Can Horses Swim? Interesting Facts to Know
You live on a property surrounded by water? Or live close to the ocean? Worried that your horse may be in danger around bodies of water? It’s natural to wonder whether horses can swim, especially if waters closeby are deep.
But don’t worry! Horses can swim. In fact, they’re very good at it. And it comes naturally to them.
It is said that the horse’s ability to swim dates back to the days when they roamed freely in the wild and they needed to cross large bodies of water either to get away from dangers or in search of new pastures.
However, just because horses have an innate ability to swim, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions.
Below, I’ll walk you through the benefits of swimming for your horse and some of the precautions you must take.
Do Horses Like to Swim?
There’s a difference between knowing how to swim and actually liking to swim. Just like with humans, some horses like to swim, others not so much.
Therefore, if you want to go swimming with your horse, you should get them gradually accustomed to water.
You should also watch out for reactions. If your horse is nervous or showing signs of panic or stress, ease things up a bit. Don’t pressure your horse to go into the water.
Take slow, incremental but consistent steps in familiarizing your horse with water until it’s comfortable to go in by itself.
It can also help if your horse sees other horses it’s familiar with swimming. But it may take longer for a horse that’s naturally fearful to get comfortable in water.
And sometimes, you may not succeed in convincing your horse to get into the water deep enough to swim. Either because of bad previous experiences, or simply because they don’t like to get wet.
Another reason why horses might be scared to walk into the water is because of their limited depth perception. This may make them skeptical, nervous or stressed.
It’s important to work with your horse and don’t force them to take the plunge, unless they too are willing.
How do Horses Swim?
When in deep enough water, horses instinctively raise their heads above the water surface so they can breathe.
They’ll also make a paddle-like movement with their legs — much like trotting — to move their bodies forward in water.
As long as they manage to keep the forward momentum, they’ll stay afloat. Their enlarged lungs are also helpful in keeping them afloat.
Because horses are unable to keep their breaths or breathe under water, you should not take your horse swimming when the waves are big. That is, if you’re swimming in the ocean or in the sea.
Swimming is also physically demanding to a horse, increasing their heart-rate and resulting in heavy breathing.
To make sure that your horse isn’t tiring itself out too much or you’re not hindering its movement, remove any equipment that may hinder or restrict its movement.
Therefore, remove the saddle, keep a loose rein, and use a lot less bridle. Anything that restricts the upward movement of your horse will potentially make it difficult for your horse to feel comfortable and will translate into an extra amount of effort.
You should strive to make your horse as comfortable as possible.
For How Long Can Horses Swim?
Because of their size, horses will tire much faster from swimming than from running on land. They’re also much slower swimmers. They’ll usually only swim at a maximum speed of 4 km/h.
It is also estimated that 10 minutes of swimming will be the equivalent of cantering for several miles.
And because horses aren’t all built the same and don’t have the same fitness levels, they have different abilities to swim.
Some can swim for longer than others, therefore, it’s your job as the owner to look for signs of fatigue and tiredness in your horse. And recognizing that, guide your horse out of the water if it’s too tired.
Besides the fitness level of your horse, there are other factors to consider as well. Such as whether your horse is swimming against a current or in still water. Naturally, swimming against a current will be more tiring.
Likewise, there’s a difference between swimming in saltwater versus swimming in freshwater.
Because of the better buoyancy of saltwater, horses may be able to swim faster than through freshwater.
Benefits of Swimming for Horses
While horses can exert themselves through swimming, this activity has undeniable health benefits to horses.
Here are the most important benefits of swimming for horses:
- Builds endurance — Swimming is a great exercise for horses, helping them to build up stamina and endurance, which can become handy in many equestrian sports.
- Rehabilitation after injury — Swimming in equine pools can help tone muscles and strengthen tendons after injury and can be part of a horse’s physiotherapy regimen.
- Fun activity — Swimming can also be a fun activity to do together with your horse, especially if you both enjoy swimming.
If your horse responds well to water, you can introduce swimming as part of a training regimen or just as a recreational activity to do together.
And if your horse suffered an injury in the past, swimming in equine pools can go a long way with their rehabilitation, especially that in water, your horse doesn’t have to carry their weight.
Places to Take Your Horse for Swimming
I recommend that you first accustom your horse with different bodies of water, before moving onto larger bodies of water, or waters with currents.
Unless, that is, your horse absolutely loves water, it’s in great shape and it’s a fearless adventurer. Then, maybe you can take the plunge, but not without proper preparations first!
Here are some good places to take your horse swimming:
– Equine Pools
I mentioned equine pools as a place where horses can do physiotherapy, but you can just as well take your horse to equine pools to accustom them with water, before moving onto larger bodies of water.
Still waters are also a good place for your horses to swim, especially that there aren’t any currents that they need to swim against or waves to watch out for. If there’s a lake near you, where horses are welcome, you can test the waters to see how your horse takes to swimming.
Rivers where currents aren’t as strong and rivers without sharp rocks that may pose a risk of injury to your horse can also be a good place for your horse to swim. In the wild, horses would cross rivers on the regular in search of new pastures or to escape dangers.
Horses will also swim in the sea and saltwater can even help with buoyancy. Just make sure the seabed isn’t too steep or that there isn’t a risk for your horse to get injured because of how rocky the seabed is. Likewise, when waves are big, don’t go into swimming with your horse.
Can Horses Swim in the Ocean?
Yes, horses can swim in the ocean as well, but that doesn’t mean that swimming in the ocean — or even the sea — is without risks.
The same precautions I mentioned when I discussed swimming in the sea, apply to swimming in the ocean as well.
Preparation is key, so here’s a quick checklist before taking your horse swimming in the ocean:
- Check to see if the ocean floor is at an angle or if it’s an even drop
- Check the condition of the ocean floor — is there a risk of injury for your horse?
- Avoid swimming in waves that can wash over the head of your horse
- Avoid swimming when the currents are too strong
- Remove the saddle and keep a loose reign
- Don’t go swimming with your horse alone — if anything were to happen, an extra pair of helping hands can be lifesaving.
Apart from these aspects related to the safety of your horse, also watch out for local regulations on whether horses are accepted to certain beaches.
Can You Ride a Horse While It Is Swimming?
While you technically can ride a horse while it’s swimming, make sure that you don’t restrict, hinder or otherwise obstruct your horse’s movement.
Likewise, don’t restrict the natural movement of your horse’s head. Don’t pull at its reins, keep a loose rein and remove the saddle. If you want to grab onto support, hold onto the horse’s mane instead.
Apart from not restricting your horse, make sure not to get injured yourself from the horse’s movement if you’re swimming alongside your horse, for example.
While swimming isn’t the most natural thing horses will do, they do have an innate ability to swim, so in theory, you shouldn’t worry about your horse going into the water.
But, as with anything, don’t force it — if your horse doesn’t want to or doesn’t like to swim, don’t force it to go into the water. Also, make sure to take all the precautions I mentioned above.
With time and consistent familiarization, your horse may become comfortable with water and may readily go swimming with you. Or not. We’re not all the same and it’s fine if your horse doesn’t like swimming.