Have you ever wondered, “Can horses swim”? If you have, you’re not alone. Many people are curious about this question, especially horse owners who want to have some fun with their equine friends in the water. The good news is that, yes, horses can swim. In fact, they are actually very competent swimmers due to their large lungs, which help them to stay afloat. Horses have a natural instinct to swim when they hit deep water and readily perform a paddle-like action, not too dissimilar from a trotting action.
But just because horses can swim doesn’t mean they all love it. Some horses may enjoy going into the water to cool off or splash but not swim. Some horses may not like water at all. It is important to know your horse’s particular personality and preferences when it comes to swimming. Swimming with your horse can be a great way to bond, exercise, and have fun with them. But it also requires some preparation, safety measures, and respect for your horse’s comfort and well-being.
How Horses Swim
Horses swim by using their legs to propel themselves forward in the water. They use a similar motion to trotting on land but with more flexibility and range of motion. They can also use their tails to help them steer and balance in the water.
Where Can They Swim
Horses can swim in freshwater or salt water, but salt water may sting their eyes or irritate their skin. They can also swim in different types of water bodies, such as lakes, rivers, ponds, or oceans. They typically prefer calm and clear water over turbulent and murky water for the same reasons.
Swimming is Exercise
Horses have the benefit of having large lungs that can hold a lot of air. This helps them float more easily and reduces the amount of energy they need to swim. But horses are still large creatures, and swimming is still a lot of work. It uses all of their muscles and burns a lot of calories (This is important when you consider they are grazing animals!).
It also puts a lot of pressure on their lungs and heart. Horses can swim for about 30 minutes before getting tired. However, this will vary depending on their age, health condition, breed, environment, weather, and water situation. Some horses may be able to swim longer or faster than others. Some horses may be good swimmers by nature or by training. For example, Arabian and Mustang horses are known to be good swimmers because of their endurance and adaptability.
Is Swimming Dangerous?
Swimming can be risky for horses. There are potential dangers and challenges when swimming that they don’t encounter on land. For example:
- They might get exhausted or dehydrated from swimming too long or too fast.
- They can get hypothermia or heatstroke from swimming in too-cold or too-hot water.
- They may get injured or infected by sharp rocks, debris, or parasites in the water.
- They can get scared and panic from loud noises, waves, currents, or predators in the water.
- They can drown from sinking too deep or getting trapped under the water.
If you’ve ever spent time around horses, it’s obvious that they can feel fear, and water can certainly be scary. They may also have had bad experiences with water in the past that make them reluctant to try it again. These are just a few reasons horses may dislike swimming or fear water. Or they may simply prefer dry land over wet water.
What Factors Affect Horse Swimming Ability
As I mentioned earlier, not all horses are equal when it comes to swimming. Many factors can determine if a horse will have an easier or harder time swimming.
Just like us, horses all have their own unique individual personality. Some are more curious, adventurous, or playful than others. They may enjoy exploring new things and having fun with their owners, just like the smiling toddler in awe at the world. Horses like this may love swimming or at least be more willing to give it a shot.
Some horses may have more exposure to water than others. Maybe they grew up near water sources or were trained to swim by their owners or trainers. These horses may already be more comfortable and confident in the water than others.
Again, like us and any other animal, age can play a factor in anything physical. Younger horses are often more energetic, flexible, and adaptable than older horses. They may learn new skills faster and recover quicker from physical exertion. Remember, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks! That old phrase is laughable but certainly has some meaning.
Some horses may be healthier and fitter than others. They may have strong muscles, bones, joints, lungs, and hearts that allow them to swim well and for long periods of time. They may also have good immune systems that protect them from infections or diseases that can be contracted from water. Healthy horses are going to have an easier time swimming.
Certain breeds are genetically predisposed to swim better than others. They might have physical traits that give them an advantage in the water, such as long legs, large lungs, thick coats, or webbed feet. Or behavioral traits that make them more suited for swimming, such as endurance, intelligence, or courage. A few examples of horse breeds that are good swimmers are Arabians, Mustangs, Thoroughbreds, Morgans, and Quarter Horses.
These are some of the factors that can affect how well a horse can swim and how much they enjoy it. Of course, these are generalizations and there can always be exceptions. Observing their reactions and respecting their choices is the best way to find out how your horse feels about swimming.
How to Swim with Your Horse Safely
If you want to swim with your horse, you should take some precautions to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for both of you. Here are some tips on how to prepare your horse for swimming and how to choose a suitable location:
Before you take your horse into any water, ensure they are ready. Introduce them to the water gradually and patiently. Let them walk through shallow puddles or streams and reward them with praise or treats for being brave. You can then progress to deeper water and encourage them to splash or paw at the water. You can also use a lead rope or a lunge line to guide them into the water and let them follow you or another more confident horse.
Never try and force your horse into the water or punish them for being scared. This will only make them more fearful and resistant. What’s that old saying? “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink”
Choose a Suitable Location
Once your horse is comfortable with water, you can look for a good place to swim with them. Choose a location that is safe, clean, and easily accessible for you and your horse (getting in and out of the water). Avoid areas that have strong currents, sharp rocks, debris, or dangerous wildlife that may harm you or your horse.
It should go without saying, but stay away from areas that have polluted or contaminated water. It can cause infections or diseases for you or your horse. Clear, calm water areas are ideal because they allow you to see the bottom and any obstacles. Gradual slopes and even surfaces make it much easier for your horse to enter and exit the water. Start with shallow water that reaches up to your horse’s knees and let them get used to it. Slowly move to deeper water that reaches your horse’s neck or back, and let them swim as long as they remain calm.
How Swimming Can Be Used for Therapy and Fitness
Swimming is a great way to improve your horse’s health and well-being in various ways! They even make water treadmills for horses. Here are a few of the benefits horses can get from swimming:
- Improves cardiovascular health: Exercise increases your horse’s heart rate and blood circulation. This helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to their muscles and organs and remove waste products and toxins from their body. This will also strengthen their heart and lungs, reducing the risk of heart disease and respiratory problems.
- Improves muscle strength: Swimming uses almost every muscle in your horse’s body, especially their legs, back, neck, and shoulders. This will help tone their muscles, increasing their power and speed. This can help prevent muscle atrophy and stiffness and reduce muscle injuries and/or soreness risks.
- Improves joint mobility: Compared to other types of exercise, swimming reduces the impact and stress on your horse’s joints, bones, tendons, and ligaments. This means better lubrication in their joints and increases in range of motion and flexibility.
- Improves mental well-being: For a horse that enjoys water, swimming is a fun and relaxing activity and reduces boredom and stress. Helping their mood and attitude, plus it increases their confidence and trust. It can also strengthen their bond with you and other horses, as well as enhancing their social skills.
Not surprisingly, a lot of these are the same benefits we see in people. Just like with people, swimming can be especially helpful for horses that are recovering from injuries or illnesses. It can speed up the healing process and prevent further complications. Swimming can also benefit performance horses competing in sports or events because it improves their strength and endurance. However, swimming should not be used as a substitute for regular veterinary care or proper training. Always consult your veterinarian before starting a swimming program for your horse and monitor their condition closely.
Here are some tips on how to use swimming as a therapy or fitness tool for your horse:
- Start slowly and gradually: You should not expect your horse to swim like a fish right away (or ever). You should start with short and easy sessions of swimming and gradually increase the duration and intensity as your horse gets used to it. You should also give your horse enough rest and recovery time between sessions and avoid overworking them.
- Choose the right equipment: Use a halter or a bridle with a bitless attachment that allows your horse to breathe easily and does not interfere with their swimming motion. A long lead rope or a lunge line can be helpful, giving your horse enough freedom and control in the water. Avoid using saddles, blankets, shoes, or other items that may weigh down your horse or cause them discomfort or injury in the water.
- Follow the rules: Be sure to follow any rules and regulations of the swimming area that you choose for your horse. Respect the rights and privacy of other people and animals that may use the same area. Clean up after your horse and dispose of any waste properly. Definitely avoid swimming in restricted or prohibited areas for horses or humans.
Swimming is an amazing activity that can benefit you and your horse in many ways. It can improve your horse’s physical and mental health and your relationship with them. It’s also a lot of fun and an adventure for both of you.
For better or worse, swimming is not something that every horse likes or can do well. Understand your horse’s personality and preferences when it comes to water, and respect their choices. Adequately prepare your horse for swimming and choose a suitable location, to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for both of you.
Happy swimming! 🐴🌊