Can Horses Swim? Everything You Need To Know!

Can horses swim? The answer to this is yes!

Horses are all born with a natural instinct to swim, and the ability to do so. This comes from when they lived in the wild (which some of them still do), and they needed to cross deep waters and rivers, in order to either escape danger or get to new grazing areas.

Herds of horses move from place to place, and as water is a natural thing to encounter, they are more than able to overcome it as an obstacle, by swimming. 

Horses are also, generally speaking, not shy when it comes to water. Horse lovers will often take their horses to the beach or come across a river when out riding, and horses love to get into the water for a bit of a splash, and a bit of a swim.

It is also becoming increasingly popular for riders to go swimming with their horses, and apart from being an excellent form of exercise, it’s a lot of fun!

How Do Horses Swim?

It’s always a bit of a surprise to find out that different non-aquatic animals can swim, and are not shy when it comes to spending time in the water. We now know that horses can indeed swim, but you might be wondering how. How do they swim? 

When they are simply in the water, horses paddle about in order to keep their balance, and in order to remain stable with their head above water to breathe.

However, when they are actually swimming, they do so by “trotting”. So they essentially move their legs in the same way they do when trotting on land but through the water.

They have very powerful legs, so this is a very effective way of allowing them to move through the water and remain with their head above the surface so that they can breathe. 

One of the most important parts of swimming, for horses, is to keep their head above the surface of the water. They will do this instinctively, and they really don’t like to get their head wet, for two main reasons:

  • Horses can’t hold their breath. So if their head goes under the water, they might begin to drown. They can go under for a very short bit, but as a general rule, they need their head to be above constantly, in order to be able to breathe. They do not know how to take a deep breath and hold it in order to dive under. 
  • They have very sensitive ears that should not get wet. Due to the anatomy of their ears, there is no lower passage, so the water can’t drain out. This means that they are a lot more prone to getting an ear infection if their ears get wet. 

If you go swimming with your horse, it is important to get them used to getting their head slightly wet, so that they don’t panic when someone splashes around them. But don’t ever force them to go under, as this is not instinctive to them, and can cause a lot of harm. 

Do Horses Like Swimming?

So…horses can swim, and they do so by a sort of trotting underwater. But here’s a pretty important question: do they like swimming? 

For example, cats can technically swim, but they sure as hell don’t like it! (Although some cats do weirdly enjoy the water!) 

Well, kind of like us humans, whether they like swimming or not completely depends on each horse! They all have different personalities and preferences, so while some horses absolutely love to go swimming, others truly hate it. 

As a general rule, most horses do like swimming, or at the very least they don’t mind it. It can also depend on what the horse is used to, and whether it has ever gone swimming before. The first time will of course be a little nerve-wracking! 

But if a horse strongly dislikes swimming, and refuses to swim, then it is usually due to one or more of the following reasons: 

Disliking The Feeling Of Getting Wet

Some horses simply don’t like getting wet, and if they don’t like getting wet then it makes perfect sense why they don’t like swimming.

This can be tricky to solve, as it is simply an innate preference of that particular horse. But something that you can do is try and form positive associations with the act of getting wet.

For example, give your horse treats every time they get wet so that eventually, getting wet becomes something good and desirable. 

A Bad Experience With Swimming

If your horse has had a bad experience with swimming in the past, then they will be extremely mistrustful of water, and will essentially have psychological trauma. Kind of like when humans have a bad experience with water and avoid water from then on forward. 

In order to overcome this, you will need a lot of patience, and to be very gentle and understanding with your horse. You will have to slowly teach them to trust water again, by showing them that it won’t hurt them again. 

Bad Depth Perception

Horses have their eyes on the side of their head, which means they’re not very good at figuring out how far things are, as they have very limited depth perception. This can make things such as swimming quite scary because they don’t know how deep the water is. 

To overcome this, allow them to get close to the water little by little, slowly building up their confidence until they feel comfortable about swimming. 

How Long Can A Horse Swim For?

Swimming is a high-intensity form of exercise, and it can tire out a horse quite fast. This is why horses shouldn’t be made to swim for too long at a time. In fact, just 10 minutes of swimming is pretty much equivalent to cantering for a few miles!

However, just because on average horses don’t swim for long, doesn’t mean they aren’t unable to in some cases.

In 2016, Rebel Rover (an Australian racehorse), unseated his rider and set off swimming, off the Brisbane coast. It took 90 minutes to get the horse back after it had swum 6.8 miles!

It’s safe to say the horse was pretty tired after that amount of swimming, but it definitely proves that they are able to do as such in extreme situations!

Is Swimming Good For Horses?

Swimming is an excellent form of exercise for horses, as it is for most other animals and us humans. Thanks to the buoyancy of the water, the horse’s weight is supported, so the muscles and tendons can exercise and move without suffering from any pressure.

In fact, many top competition horses are put through regular hydrotherapy by their owners, as part of their training. Swimming can strengthen a horse’s muscles, making them stronger, without causing any damage!

Swimming is great as an aerobic and cardiovascular exercise, and it is also often used to improve a horse’s fitness, or as rehabilitation after an injury. 

When used for fitness, swimming enhances endurance and stamina. It also increases the horse’s flexibility, in order to achieve a better stride.

Water causes the horse to work harder throughout the exercise and training, increasing the heart’s capacity and the lungs, all without the danger of straining the muscles or causing damage. 

When used for rehabilitation purposes, hydrotherapy is especially beneficial for helping a horse recover from leg and tendon injuries, as well as different types of muscle damage.

This is because the horse is exercising, speeding along the process of recovery, without adding any strain on the injury itself which would otherwise set it back and worsen the condition. 

And apart from improving the physical capabilities of your horse, swimming can also boost their confidence and control, as they are getting used to being in the water, and the exercise can be a really fun part of their day!

Can You Ride A Horse While It Swims?

You might have seen films with a girl riding her horse in the water, or posts that people share about taking their horses to the beach and riding them while they swim. And these all look super fun and aesthetic, and like an absolute dream. But…can you actually ride a horse while it swims? Is it okay and safe to do this? 

The answer, simply put, is yes. 

Horses are very strong swimmers, as they swim with their legs and their leg muscles are incredibly powerful.

This means that they will be more than capable of swimming and stay afloat, while also carrying your weight. The only important thing to remember is that you have to be careful not to hinder your horse’s movements, especially the head.

Horses always keep their head above water, as they cannot hold their breath, and they also have very sensitive ears that are better kept dry. So make sure you aren’t applying any weight onto their head that might cause them to go under! 

Other than that, you’re perfectly fine to ride your horse as they swim, and it’s actually super recommended because it is a lot of fun, an experience like no other, and a great opportunity for bonding time! 

Just as a warning, when horses come out of the water after swimming, they usually tend to roll on the floor. So if your horse comes out of the water and starts pawing at the ground, make sure to jump off quickly before they start rolling! Otherwise, you might get squashed by them!

Can Horses Swim In The Ocean?

Horses can swim in the ocean just as they can swim in a river, lake, or swimming pool. However, as a space of open waters, the ocean can be a lot more dangerous and therefore you have to be a lot more careful when allowing your horse to do so.

Going cantering on the beach, and then taking a quick swim, can be one of the most incredible things to do with your horse, but you need to take a few things into consideration. 

  • First of all, can you swim? If you can’t swim then you shouldn’t be going into the ocean water with your horse, even if your horse is carrying you. It can be dangerous and lead to trouble. 
  • Are you alone? It is always best to be accompanied by other riders and horses. Not only so that you and your horse feel safer and more comfortable, but so that there are others around if there are any issues and you suddenly need help. 
  • How deep is the water? With the ocean, it can get deep pretty fast, so you have to know beforehand where the shallow water is, and how to get to it quickly if need be. 
  • What kind of ocean floor is it? Does it get deep gradually and slowly, or is there a sudden drop? If there is a sudden drop, your horse might suddenly lose its footing, causing it to panic. 
  • What kind of ground does that part of the ocean where you are swimming have? Sand, rocks, coral, other? Uneven ground with sharp rocks can hurt your horse, so it’s best to choose soft sand. 
  • Is the water clear, or full of things? For example, if there is driftwood or similar items in the water, your horse might get spooked by them. 
  • Are the conditions right? For example, if it is very windy and there are big waves, you should avoid going into the water. Waves can make it very hard for your horse to keep its head above water, and as we’ve mentioned before, horses absolutely need to keep their head above water while swimming!
  • Be careful of the currents! The ocean can be very dangerous, and currents can completely overpower a horse and drag you both into the deep end. 
  • Are there other people on the beach? If it’s high season, during the summer, and there are other people at the beach, it’s best to avoid going there with your horse as you could cause a disturbance. It’s best to go to empty beaches with very few people around.
  • Is the water clean and safe? Some beaches have dangerous water, full of toxic organisms that are harmful to both humans and horses. Make sure to check beforehand! 

You should also remember to take off any tack, such as the saddle, from your horse, before going swimming in the ocean. Otherwise, the saltwater can cause some serious damage to it! 

In Conclusion

To sum this up, horses can indeed swim and are actually pretty good at it. Some horses won’t like swimming, usually due to bad experiences, but as a general rule, horses love to swim, and love getting to splash about.

Swimming is also a great form of exercise for horses, as it strengthens their muscles without putting pressure on them. It is also often used as a form of rehabilitation, to help cure injuries or strains. 

You can also go swimming with your horse for fun (and yes, you can ride your horse while he swims!). Just make sure to be careful when you swim in open waters such as the ocean, as it can be a little more dangerous!

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