August 2016 - Just Keep Swimming!
Written by Kim F. Miller
Sunday, 31 July 2016 18:17
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Grand Prix jumper Zamiro is returning to the ring via the pool.

by Kim F. Miller

Susan Artes’ Grand Prix partner Zamiro is swimming his way back to the big ring. He had jumped his way into West Coast hearts during the 2014-2015 World Cup season when he and Susan led the West league and were poised to contest the World Cup Finals in Las Vegas that spring.

photo: Sarah Sharou

But Susan played it safe when a minor tendon injury arose on one of Zamiro’s front legs and withdrew from the event. During this winter’s Thermal HITS circuit, they were working their way back to the big heights when a slight lameness was diagnosed, through MRI, as a bone bruise on a hind ankle. Susan and her team figure it was the result of a stall incident, rather than exercise related.

She was faced again with the tricky task of maintaining the big Dutch Warmblood’s fitness through healing and rehabilitation. With her partner Max Dolger and Zamiro’s owner, Alix Fargo, Susan was intrigued when veterinarian, Dr. Geoff Vernon, recommended Zamiro get in the pool. Not on a relatively common underwater treadmill, but actually swimming laps in a pool. She has been thrilled with the results of Zamiro’s swim work-outs at Premiere Equine Center in Oakdale.

“He is in really great shape,” says Susan, who recently visited Zamiro after he’d been swimming daily at Premiere for about five weeks. He started with just one or two laps of the pool, led by one of the facility’s experienced equine swim coaches, and is now up to seven or eight laps a day.

Each lap typically takes just a minute or so, but the impact of the work-outs is striking. Unlike the more contained body motions used on a treadmill, free swimming engages the horse’s whole body. “His feet are spread wide apart and his hind legs get far out behind him,” she says. The work-outs have built up his back, buttock and stomach muscles.

It’s been good for him cardiovascularly, too.  Swimming is commonly used for racehorse rehab and conditioning and a lot of eventers bring their horses to Premiere’s pool regularly for its muscular and cardio benefits, says owner Pat Grohl. The full-service facility has had the pool for three years and it is becoming increasingly popular for use on sport horses, in addition to a big clientele of racehorses.

Different Than An Underwater Treadmill

It’s not better or worse than an underwater treadmill, just different, Pat explains. Water provides buoyancy that makes the underwater treadmill a low impact, minimal concussion form of exercise. Swimming goes a step beyond that as a completely non-weight-bearing exercise.

Both provide the muscle buliding effect from the water’s resistance.

“There are some injuries where the swimming is more beneficial than the underwater treadmill,” Pat says. Mostly, it comes down to the prescribing veterinarian’s preferences. Horses with back or stifle injuries are often prescribed the treadmill because it’s a more even, balanced work-out. But he’s seen plenty of horses with sore backs benefit from swimming, too.

photo: Sarah Sharou

Although he is a relatively light-bodied horse, at 17.1hh, Zamiro is a big guy and that has made it trickier to maintain, then build up, his fitness during rehab. “A smaller Thoroughbred may get back into shape pretty easily, but it’s harder to bring a large horse back. When he came back to exercise after the first injury, cardiovascularly, he was tired. I thought, ‘Oh, this is going to take longer than I thought’. This time around, I think the swimming has really helped and that he’ll be able to get back to work more quickly.”

Walking with a rider’s weight has been a suitable activity in his current and previous rehabs. That’s preferable to walking on the Eurociser, Susan explains, because the rider can control his playful nature, whereas on a Eurociser, he can buck and play and risk re-injury. Mild tranquilizers are sometimes needed to keep the “tack walking” excursions to a nice, calm walk, Susan notes.

The Eurociser is part of his current rehab as a follow-up to swimming. Swimming is such vigorous exercise that it’s important to ease the body down from the work-out with 20- to 30-minute sessions on the walker. Going from a pool work-out directly to stall rest is too abrupt a transition. It runs a high risk of tying-up due to build up of lactic acid, Susan explains.

Thanks to the fitness Zamiro has attained through swimming, Susan expects that his return to under-saddle arena work will be relatively quick. She’s hoping for a fall return to jumping and, fates aligned, a return to the show circuit early next year.

Happy as he may be to return to the show ring, Zamiro may miss his pool time. “He walks right into the pool very willingly,” she says. “He’s a bit of a noisy swimmer. He grunts and groans a lot for the first few laps, like it’s a big effort, but then it seems easier once he gets warmed up. And when he comes out he doesn’t seem that winded.”

When he is back at Susan Artes Stables, at Middle Ranch in the Los Angeles area’s Lakeview Terrace, Zamiro will continue with many of the wellness routines that are part of all Susan’s horses’ regular routine. Ultrasound therapy, icing and magnetic blankets are key components of her program.

Having been out of the big ring for almost two years, Zamiro’s projected 2017 return will hopefully cause a big splash. And if so, that will be thanks, in part, to the fact that he “just kept swimming” toward his comeback.