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.
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.”
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.