 4H groups, pony clubs, school tours, and kids’ camps.

Rachel Mitchell, a veteran of the U.S. military, opened the business after earning her Bachelor of Science in Equine Science from Delaware Valley University. Mitchell was always interested in horses from a young age, and she always sought to pursue this interest in each country she served.

Equine Hydrotherapy:

How the Cold Saltwater Spa (CWS) Works:

A combination of salt concentration, temperature, aeration, and water depth allows the cold saltwater spa to function therapeutically for the horse. The high salt concentration in the water of the CWS works to reduce the fluid buildup around an injury by drawing it away from the area, thus helping the injury to heal faster. The cold temperature reduces the metabolic response of the cells, decreases blood vessel wall permeability, and numbs the area, which in turn reduces pain. Reducing the metabolic response of the cells means the cells do not require as much oxygen to function. Additionally, reducing the permeability of the blood vessel walls decreases fluid buildup in the area of the injury. Aeration increases the levels of dissolved oxygen to increase the healing process further, and the massaging effect that aeration has on the soft tissue works to reduce fluid buildup by encouraging its dispersion away from the injured area. Lastly, as water depth increases, so does the pressure placed on the tissues. Like the other aspects of the CWS, this also helps to move accumulated fluids out of the area of the injury.

The Benefits:

These functions are therapeutically beneficial for the horse as they are designed to work with how the horse’s body reacts to injuries. When a horse has an injury, enzymes and proteins are released into soft tissue, and the blood vessel walls in the body dilate and become more permeable. This enables lymphocytes to reach the area of the injury to start fighting off infection. Because of this, edema and swelling occur, and extra fluid builds up around the area to immobilize the injury. Hormones are triggered by tissue damage, which causes pain, thus preventing the horse from excessively using the injured limb. An increase in blood flow to the injured area also causes the temperature to increase in the area of the injury and its surrounding tissues. Pain, heat, and swelling are three signs of inflammation. While the body is working to fight off infection and heal the injury, inflammation can also have a negative effect on the healing process by causing issues such as secondary tissue damage or even hypoxic injury. Fluid buildup slows the flow of blood and lymphocytes as the blood vessels in the area of the injury undergo an increase in pressure. The CWS’ four key elements of salt concentration, temperature, aeration, and water depth encourage and enable the horse’s own circulatory system to remove the excess fluid from the area of the injury. This, overall, decreases inflammation, reduces pain, and allows for a quicker recovery.

Uses:

The CWS can be used to treat a variety of injuries such as joint conditions, laminitis, hoof injuries, ligament injuries, tendonitis, shin splints, soft tissue injuries, abscesses, windpuffs/windgalls, cuts, scrapes, bruises, and skin issues. Case studies of a horse with a tendon injury, a horse with windgalls, and a horse with an open wound injury—all of which utilized the CWS—showed positive improvements after using the CWS. Aside from treating existing injuries, it can be used for recovery after a conditioning or workout session. The same benefits of reducing inflammation and fluid dispersion can help prevent the onset of injury and aid in recovery after work.

How the Water Treadmill Works:

The equine water treadmill is a form of hydrotherapy that allows for therapeutic and conditioning, and training purposes. The properties of water applied for the water treadmill to benefit the horse are relative density, buoyancy, hydrostatic pressure, surface tension, viscosity, and resistance. These natural properties reduce the horse's body weight, which causes less stress on the horse’s bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons during exercise, conditioning, and therapy. The treadmill's moving belt also allows for the horse’s natural movement and gait while on the equipment. Adjusting the water depth allows for controlled weight-bearing exercise, resistance to the horse, which increases articulation of joints and improves range of motion and enables the equine handler to target specific muscle groups. Adjusting the water depth and belt speed further improves conditioning, training, and rehabilitation to horses of different disciplines and recover from varied injuries. Most notably, increasing water depth causes an increase in extension in the cranial thoracic spine flexion in the caudal lumbar spine (Tranquille et al., 2017). This allows horses to work in a round position, increasing core strength and building hind end and top line muscles.

The Benefits and Uses:

Utilizing the natural properties of water, the water treadmill benefits the horse for both therapy and conditioning. General benefits of this form of hydrotherapy include reducing fatigue, decreasing pressure on joints, relieving aches, improving balance and asymmetries, and increasing mobility and flexibility. It also encourages rapid muscle building in the shoulders, hind end, core, and top line. Specifically, it can also help the horse recover from an injury or surgery more quickly by improving circulation and decreasing inflammation for rehabilitation and therapy purposes. A specific protocol can be designed for each horse depending on the veterinarian, owner, and trainer's goals because of the adjustable features of the water treadmill (modifying water depth, treadmill speed, session duration, and water temperature).

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