With many horses having different reactions to water, you may be wondering if swimming and horses are a good combination. Is it even physically possible for horses to swim in water deep enough that they can’t stand? The answer is yes! Many horses love to swim.
Can Horses Swim?
Yes! Although you may be wondering how such a large animal with long slender legs may be able to swim, horses are actually reasonably good swimmers. Swimming is often used as an exercise for the rehabilitation of horses as it is great for exercise and the building of muscle.
Horses have a natural instinct to swim and move their legs similar to the way they would if they were trotting. It is believed their swimming ability stems back from living in the wild and needing to cross rivers to escape predators. Even domesticated horses maintain this instinct and are able to swim in waters deeper than they can stand.
Swimming strengthens muscles and tendons in horses and is a great form of aerobic exercise. Horses can swim in rivers, dams, and oceans. When swimming for training, specifically designed training pools are used for horses to build stamina and condition and strengthen their core muscles.
How do horses swim?
The incredible thing about horses is that they have an inherent and natural ability to swim. When a horse swims and their bodies are submerged in water, they will continue to stay afloat as long as they are moving forward. Without this forward movement, a horse’s body starts to sink.
Horses instinctively keep their heads above water in order to breathe and keep their ears dry. Horses have no natural drainage in their ears as, anatomically, there is no passage for the water to drain. This means horses shouldn’t have water around their ears for extended periods of time as it can cause an ear infection.
When swimming, water creates a natural resistance to movement which is what makes it a great form of exercise for horses. It is normal and natural for horses, just like humans or any other animal, to breathe heavily while swimming.
What is important to note is that horses cannot hold their breath while swimming. This is why they always keep their heads above water and never submerged. When a horse’s head is underwater, there is a real risk of drowning. For this reason, if you are using swimming as a form of exercise for your horse, it is important to introduce them to it slowly and give them the opportunity to get used to the water and keeping their heads above the surface.
Can horses swim while being ridden?
Yes! Horses can swim with a rider on their back. Of course, it is important again that the horse is used to swimming and has been introduced to it slowly. This will ensure the horse feels comfortable on its own first before having a rider on its back which can be disconcerting.
So how does this work exactly? When you start to ride a horse into water and you eventually reach a depth where the horse’s back is submerged, you will start to float. This means your weight has less of an impact on a horse’s ability to swim and keep its head above water.
While riding a horse that is swimming, it is important to be aware of the importance of your horse’s head to stay above water. Make sure you are not tugging on the reins and impacting your horse’s ability to move their head and legs in any way.
Do horses like to swim in the ocean?
Instinctively horses will not be drawn to enter the ocean. The reason for this is that there is nothing to eat, and they cannot drink saltwater. They may also find it challenging to escape from any predators as they are not the fastest or most efficient swimmers.
That being said, horses can really enjoy swimming in the ocean when the water is warm, the waves are small and the currents are not too strong. These types of conditions will not only be preferred by your horse but will also ensure you enjoy the swimming experience.
Are some horses afraid of the ocean? Generally, the answer is no. You may find horses are somewhat skeptical to take their first few steps into the ocean. This is because they cannot see what is below the surface and so are uncertain of their footing. Once they have taken a few steps, they will become more confident.
How long can a horse swim for?
Although horses have incredible stamina, they cannot swim for the same period of time as they can do other regular work routines in an arena, for example. Horses do have a natural ability to swim but swimming requires more energy and strenuous use of muscles than moving on land.
Should you be taking your horse swimming, a safe and reasonable period of time for them to swim is between 10 and 15 minutes. They are capable of swimming for longer periods of time but this is dependent on their age, physical condition, and the swimming environment.
The length of time which your horse can swim for is also dependent on whether you are on their back or not. They can obviously swim for longer periods of time if swimming on their own without additional weight on their backs. If you are planning to ride them while swimming, consider keeping the period of swimming under 10 minutes.
Is swimming good for horses?
Absolutely! This is the reason why swimming is a common method of training and rehabilitation for horses who need to exercise certain muscles or improve their aerobic ability.
- Rehabilitation: should horses need to strengthen, tone or condition muscles in their back and legs, swimming is often used as an exercise to achieve this. Equine swimming pools are used for this purpose and are more commonly built in circular shapes with a platform for the trainer to stand in the middle and guide the horse.
- Training: just like humans and other animals, swimming is a great aerobic exercise to enhance a horse’s stamina and build on their endurance. Due to the circular way in which a horse moves their legs when they swim, swimming can increase the range or length of motion.
- For Fun: recreational swimming is an activity which many horses absolutely love and get joy from. If your horse enjoys swimming, make sure to include swimming as part of the quality time you spend with your horse.
Can horses turn in the water?
When horses are in the water, they are able to turn in the water when their feet are still able to touch the ground. This is because the traction between the horse’s hooves and floor allows them to steer left and right while wading through the water.
When horses are completely immersed in water and their feet are not able to touch the ground, they are not able to turn or change direction. This is due to the conformation of their legs and the fact that they are not able to use their legs to steer left or right or maneuver in the water.
This means that horses are mostly only able to swim in a straight line and is a crucial point to consider when taking your horse swimming. When swimming in open bodies of water, make sure to stay shallow enough for both you and your horse to maintain control. Should you be swimming in strong currents, opt to stay in the shallower waters.
10 things to consider when taking your horse swimming
The idea of swimming with horses is certainly an exciting one but there are a number of things to take into consideration before entering the water. These are my top 10 considerations before entering the water with any of my horses:
- The depth & currents of the water: get a clear idea of how deep the water is so that you can guide your horse appropriately. To ensure safe swimming conditions, enter the water yourself first to ensure you are clear of where the steepest water is and if there are any currents.
- The ground condition: take note of the ocean, river or dam floor to make sure there are no steep drops off and no sharp ricks which could injure your horse. The best way to ensure safety in this regard is to walk the surface on foot if it is not a body of water you are familiar with.
- The current: If you are swimming in the ocean or in a river, make sure to do so when the tides and currents are not exceptionally strong. This can add unnecessary danger to your swimming experience and excessive currents can unnerve and scare your horse.
- Your tack: remove all unnecessary tack and equipment while swimming. This includes your saddle, martingale, and any other unnecessary tack which could hinder your horse’s ability to move or get caught on something. The best tack to ride your horse with when swimming is a halter.
- Waves: if you plan to swim in the ocean, make sure that the waves are not crashing above your horse’s head. Your horse needs to keep his head above the water at all times to swim safely and comfortably. Remember, for an enjoyable experience and one which is safest
- Something to hold onto: if you will be swimming in deeper water, make sure you have something to hold to that isn’t your reigns. The safest way to make sure you have something to hold on to is to tie a rope loosely around your horse’s neck.
- Don’t ride alone: it is always safer to go riding with a buddy. Although swimming is mostly safe, there can be dangers involved when it comes to swimming in deeper water. Rather go in a group than on your own to avoid the risk.
- Prepare for the shake and roll: after getting wet, a horse’s natural instinct is to do two things: shake vigorously and, or roll. Make sure you are prepared for this when exiting the water as this could mean you need to dismount.
- Rinse off: if your horse has been in the ocean with salty water or in a sandy dam or river water, it is best to rinse them off with fresh water. If salt or dirt dries on your horse’s coat, it could try out their skin or cause irritation.
- Wash your tack: whatever tack you decide to use to go horse riding, make sure you use leather cleaner and oil to remove any salt or dirt residue. If left untreated, the salt and dirt can damage your tack over time.
Is it dangerous for horses to swim in the sea?
A few cases have been reported in which horses have been swimming in the ocean and continue to swim out to sea. When this happens, it is more the exception to the rule. When a horse is swimming with a rider in the ocean and the rider dismounts, the horse continues to swim straight out to sea.
This happens mainly due to the fact that horses are not able to turn in water and therefore swimming in the ocean can have devastating effects without the correct precautions taken. Always ensure you remain in contact and in control of your horse when swimming to ensure not going too deep to allow you and your horse to swim safely.