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A horse walker is a person trained in walking a horse for the purpose of exercise or cooling-down after a race, strenuous workout, or activity. These individuals are usually trained and, while much of this type of training may be obtained informally or on-the-job, programs do exist for occupational training for this type of position. The term "horse walker" is also applied to a mechanical device used for exercising horses.
The job of horse walker is an important part of the overall care and maintenance of any working horse but particularly racehorses. Many experts in this field say that cooling down a horse after exertion is important to lower body heat, redistribute blood flow, and to promote metabolizing of lactate wastes from the muscles. Lactate is a by-product of muscle activity that can cause soreness, fatigue and cramping. A proper cool down also helps calm the horse after a period of intense activity like a race.
In many stables, the job of horse walker is performed by a stable hand or a groom. This job, while important, often does not warrant a position dedicated specifically to horse walking. In some larger stables with many horses, a professional walker may be employed, however. In these cases, the horse walker does not provide any other care to the horses other than walking them. Sometimes, a horse walker may walk a horse just to give it a little activity on a day without more intense work-outs, or as part of a rehabilitation program.
A career as a horse walker is usually pursued as a stepping stone to an eventual position as a horse trainer, a very important job in a stable. Training programs exist for those who wish to become a professional horse walker or groom. These jobs, while seemingly relatively unskilled, require a great deal of knowledge and experience with horses, as well as the ability to relate to the animals and adjust to their varying personalities and needs.
The term "horse walker" can also refer to a machine that is designed to take the place of a human walker. These machines usually consist of a carousel-type mechanism usually driven by an electric motor to which the reins of the horse being walked are attached. The operator sets the machine to the desired speed, and it spins, leading the horse in a wide circle.