Corro Stories

Water Training: Boyd Martin Eventing Builds Pond for Therapy and Conditioning

By Amber Heintzberger

In the spring of 2020, with horse sports locked down to COVID-19 and sidelined with an injury, Olympic event rider Boyd Martin was stuck at home and looking for a way to improve his horses’ fitness and training. Over the years, the Martins have developed their farm into a premier training facility, with dressage and show jumping arenas and a galloping track all featuring footing by Attwood Equestrian Surfaces, and an extensive schooling cross-country course built by Eric Bull of ETB Equine Construction. Bull and his team have constructed courses for major events including the Pan Am Games, Fair Hill International, the Maryland CCI5*, Plantation Field International, and the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon, NC.

“One of the great things about working with Erik Duvander, the USEF Performance Director of Eventing, is we have a brand-new person advising us about different ways to train our horses,” said Martin. “One of the first things he opened my eyes to is the ability to cross train our horses. Obviously eventing is already a sport that places different physical demands on the horse, but Erik looks for ways beyond the obvious to strengthen and condition the horses, increasing their core strength and building up their topline. A great way to condition the horses is to work them in the water. One of the things about riding in water is the way a horse uses its body.”

Martin had been trailering his horses to a facility with an AquaTread™, basically treadmill with a waterproof enclosure that fills with water to give the horses both a workout and a therapeutic session. According to the website, “AquaTread™ is a unique comprehensive total body cardiovascular aquatic workout that develops, strengthens and tones muscles, burns fat, significantly improves range of motion and flexibility, and builds stamina, all with no stress on joints and little muscle fatigue.”

To save driving to the facility with the AquaTread™, Martin came up with plans for a conditioning pool to build on his own property. He’d seen a similar setup at eventer Kyle Carter’s farm in Florida, but he came up with his own plan and Bull was able to translate that into reality.

 

Image courtesy of Boyd Martin

To save driving to the facility with the AquaTread™, Martin came up with plans for a conditioning pool to build on his own property. He’d seen a similar setup at eventer Kyle Carter’s farm in Florida, but he came up with his own plan and Bull was able to translate that into reality.

“Our conditioning pond is 20m in diameter, the same as a dressage ring, and has an adjustable water depth to change the action of the horse and the amount of resistance the horse is up against,” explained Martin.

Thanks to the pond, Martin has been able to condition his horses without sitting on them and aggravating his own injury. At the end of June he was finally able to get back in the saddle after months of physical therapy, and thanks to his team of riders and the conditioning pool, his horses are all in great shape.

He explained that every Tuesday, all of the horses spend 30 min walking in the pool with a rider on their back. Four or five horses can go at once, and they walk for four or five min each direction in an extended walk frame.

“It’s similar to walking on the beach, you’re using muscles you don’t usually use,” he said. “We do this either before or after a dressage schooling session.”

On Thursday or Friday, Martin’s upper-level event horses have another workout in the water, longeing for ten minutes total, five minutes in each direction. “In trot work the horses have to use a bit more of a passage action, with a higher knee and hock, and it really works the horse across its topline,” he said. “I believe this is requiring different muscles and showing the horse a way to a more expressive trot. As far as conditioning, even standing to the side you see the veins popping out, the muscles being used, and even after just ten minutes they’re breathing harder and it’s obvious they’ve had to use themselves.”

Martin said that he sees the water workouts as beneficial over the long term, rather than a quick fix. “I don’t believe it’s an instantaneous, breathtaking reaction, it’s more of a six-month program where you start seeing the benefits of a horse that is stronger in its body for dressage and show jumping, muscling a little different, that hasn’t had a ton of concussion in its conditioning program. It hasn’t replaced anything in our training, we’ve just added these two sessions a week.”

Regarding construction of the pond, Bull said, “This was a cost effective solution that allows Boyd to condition horses under saddle or without a rider, and the water level is adjustable depending on what they want to do with the horses.  It’s basically a round pen with a reinforced bank around the sides, lined and with footing like a water jump. There’s a water source to fill it up and a drain to reduce the water level. I’ve seen variations on this over the years, but this one was built to Boyd’s specifications.”

The conditioning pond at Windurra cost around $30,000, significantly less than an Aquatread, but unlikely to fit the budget of most horse owners. This one is open to the public for a small fee, so in addition to being a resource for their own horses it brings income to the Martins and provides a service to the local horse community. Bull points out that there are a number of economical ways to achieve a similar workout, provided you have the natural resources.

“The idea of using water for conditioning is not a new one: (Olympic Three-Day Event rider) Bruce Davidson had a pond at Chesterland, his farm in Pennsylvania, with a dock. They used to lead the horses into the pond and then the handler would walk down the dock while the horse swam. I had a client that had an existing water jump that she wanted to use for a similar purpose as Boyd, and I built portable wooden platform that she could place in the middle and then stand there to longe her horse in the water.”

Image courtesy of Pixabay

If you use a natural water source, make sure that it has solid footing, the water isn’t running rapidly, and it’s not too deep. A shallow river crossing with a solid but not too rocky bottom, for example, would provide a safe and reassuring experience for your horse.