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Can Horses Swim? Ultimate Guide: Tips, Facts, FAQs & Videos

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Horses are remarkably versatile animals, known for their abilities in speed, agility, and strength. Yet, one question that often piques the curiosity of equestrians and animal lovers alike is, “Can horses swim?”

To answer this intriguing question, we’ve put together the ultimate guide, delving into the science, facts, and surprising truths about horses and their swimming abilities.

This comprehensive guide will cover practical tips for introducing your horse to water, intriguing facts about horses’ swimming capabilities, answers to frequently asked questions, and illustrative videos that showcase horses in action.

Dive in to explore the fascinating world of horses and water, where we unravel the aquatic abilities of horses.

Can Horses Swim?

Yes, horses can swim. In fact, they are actually very good swimmers. Their large lungs help them stay afloat, and they can paddle their legs to move through the water.

Horses will often swim naturally if they find themselves in deep water, and they can even swim for long distances.

Swimming can be a great way to exercise horses, and it can also be used as a form of therapy for horses with injuries or illnesses.

Benefits of Horses Swimming

As well as fun, swimming can be a beneficial exercise for horses, whether to improve fitness or assist rehabilitation after injury.

A few minutes of swimming is strenuous and requires increased aerobic effort and energy, equivalent to several kilometers moving over the ground briskly.

Like any fitness regime, start with short bursts until the horse is fit and accustomed to it.

Here are the benefits of horses swimming:

  • It provides varied mental stimulation
  • Requires effort from different muscle groups
  • Improves cardiovascular performance over a short time
  • Reduces the likelihood of some musculoskeletal injuries
  • Reduces the likelihood or concussion injuries from working on hard ground
  • Improves insulin-glucose metabolism

How Swimming Helps Horses with Injuries:

  • Cool water has healing properties that help reduce pain and swelling
  • Horses can maintain or increase fitness without stressing injured joints, ligaments, or tendons
  • Water supports body weight while offering resistance training
  • Swimming keeps the horse mentally stimulated, especially during any confinement
  • Exercise assists the immune system
  • Swimming helps chronic conditions like osteoarthritis to keep joints mobile without bearing weight.

Below is an interesting video showing you how a horse looks when swimming from under the water.

Risks for Swimming Horses

The major risk for horses swimming is drowning. Not all horses naturally swim so that they may panic in the water. Should their head go under water they cannot hold their breath, so they may ingest water into their lungs.

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Handlers must hold the horse’s head above water, get them onto firm ground immediately, and seek veterinary attention.

Like any new skill, it is best to get good advice from a knowledgeable trainer. Initially, it might be advantageous if you can swim with an experienced horse and likewise have an experienced handler close by for your novice horse.

Consult your veterinarian if you wonder whether swimming is a suitable training regime for your horse.

Important safety tips

  • Go with company or a friend encase something goes wrong
  • Don’t swim on a cold or in cold water as your horse may get too cold
  • Take appropriate safety gear (see below)
  • Don’t force or push your horse too hard to swim
  • Don’t swim anywhere is a strong current
  • Make sure your horse’s head is fully above water at all times
  • Wash your horse back at the barn after a swim
  • If you’re unsure about anything, seek professional advice

Plan and Prepare

Before you head for water, make sure your horse has good manners when handled on the ground. This includes being responsive to moving away from you, standing still, and backing up. If your horse pushes or runs over you around the stable, neither of you will be safe in the water.

As an initial part of the training at home, you can use a safely fixed ground tarpaulin. Train your horse to walk over it in all directions – forward, sideways, and back. Progress to puddles and streams, reassuring it that water is not going to leap out and bite.

Hose it down on warm days, beginning by wetting front hooves and working up the legs and shoulders, then the hind legs. The more confidence and trust you have in each other before tackling the swimming hole, the better.

You should also be able to ride your horse bareback at a walk at least.

Watch this amazing video below of these people’s encounters when swimming with their horse!

Gear Up to Get Wet

An effective means of controlling your horse is either a simple bridle without a tight noseband or a rope head collar.

Normal leather or webbing head collars may mean your horse can easily pull away. Attach a long lead rope, preferably over 3 meters to the bit or head collar, however, take extra care to ensure it stays out of both your and your horse’s legs.

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Wear swimming gear yourself and have footwear that can get wet yet still offers some protection for your feet. Something like Crocs or Dive Boots are ideal.

Here is a list of items you may need:

Best Places to Swim your Horse

Consider where you are going to take your horse swimming – equine pool, river, lake or ocean? They all require some forethought and planning, to ensure there are no underwater obstacles such as submerged tree branches, or rip currents or high surf in the sea. Panicked horses have been known to tip their riders off and keep swimming out to sea and drown. Riding, let alone swimming, in surf is for experienced combinations only.

Ideal places for swimming have gentle slopes leading from shallow water to deep. Your horse can progressively get wet and accustomed to feeling weightless before actually having to swim.

Have other horses that are already confident around water to show novice horses how it works but don’t use other horses as actual leads. A novice horse may buck and jump causing dangers for other horses and handlers.

Here is an amazing video of people swimming with horses in the Grand Cayman. Try not to get jealous!

Swimming with your Horse

Step 1: Prepare Your Horse to Enter the Water

Lead your horse to the water and let them check out their surroundings. If you have prepared them well they should step into the water with confidence. Wet the horse and keep inching it out to deeper water.

Step 2: Enter the Water Slowly

It can be tricky if you start to float and they are still on firm ground. Good ground training means you can send them away from you into deeper water. After a few almost weightless steps guide them back to firm ground. Move them around you in a small circle until they get used to the weightlessness. Increase the circle so they eventually make a few swimming “strides” then back to standing.

It is really critical when a horse is learning to not to hinder their heads while swimming yet guide them back to firm ground and stay out of their way.

Step 3: Start Swimming

Each horse has a different swimming style but usually only their heads are above water. The front and hind leg movements are not necessarily coordinated but the hind legs drive forward more than the front.

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Always be aware that swimming horses bring their hind legs well forward and kick out behind so stay positioned well forward and out from the shoulder to avoid injury to yourself.

When you feel your horse is confident, you can cautiously ride bareback into the water. A strong swimming horse has a lot of power but actually sitting and riding on its back can cause extra stress. Its best to swim with your horse, rather than riding on it.

A good option is to hold of the mane about 20 centimetres forward of the wither and kick along on the surface beside it. The trick to being mounted when they walk out on firm ground is make sure you are centred over their back forward by their wither so they rise up underneath you. If you find yourself sitting on their loins you may end up deposited back in the water. Never mind, it’s a soft landing.

Step 4: Discourage Bad Habits

Some horses love the water so much they will start pawing as soon as water splashes around their fetlocks and even lie down immediately – rider or no rider. To avoid difficult bad habits don’t let them put their heads down and start pawing when you’re on their backs. No rolling with a rider.

Equine Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy means treating with water including swimming, moving through water, in a water filled treadmill, or even hosing with cold water.

Most hydrotherapy is done in a controlled man-made environment like a swimming pool or enclosed treadmill. A treadmill looks like an equine bath and the water level can be high enough to support some weight or low enough to offer resistance depending on requirements.

The horse is usually treated by experienced professionals so watch and learn. When starting a horse around a circular swimming pool up to four handlers may be involved to ensure they can swim and won’t panic.

So now you know horses can and do swim. Make the effort to train and prepare your horse well at home and you will have fun whenever the warm weather arrives.

Here is a video POV video of what it’s like to swim with a horse. Last video, we promise!

We hope you enjoyed our article. Please give us a share on social media or check out the other fun horse articles on our website!

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