>Conditioning via High Speed Treadmill


Top trainer Mike de Kock: “When your horse may not have the bloodlines or ability of their opponent, fitness is the one area where you can beat them. Treadmills allow you to get that extra fitness and “the edge”. That is how important they are.”

Mr. de Kock hits the nail on the head, and judging by his numerous successes in Dubai – this horseman isn’t afraid to give a bit of credit to the use of modern technology within his operation.

This isn’t swimming and it isn’t a slow moving water treadmill at your local veterinary or rehab center. Use of a treadmill at conditioning paces from 20-40mph is increasingly common around the world.

The goal of any conditioning program is to give your horse exactly what he needs to get better, without increasing the risk of injury. Horses on treadmills:

  • are not subject to rider error, and love to run with no one on their backs
  • can exercise precisely at the intensity needed for improvement, and not one step too fast
  • do not take ‘bad steps’ due to surface failures
  • can be observed by vets and farriers, who can intervene with suggestions
  • never miss a training day due to bad weather

Here is one example of how treadmill conditioning works with traditional horsemanship in order to influence racing decisions:

In 2005 Lee Freedman, was mulling over a horse called Benicio, which he had bought to run in sprints. He carried out treadmill tests and found that, despite being bred for shorter distances, the horse would excel over longer trips. That year it went on to win the Victoria Derby, the top contest for three-year-old stayers in Australia.

So, how does using this piece of equipment give you precisely what your horse needs to improve? Well, having him in front of us allows us to easily gather heart rate, gallop speed, and blood lactate info in order to quantify how fit he is now, and prescribe what his physiology needs to improve.

For example we would end up with exercise parameters like this to improve stamina:
‘Gallop 1 mile at 20mph on a 6% incline’

Using the incline allows us to take even more pressure off the front cannons and to more deeply involve the propelling musculature of the hind end.


Dubai/South Africa: Mike de Kock

‘It’s great for problematic horses,’ he said. ‘When he came back from his pelvic injury, Eagle Mountain would have spent two months in England only on the treadmill. It is definitely less attrition on the horse and a better controlled, balanced workout at the heartbeat that you want.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/othersports/article-1077008/Globetrotting-Kock-moving-times.html#ixzz1EiQTb5n9

Australia: Michael Kent and David Hayes

Although Kent left school at 14 to pursue a career with racehorses, his language is full of scientific jargon as he explains his methods. ”We’re really concerned with one very simple concept: how to give a horse the maximum amount of work during exercise with the minimum amount of stress.”

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2009/10/10/1255019653303.html

USA: Kentucky Equine Research

KER typically uses high speed treadmills to gauge the efficacy of their feed and/or nutritional supplementation. Simply put, researchers have long known that physiological terms like V200 and VLA4 are positively correlated with future racing performance and earnings. Mr. Joe Pagan recently put his money where his mouth is, purchased 4 yearlings at Keeneland, trained them on a treadmill in his lab, and recently finished 3rd with Harry and 4th with Ticky in their respective MSW openers at Turfway Park.


So, there you have it – keep in mind these things are not cheap, a top of the line model like this one below, with all the trimmings, will run close to $100k, but I feel the trainers above will testify that it has been a very wise investment.


About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on February 25, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. >"Gallop 1 mile at 20mph on a 6% incline" – sounds quite a bit different than 'take her around twice, nice and easy' doesn't it? If that level of precision concerning the conditioning of a horse doesn't interest you – do yourself a favor and ignore this blog.Many old school trainers get along just fine without this equipment, but a few of the younger crowd integrates modern science with horsemanship – and feel this is the optimal approach. Imagine your farrier watching your star colt via slow motion video during a morning gallop and making minute adjustments to the shoeing in order to facilitate balance and power? That's good stuff. Or having a filly with breathing issues, standing 2 feet away and noticing her labor to get air into her lungs, popping one of those FLAIR nasal strips on her and watching things improve in front of your eyes. No one knew that during exercise on a track that her nasal passageways became inflamed and swollen, but now you do. Vets use these treadmills to scope your horse during exercise – why not use them do make other changes that relate to racing performance?

  2. Phillip Haycock

    High Speed Treadmills are viewed with contempt by some. A common comment is ” They are dangerous” Another comment is “If they are any good, the big wealthy stables would all run them”. Or ” We do just fine without one”.
    As A designer and builder and daily user of a High Speed Treadmill I believe Ive worked out what the root of these issues may be in most cases. Its fear, galloping a Thoroughbred on a Treadmill requires nerve and the knowledge that horses are very good at staying on their feet, providing the surface is even and dry.
    Its not untill you use one that you begin to see all the possible uses, eg when trimming and balancing feet, I walk and trot the horse on the treadmill then trim then walk,trot again, adjust,walk, trot, shoe and walk, trot again. I can see small differences in the action of the entire top line, small bobs of the head, anything relevent to the horses gait. I can listen to the hoof beats and ask the question , why is the near fore making a different sound than the off fore on impact with the belt. why is the horse stepping short by 1 inch etc,etc.
    Working the horse from a position level with its head develops a relationship with the horse.
    Grabbing/ scratching an ear during a trot teaches tolerance, giving the horse a solid push sideways at a trot teaches balance and co-ordination (only with safety harness).
    Ive started walking horses uphill backwards for short distances (say 50m).
    Treadmills can be used to interval train, using the incline to adjust intensity. My horse often load themselves then paw at the belt to get it going.
    I often train at night after work.
    A filly im pretaining will walk at 7km/hr (4.5mph) for 1000km (625miles), 2000m a day for first 100 kms then 4000m a day for next 100km then 8000m a day for the balance. Then trot 1000kms @ 8000m /day at a max speed of 11mph or 300m/min.
    By this time the 2yr olds joints /conective tissue etc will have bedded in , adjusted, compensated well enough for her to start training with a sound mind and body.
    Of course these horses need to be ridden as well, but thats not so bad.
    My treadmill has a live running bed, that is, each hoof beat causes only the spot under the hoof to deflect and not the entire bed as one on dampers does. This is very cool and am happy to explain it to anyone who wants to know about it. It is open source by my choise.

    • Thanks very much Phillip, do you have a pic of your treadmill model? Over here in KY the only ones in use are at the vet, and they are sunken in the floor models. Many trainers are frightened that there are no walls nor support harness in place.

  3. Phillip Haycock

    The harness I use at present is something of a compromise. It has a fixed point from the roof of the building and is made of 3/8 wire rope. Attached to this rope are 2 automotive seat belt female ends that attach two the specialised girth and neck strap.
    The up and down slack in the assembly is taken up with heavy rubber shock cord and is set so that the wire rope will fully extend before the horse can go down to its knees. The slack when the horse is standing is taken up by the rubber cord.
    I only use it for fast work and introducing green horses to fast work.
    Like I mentioned previously, as long as the belt stays dry the horses are very safe. They are masters of their feet.
    The treadmill must have large fans blowing cooling air over a hard working horse and of course the horse must be clipped to minimise sweating as this is a source of water.
    In regard to safety harnesses, the best I’ve seen is on the “Mustang 2000” made in the USA. I will build a similar one soon for my mill. My girth, neck strap system is the only one of its type I’ve seen. If a girth only is used, the horse could get its head between its legs in a fall and spin forward. The neck strap would stop this.
    This is all hypothetical as horses really if ever crash on treadmills, I’ve never seen or heard of it.
    Having said that, I know of one horse that leapt forward over the front of an “above ground” treadmill while been led on. It cut its leg.
    I had a green horse pull back while simply standing on the belt. It ran off the mill backwards and tripped, rolled backwards and banged its poll. These sorts of things could happen on a truck or float.
    One thing you must have is emergency lighting in the barn, 24v will do. If the power goes off and the lights go out, the horse WILL stop before the belt does. Luckily I found this out while only walking a horse.
    To conclude, treadmills add a whole new dimension to horsemanship.
    Eg walking a horse backwards uphill, what on earth does that do?? Well from doing it and watching it on video, it gets the hind legs under the horse and it stretches the fore legs (and muscles) forward. I may not want my horse to get its hind legs under it any more but want to keep stretching those fore legs forward, so I put the horses hind legs on the platform at the front of the mill and walk the horse uphill backwards on its fore legs only. This sort of totally alien physical manipulation could have an affect on the horse’s brain also. Sort of like when you meet at very well travelled person, they seem to have a superior quality about them.
    This may all prove to be a waste of time but it may also come to pass that in the hands of the smartest people, Fast Treadmills may help build the greatest horses yet.

    • Very interesting, thanks for the pics. Do you do much blood lactate and/or HR monitoring on your set up? How fast does this unit go on the flat?

  4. Phillip Haycock

    My treadmill will go from flat to 10 degree incline and has a max speed well over 50 mph. Max speed is a product of horse power (KW) and the mechanical ability of the belt and bed to slide together without over heating. The quality of the head and tail drums is also important as at 4o mph the drums will be turning at 680rmp so they need to be well balanced.
    I’ve mostly trained hunters on my Treadmill at speeds of up to 500 meters per minute.
    Typically a large Thoroughbred Hunter 16.3hh would start the hunt season having completed a 3 month build up on the treadmill that would include the following workout every other day
    Walk 3 min @120meters/min. (Flat)
    Trot 5 min @ 250 m/m (flat)
    Trot 5 min @ 300 m/m 3 degrees incline
    Trot 5 min @ 250 m/m (flat)
    Trot 5 min @ 320 m/m 3 degree incline
    Trot 5 min @ 250 m/m (flat)
    Trot 5 min @ 320 m/m 3 degrees incline
    Trot 5 min @ 250 m/m (flat)
    Trot 5 min @ 120 m/m (flat)
    Walk in hand 5 min, hose down
    Total mileage 10.6 kms
    Total mileage for this horse’s 3 month build up on Treadmill, 360kms

    As for Heart rate and Blood Lactate monitoring? No I don’t do either. Two reasons.
    Hunting fitness requires a large amount of aerobic energy and realities low but sustained heart rates. Probably in the region of 150 bm.
    Jumping over a large number of fences probably produces significant amounts of LA but at the end of the day the fit horses could hunt the next day without any soreness at all so the training is most likely sufficient.
    You will note that the Interval training workouts I use are long and slow, they build power and stamina.
    Secondly, I don’t have a HR monitor or lactate system.
    However as Im moving away from Hunters and into gallopers I will get a polar HR monitor and maybe a simple Lactate tool.

    • If/when you need a Polar let me know, I may be able to get you a better price than in your home country. I have another client in Australia who uses an Accutrend lactate analyzer that allows you to assay plasma rather than whole blood.

      American thoroughbreds after a race are typically so spent they need to wait 14 days before getting back to training at speed. Quite a shock.

  5. Phillip Haycock

    I have in the past corresponded with a trainer in the USA. I wont mention their name.
    This trainer is an advocate of HighSpeed treadmills and uses one of the best available routinely.
    They train their horses bare footed.
    They have found that by feeding or administering (not sure which) certain dairy proteins the muscle cells recover much faster. I’ve always intended to look into this but haven’t needed to as yet.
    14 days on light duties after a race seems very odd.
    -There are four components of muscle recovery: restoring fluid and electrolytes, replenishing glycogen, reducing muscle and immune stress, and rebuilding muscle protein. Nutrition is vital for each of them. So if its taking 14 days, it means they aren’t been feed, post race properly.
    The secret to getting all the good nutrition information is to study human athlete nutrition. There are screeds of it available.
    In my opinion these horses need to be exercising to some extent every 2 days. Why? Because that’s what horses do.
    Very few people ever mention the most important part of the horse’s body. Not its legs, heart, lungs, but its FEET. It would be interesting to read testimonials from the “great horses” farriers or at least their trainers in this regard. It has been said that the Thoroughbred horse hasn’t changed very much in 30 years. I wonder if the older farriers would agree??
    I’ve read articles on how to appraise a horses conformation that do not mention the word foot or hoof.
    I’ve heard of a damned good horse with shocking feet, Id say its not a damned good horse then.
    If anyone was wondering how my treadmill could run at over 50 mph, its because its actually powered by a 100 hp diesel engine outside the barn. The reason I have 100 hp is to provide the torque required to allow me to run it way down at 1 meter per minute when teaching a nervous young horse. They find themselves walking on it without even realising its moving.
    If I find a horse that can run that fast (50) , You’ll be meeting me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: