Building relationships and experiences is the best thing about owning horses. One thing ever horse owner has longed to experience is swimming with their horse.
Imagine it is a sweltering hot day and you cool off in the local swimming hole or calm beach with your best friend. If you’re thinking about trying to swim with your horse, below we have written a handy guide everything you need to know about horse swimming.
If you’re here to see the video of horses swimming with dolphins, then scroll down about half way.
Can Horses Swim?
Yes, horses can swim and are are usually good swimmers when given the chance to learn. Some horses take to swimming like a duck to water, others, not so much. While they are not necessarily instinctively strong swimmers, horses usually learn and improve with experience.
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 swimming is strenuous requires increased aerobic effort and energy; equivalent to several kilometres moving over ground at a brisk pace. As with any fitness regime start with short bursts until the horse is fit and accustomed to it.
Here are the benefits of horses swimming:
- 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 they may panic in the water. Should their head go under water they cannot hold their breath so may ingest water into their lungs. Handlers must be able to hold the horse’s head above water and get them on to 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 on 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 legs and shoulders, then the hind legs. The more confidence and trust you have in each other prior to 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 an encounter these people had 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 metres to the bit or head collar, however take extra care to make sure it stays out of both your and your horse’s legs.
Here is a list of items you may need:
- Crocs or dive boots
- Swim vest
- Draw string bag to carry small items
- Waterproof phone case to put in your bag
- Horse hoof boots (optional)
- Horse riding helmet (always wear one!)
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.
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.
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!
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