Some people love them, some people hate them. But as horse walkers become more popular, it’s important to make informed decisions before buying. In this post, we’ll talk about what a horse walker is and what they are used for.
Also known as a hot walker, a horse walker is a motorized device that leads horses in a circular motion. Consisting of radial arms stretching from a central tower and round penned track for the horses, a horse walker is designed to exercise horses without human help, except for a supervisor.
A short rope attaches these arms and to the horse’s halter (lead walkers). As the arms turn, they lead the horses in circles. Some walkers may have no motor with the horses creating motion themselves, while others have motors that turn the arms.
Other models (panel walkers, also known as freestyle walkers) include movable panels, separating each other, which then may move on its own, without halters or ropes. In these, the inner and outer walls need to be sufficiently spaced, as well as the partitions. Regardless of type, there should be plenty of room for each horse to move without harming itself or others.
Rarer than the panel and lead walkers are water horse walkers — which are the same as panel walkers, but with water. The water offers resistance and is good for rehabilitating a horse kept on stall rest.
These are more expensive and require extra care, as the water must be clear at all times and the ground offer enough resistance that the horse won’t slip and fall.
What are horse walkers used for?
The idea of the hot walker is to condition your horse by walking them. This may be used to warm up and cool down horses before and after exercise, or when riding isn’t possible.
Unlike a simple turnout, the walker makes sure your horse does exercise: it guarantees a steady rhythm and speed and that the horse is in motion. Many walkers can regulate speed and direction.
Many will also allow you to preprogram and time speeds. The walker also becomes useful during bad weather. While some walkers are open, many models have protective ceilings, which allows them to exercise even in bad weather.
It’s also useful for rehabilitating horses after prolonged stall rest. In these cases, the horses may not be able to be ridden and may be at risk if in complete freedom, so a controlled environment helps. Ponies and other small horses that cannot be ridden (not foals!) may also benefit from the walker for conditioning.
Here is a quick video on how to use a horse walker:
How much do horse walkers cost?
The average cost of a basic horse walker is between $5,000 to $8,000. However, a high-quality version with a paneled wall and roof can cost between $15,000 to $25,000, not including installation.
How long should a horse be on a horse walker?
An average horse will exercise in a horse walker between 30 to 50 minutes per day. However, fit competition horses are often in a horse walker for up to 2 hours per day
How long you should keep your horse in one depends on a variety of factors such as the diameter of the circle, surface, weather conditions, and the health and fitness of the horse.
We always recommended consulting with your vet when decided how long your horse can use one for.
Should I buy one?
It entirely depends on the factors listed above. A hot walker requires space and supervision. Depending on how sophisticated, it is also expensive, and usually an investment on its own. People with one or two horses who aren’t engaging in sport, might not want to bother.
If there is space for the horse to exercise, one might want to arrange the turnout area to encourage activity instead. All in all, it’s entirely dependent on what the owner wants and needs for their horses.
Some people condemn it as unnecessary and a risk, while others love it. If you have only one or two horses, you may prefer alternative methods such as treadmills.
Are there risks when using a hot walker?
Horses are animals and as such, prone to do unexpected things. Accidents do sometimes happen in horse walkers, usually due to the horse kicking, bucking or trying to pull on the walker.
If there are ropes, make sure the horse wears a breakaway halter and cannot trip or hang itself on the rope. Ropes should be nylon and have a snap at the bottom. Horses may also try to kick the separators or jump out if there are walls.
There should be enough room for the horse to move comfortably. For those with motors, prefer quieter ones, to avoid spooking.
Make sure there are no gaps or places where the horse can fit any part of its anatomy. Clean the tracks often, usually once a day. Watch out for excessive depth from the constant motion, or whether it’s slippery. The walker should have an emergency button as well.
Panel walkers may have a light electric current to them, to encourage the horse to move and not lean back on the partition panel.
Ideally, more than one horse should exercise at the same time, and they should be able to see each other. In lead walkers, position the horses opposite to each other, to balance out the walker. Introduction to the walker should be slow. Some horses might fear the walker at first and need to adapt. Also, never use the horse walker without supervision.
Though the walker may exercise the horses on its own, supervision is still necessary. In case of an emergency, there needs to be someone there to stop it and release the horses, just in case.
What if my horse doesn’t like the horse walker?
Some horses may not adapt to the walker, either because they’re skittish or prone to spooking, or just don’t appreciate it. In lead walkers, make sure there is enough slack for the horse to lower its head, but not so much it can trip on the ropes; this guarantees it won’t force the horse’s neck. It should be able to hold its head at chest level.
Other concerns involve the size of the walker and the variety of exercise. Most walkers can reverse direction, and it’s important to walk horses both ways, to avoid imbalance. The walker should also be wide enough to avoid stress on the joints from the horse going in tiny circles over and over. Some people prefer oval-shaped horse walkers because of this.