Horse Care

Can horses swim? What you need to know about swimming with your horse

Yes, horses can swim, and they’re even pretty good at it, considering that their bodies are made for running, not swimming.

In the wild, many herd animals need to cross a body of water from time to time.

Maybe the most well-known example of this is also the most dramatic one: wildebeest crossing a crocodile-infested river.

I don’t think horses have ever lived in mega herds the size of the wildebeest migration, but the skill to cross a dangerous river is no less important to a horse than to a wildebeest.

Your horse is also going to have that same instinct to mistrust the water at first (unless trained), so if you need to ford a stream, don’t rush your horse.

Do horses have a natural instinct to swim?

Yes, your horse will start to perform a paddle like action, not too dissimilar from a trotting action, when getting into deep water.

Think of how dogs tend to start swimming if you hold them in the air above a tub of water.

Every horse is born with an instinct to swim.

They’ve survived for thousands of years precisely due to their innate ability to adapt.

Without travelling across long distances and varying terrains, herds wouldn’t find richer food sources as ensure survival. River crossings not only provide a means to get to better food sources, but can also be a way to escape danger.

What are the benefits of horse swimming?

Just like for people, swimming is great exercise for horses.

And, just like for people, swimming is often used in rehabilitation for horses, when a horse needs to exercise but needs to keep the weight off a specific body part.

Swimming is a low-impact workout that builds muscle, improves cardiovascular fitness and increases overall strength, that reduces the strain on joints and ligaments.

Horses also enjoy being in the water when it’s a hot day.

While this doesn’t necessarily involve swimming, just wading in water helps horses to cool down and provides relief from heat.

Just like people, horses can overheat and being able to go into the water is a welcome respite on a hot day.

Keep in mind that if it is a hot day, water can be effective in cooling your horse down, but you want to scrape off as much as you can and get your horse walking in the breeze or under a fan until dry.

This because water creates an insulating layer on your horse’s skin that will make them overheat on a hot day, eventually cooking their brain and killing them.

Swimming provides mental stimulation for your horse, breaking the monotony of routine training or trail riding.

Most horses enjoy the water and will naturally swim when they move out of their depth, but some horses will need to build up their confidence first, so consider your individual horse when offering a swim.

Do not ride your horse into the water if it’s their first time in the water.

Horses need to keep moving to stay afloat, so only experienced riders should take horses swimming.

Because your horse cannot hold her breath in the same way you can, there is a risk of drowning if their head becomes submerged. Also keep water out of your horse’s ears as it could cause discomfort or even lead to an ear infection.

If your horse hasn’t been swimming before, their behaviour can also be unpredictable.

You should always start off in safe, shallow water by simply wading, not actually swimming, and slowly progress to actual swimming.

It’s also a good idea to not ride your horse for the first swims, because your horse may panic when your position above them changes when the water starts to carry you.

Avoid swimming your horse in unfamiliar or potentially dangerous waters.

Strong currents, hidden obstacles, or polluted water can pose serious risks to both you and your horse.

What to consider before swimming with your horse:

  1. Training: Ensure your horse is well-trained and comfortable in the water before attempting to swim. Start with shallow water and gradually progress to deeper areas.
  2. Supervision: Always have a responsible and experienced handler with you when swimming with your horse. They can help manage the horse’s behaviour and respond to any unexpected situations.
  3. Location: Choose a safe and familiar location for your horse to swim. Check for potential hazards in the water, such as rocks, sharp objects, or strong currents.
  4. Health: Consult with your veterinarian before introducing your horse to swimming, especially if your horse has any pre-existing health conditions.

There are numerous benefits to incorporating equine swimming into your horse’s routine, but exercise caution.

Don’t confuse taking your horse to the beach for a swim with professional hydrotherapy.

Swimming can be a rewarding experience for both you and your horse when done correctly, providing exercise, relaxation, and an exciting change of pace in your equestrian adventures.

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