The Benefits of Swimming

Many OTI trainers utilise swimming as a way to develop a horse’s fitness and aid in recovery after a track gallop or race. Matthew C Smith is one of those trainers and has identified the key benefits of swimming as outlined below. We hope you enjoy learning about the importance of swimming racehorses in their latest “Horses Health” article.


Swimming is the only aerobic exercise that engages all the body’s systems without requiring the limbs to bear weight. But did you know it’s as good for your horse as it is for yourself?

Horses and humans are not as dissimilar in their body structure as you might think. Our musculoskeletal systems, joints, tendons, ligaments and dynamics of locomotion are all very similar. Just as a doctor might prescribe swimming as a form of rehabilitation exercise for a human, a veterinarian may prescribe the same treatment for a horse. Swimming benefits multiple systems in the horse’s body. Let’s take a look!

Muscles and Tendons

A typical exercise routine for horses has them utilizing only 60% to 70% of their maximum muscle length. This is often due to the demands we make on them in order to achieve a desirable performance (e.g. collection, speed control). Repeated workouts that do not allow the muscles to fully lengthen cause contractures, spasms and general stiffness.

When a horse is swimming, the length of the stride increases in order to keep his body afloat. This elongation of the muscles allows for a lengthened stride in the water. So by swimming, the horse’s muscles are stretching freely, thereby increasing the range of motion of his limbs, preventing muscle contractures and spasms, and at the same time promoting muscle symmetry, flexibility and core balance.

A horse that is exercised in a swimming pool will gain muscle strength, tone and endurance more quickly than one working on the ground. This is partly because water resistance is greater than air resistance.

Tendons are made of strong, fibrous tissue, which connect muscles to bones. They act like springs within the body as they transmit mechanical force from muscle contractions to the bones during movement. Their role is to absorb energy and provide suspension for the horse in motion. Because tendons carry the weight of the horse, they are prone to injury. Swimming is one treatment option for a tendon injury. It allows the horse to maintain his muscle tone and flexibility, due to the absence of concussive forces, while the injured structure rehabilitates.

Cardiovascular and Respiratory Systems

Swimming is an aerobic exercise, meaning that it requires a lot of oxygen to meet the energy demands of the body. Under normal circumstances, the only way to build cardiovascular fitness in a horse is with regular exercise.

Swimming has been proven to increase the contractility of the heart, meaning that the heart is able to contract and relax more efficiently. By increasing the efficiency of the heart, you are increasing systemic circulation. When the heart is being exercised via “cardio” workouts such as swimming, the lungs are required to take in more oxygen. This is achieved by increasing the rate of respiration. When systemic circulation improves, so does oxygen supply to the tissues.

The presence of lactic acid in the muscles is what causes the painful sensation you experience following excessive exercise, and is the primary cause of muscle fatigue. Horses produce lactic acid in the same manner as humans. Lactic acid forms as a by-product when the body is working anaerobically, meaning without oxygen. Under normal circumstances, the body can deal with the lactic acid build-up by slowly ridding itself of the waste product via the kidneys. By increasing oxygen supply to the tissues, we can decrease lactic acid production, reducing muscle fatigue more quickly and efficiently. This decreases recovery time following strenuous exercise.

The respiratory and cardiovascular systems complement each other. By increasing the efficiency of one system, you increase the efficiency of the other. At rest, the body has enough oxygen to adequately supply the tissues. When the horse starts to exercise, the heart rate goes from a resting rate of 25 to 40 beats per minute to 150 to 200 beats per minute, and he will inhale in as much as 90 litres of oxygen per minute to meet the tissue demands.

Swimming allows the horse to build a strong heart and lungs, without the upward concussive forces applied to soft tissues, bones and joints while exercising in the traditional manner.

For the healthy horse, a well-balanced, diverse exercise regime that includes swimming is a fabulous way to condition and build overall muscle strength and stamina while developing a healthy heart and lungs.


Article: Matthew C. Smith Racing (
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OTI Goes Global with this Weekend’s Runners

The world-wide span of OTI is highlighted this weekend as we see runners in three states down under and three countries throughout the globe, including Australia, England and France.

Araaja kicks off the weekend at Doomben in sunny Queensland, to take part in a 2020m Open Handicap for trainer Chris Waller. She has produced some strong work this week leading into her race and has acclimatized well after her move from the New South Wales stables. Up against two handy stable mates, we hope to see Araaja put her best hoof forward and be figuring in the finish. The trip and track rating should suit.

To Victoria we see Doroza head to Caulfield for Matt Cumani to contest the 2000m 3yo Handicap. Scratched last start due to an unexpected hoof issue, Doroza has recovered well and is engaged to take on a field of nine runners. He jumps from barrier three with leading Victorian jockey Craig Williams in the saddle – a trainer/ jockey combination who had great success last weekend with Future Score – we hope to see another triumph!

Below: Doroza winning at Geelong. 

The miracle horse Loresho travels to South Australia for Matt Williams for the 2100m BM82 Handicap at Gawler. Carrying top weight of 59kg, Williams has engaged apprentice Justin Huxtable to ride with a claim of 2kgs. His previous skin graft injury has posed no issues so far this preparation and is holding up well with his regular beach workouts from his Warrnambool stables. Looking to improve on his last start, Loresho has trained on well and we are hoping to see a turnaround in form.

After an authoritative win last start, Artarmon looks to start in the 2800m Class 3 at Ascot (UK). With restored faith in the horse’s form this preparation, trainer Michael Bell believes he has unlocked the key to Artarmon’s competitiveness and we hope to see this continue into the remainder of his campaign. Silvestre de Sousa takes to the saddle and they jump from a wide gate in nine of ten.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, La Reconquista steps out at in a 2yo Handicap in France at Maisons Laffitte. After a lovely third place in her first career start three weeks ago, the filly has come on well and is showing plenty of promise. As Mantastic’s half-sister we know she will have a bright future ahead and looks a solid each-way chance in this weekend’s race.

Below: La Reconquista as a yearling.

Rounding out the weekend is Tigre Royale who is still looking to break his maiden in the 2200m race at Bendigo for Archie Alexander. With the track currently rated a heavy 8 and showers expected to continue over the weekend, how Tigre Royale handles the tougher going will be a key factor to his performance on Sunday.

We wish all of our partners involved in this weekend’s runners the best of luck and happy racing!

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Weekly News Update

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