Last Updated on April 5, 2022
Talk about animals swimming, and horses would not be the first creature to come to mind! But have you ever wondered if horses can swim? And are horses good swimmers?
Let’s find out all you need to know about horse swimming!
Can Horses Swim?
You might look at your horse or pony and wonder what would happen if it went into the water. These huge, heavy animals would surely sink in deep water, right? But maybe we’ve got this wrong – are horses, good swimmers, after all?
You’ll be amazed to hear that horses are naturally able to swim! This comes from their ancestry as wild horses. When living wild and free, horses would need to cross rivers and lakes to access grazing land and flee from predators.
How Do Horses Swim?
Horses can wade through pretty deep water, and they won’t start to swim until their hooves no longer touch the bottom. Horses swim by paddling all four legs, with the body submerged just below the level of the water. They cannot breathe underwater, so keep the neck extended upwards and the head above the water.
From above the water, all you will see is the head of the horse, held parallel to the surface of the water. The body of the horse may be visible just underneath the water. Under this, the legs will be paddling away, but this will not be visible unless you are underwater.
Not many of us would ever get the opportunity to see a horse swimming from under the water.
Are Horses Good Swimmers?
Horses are surprisingly good at swimming, although they are not particularly fast. They can swim across large expanses of water at a steady pace, maintaining forward motion with the paddling action of their legs.
Due to their large lung capacity, horses stay afloat easily in water. They can maintain a reasonable swimming pace in calm water.
However, horses are not able to swim or dive underwater. They may also struggle in strong currents or rough water and can become fatigued easily.
Is Swimming Good For Horses?
Swimming is very good for horses, provide it is carried out correctly. There are two reasons why horse owners and trainers might take their horse swimming:
Hydrotherapy is a form of physical therapy that helps horses recover from injury. This is because swimming is a low-impact form of exercise, which places minimal strain on the horse’s joints, muscles, and tendons.
Hydrotherapy is very effective in treating horses who have suffered from a musculoskeletal injury. Horses float easily in water, so swimming allows the body weight to be supported whilst the horse carries out physical exercise. It also means that the legs and hooves will be protected from the impact of hard ground.
There are two ways in which hydrotherapy is carried out in horses. The first of these is in a circular pool, with the horse controlled from the ground by handlers with long lines. The second is a water treadmill in an enclosed tank, in which the horse will walk forward steadily.
Using hydrotherapy to rehabilitate a horse after injury should only be carried out under the supervision of a qualified professional. Your veterinarian may be able to recommend a hydrotherapy center in your area if your horse would benefit from hydrotherapy treatment.
Swimming is a very physically demanding form of exercise for horses. It increases muscle development and stamina, as well as improving the flexibility of the limbs.
Horses are also less likely to become injured when swimming. Running on hard ground can cause long-term concussion injuries to the limbs and hooves. Swimming greatly reduces this risk as it is a lower-impact workout.
Because swimming exercise is so intense, the horse must be at a certain level of fitness before swimming training is initiated. Otherwise, the horse may sustain an injury or become fatigued.
It has been estimated that a swim of a third of a mile is the same level of exercise as a one-mile gallop! It is important to bear this in mind if you want to swim with your horse and start with very short swims initially.
How To Swim With A Horse
If you want to start swimming exercise with your horse, the best place to begin is at a local equine training pool. Here you will have the assistance of qualified professionals to help you get your horse started.
Once you are more confident with how to swim with a horse, you may want to try swimming in open water such as rivers, lakes, and the sea. Many horses enjoy this exercise, but you must start slowly to avoid them panicking in deep water.
Can You Ride A Horse When It Is Swimming?
If you want to try open water swimming with your horse, the best way to stay in control is by riding your horse. This is not a suitable exercise for a novice or inexperienced rider, as it can be very dangerous.
To swim safely, the horse needs the freedom to move. This means you need to trust your horse and avoid hindering his movements at all. To do this, you will need to ride him without a saddle, as this will restrict his ability to swim.
When riding a horse that is swimming, your horse will need to extend his head upwards out of the water. Keep a loose rein to allow him to do this. If you need something to keep you stable on the horse’s back, use a loose neck strap.
If you should come into difficulties whilst swimming with your horse, you must keep away from the horse’s limbs. Remember how hard they need to paddle to stay afloat – a blow from a hoof could be very dangerous! Swim a good distance in front of your horse, and if you have hold of the reins use them to guide him ashore.
So, as we’ve learned, horses are strong swimmers who can float easily in water. They can maintain a steady pace in calm water, and most horses have good natural swimming abilities. However, horses cannot swim underwater or dive, and they may struggle to swim in strong currents or rough water.
We’d love to hear about your experiences – have you ever taken your horse swimming? Perhaps you’ve got some questions about swimming with horses? Add a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
For how long can a horse swim?
Horses can swim for up to ten minutes at a time. Swimming takes a lot of energy for horses, for example, a three-minute swim can be the equivalent of a three-mile gallop. It’s very important to pay attention and be aware of your horse’s reactions and responses, so you can recognize when he is starting to tire and get him out of the water before he starts struggling or drowning.
Can horses swim in the ocean?
Yes, horses can indeed swim, even in the ocean when the water is calm and there are no big waves. Just think of all the photos and videos of horses running on the beach and swimming in the ocean!
Horses are actually very competent swimmers thanks to their big lungs, which enable them to naturally float. Also the instinct for swimming comes natural for horses. Once in deep water they automatically perform a paddle-like action that mimics a trotting action. However, swimming will tire them pretty fast so it’s best to not push them to swim too far away from the shore.
Can horses drown in water?
Horses can’t hold their breath underwater like we can and they get very nervous very quickly if their head gets submerged in the water. If the water enter their nostrils, they can start to panic and breathe in more water. Therefore, it’s not a good idea to take your horse out for a swim in the ocean if it’s windy and there are big waves. This can be very dangerous for your horse, and the risk of getting drown in this kind of conditions is quite high. It’s much better to wait for more favorable weather conditions and calmer sea as you and your horse will be able to enjoy the swim without being afraid of getting drowned.
Can you ride a horse when it is swimming?
Yes, you can ride a horse while it swims. While this might be very exciting experience you still need to be careful to not restrict your horse’s movements in any way. The most important thing is to make sure that the horse is safe and that it does not drown. The first thing you need to do is make sure that the horse has enough room to swim around. But you also have to make sure that the horse is not wearing any gear that will make swimming harder for him. The rider’s movements are even more important than the horse’s. If the rider is not moving well, then the horse’s balance will be compromised as well.
Is swimming hard for horses?
Yes, swimming is a hard work for horses and will tire the horse out pretty quickly. Horses can only swim for a short period of time, and the time a horse can spend swimming strongly depends on the individual animal, on it’s fitness, and how well-suited it is to swimming. Some horses have a swimming program that includes the pool as part of their fitness routine. However, just a few minutes of swimming each day is sufficient for these horses.
If your horse has been swimming regularly for some time and feel comfortable in the water, you can begin increasing the length and frequency of his swimming sessions. As with any exercise program, it is important to gradually increase the duration and intensity of swimming sessions.
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse
care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since
she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local
stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She
has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in
various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the
patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went
on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in
the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of
horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for
educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN REVN RVN A1