Can Horses Swim? How Well & Do They Like Swimming?

From Greek mythology to Disney make-believes, horses seem to be able to do incredible things, like flying around the world, fighting monsters and talking to their human friends.

While a Swimming Horse may not sound as exciting as a Flying Horse like Pegasus, it’s worth knowing if a horse can swim.

Can Horses swim?

Horses can swim and will generally swim very well as long as their head stays above the water and they don’t panic. The best part of it is that you do not have to do a lot of work to teach your horse how to swim. Swimming comes naturally for most horses!

Taking your horse for a swim on a hot afternoon can be fun and is one way to help your horse relax, cool off and exercise their muscles. Horse swimming therapy is often used to help horses that have damaged ligaments or muscles. The horses are exercised in special physiotherapy “pools.”

Most horses like water and they can generally swim well – even if it is their first time. But you must be careful when you take your horse out swimming. Here are a few things you should know before that first swim.

How do horses swim?

Horses swim by floating in the water and kicking with their legs under the water to move and maintain their balance.

At first, it may look like the body of horses are not designed for swimming. And they have downward-pointing legs, hooves and big bodies, right?

But, the anatomy of a horse is the exact reason why they can swim. Their big bodies are filled with air and liquid in their lungs and intestines. So, their body acts as a ballast tank and makes them float!

Swimming horses do not magically grow webbed feet. They use their hooved legs to swim by trotting in the water as if they were running on land! This leg-action makes them move in the water.

Do all horses know how to swim?

While swimming comes naturally to most horses, some horses may not like being in the water. It doesn’t always mean your horse cannot swim. Your horse may be afraid of water because it is not sure of its footing. Horses are very particular about that because they instinctively know that they are more vulnerable if they break or injure a leg.

You should be concerned too. Try to make sure that it is safe in the water before trying to get your horse in the water so that it does not get injured or even drown.

If your horse is nervous in the water, do not try to force it, instead gently encourage her and start with shallow water where she is comfortable.

Some horses won’t go near the water at all. That’s OK, it is a matter of preference and if your horse doesn’t like the idea of getting soaked, don’t push it. While it is good training it is not essential.

Can horses swim with a rider?

Yes, a horse can swim with a rider. If you want to swim with your horse, best do it bareback – without a saddle – or use a washable pad. Once your horse starts swimming and goes into deep water, you may float off it’s back. Be careful and watch out for the legs. You don’t want to get hit.

Swimming with your horse is fun, but you should make sure you follow the following tips so that you and your horse will be safe.

  • Make sure that the water is free of obstacles that can harm your horse. Check that the bottom is not covered by mud. It can sink your horse.

Sometimes a horse may be reluctant to get into the water. It is usually because they are not sure of their footing as they can’t see the seafloor or judge how deep it is.

  • Check that the water is safe, especially if your horse is swimming in a pond. Make sure that blue-green algae are not on the water as they produce toxins that can harm your horse.
  • Make sure you have complete control of your horse before you head into the water. This is very important because you don’t want a nervous horse in water. Don’t try to force her into the water, gradually ease her in until she is comfortable in the water.
  • Make sure that her eyes, nose and ears stay above the water. If she gets panicky, quickly but gently lead her out of the water. Horses can quickly drown once their head goes underwater.
  • Make sure your horse is comfortable enough in water before you ride her as she swims. When you’re swimming beside your horse, remain mindful of her powerful legs! They’re doing some serious work below the surface and even a glancing blow from a hoof can cause serious injury.

Can horses swim in the ocean?

Most horses easily cross small streams, water obstacles, ponds and even swim across rivers with a little persuasion. They seem small enough to be safe, right? So, the big question is “Can a horse swim in really deep water?”

It turns out that they can swim in deep water. Horses can swim in the ocean, but if they go very far from the beach into the really deep water, they will very likely drown. If you want to take your horse for a swim in the ocean make sure you follow the tips I shared earlier, that way you’ll have fun and enjoy a safe swim with your horse.

Swimming horses are a popular attraction for tourists in several countries, most notably, in the pristine waters of the Grand Caymans.

More places to enjoy a horse swim in deep water include Roseau Bay in St. Lucia, Antigua Equestrian Center along the southwestern coast of Antigua and the tropical island of Bali in Indonesia The Vivanculos coast in Malawi is also a great place to ride on the beach and go for a quick dive. You should talk to your travel agent find out other top horse swimming spots you may want to visit.

How long can horses swim?

10 minutes is long enough for your horse. In general, start your horse with shorter swims, typically 4 – 6 minutes long. Gradually increase the time you let your horse swim. But do not overdo it. In deep water, your horse is working hard to move in the water and while they enjoy it, they can easily get tired.

Fun fact: In February 2016, Rebel Rover an Australian racehorse tipped over his jockey into the water and swam for almost 7 miles (11 kilometres) into 13-feet deep water before being rescued. The gelding was being trained in shallow water at Sandgate beach in Brisbane.

A marine police operation to rescue the horse lasted 90 minutes before the horse was lassoed and towed to the beach. Rebel wasn’t worn out by his long swim. He had enough strength to butt his head against one of his groomers, knocking him unconscious soon after his rescue!

Horse swimming therapy

One way to make sure that your horse is in good shape and is well exercised is to have her swim occasionally, preferably in a pool. It is a good form of exercise because it allows the horse to fully stretch her muscles and gain muscle strength.

Typically, a horse on land only uses about 60% of its muscular length while exercising. A good swim occasionally will allow the horse to stretch fully and helps to prevent muscle spasms or nasty contractures.

Horse swimming therapy is a form of aquatic therapy or hydrotherapy. It is a popular way of helping horses with damaged ligaments heal or strained muscles regain strength. The main reason for this is because the exercise does not put too much weight on the damaged muscles at the same time, it allows the horse to maintain muscle flexibility while the muscles heal.

What are the benefits of horse swimming therapy?

Swimming is as much an aerobic exercise for horses as it is for you. Horses that are regularly exercised in water get similar benefits from swimming as humans do because swimming has a lot of benefits for multiple body systems at the same time. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of a good swim for your horse.

  • Horse swimming therapy helps to build strong lungs and increase the supply of oxygen to body tissues as the heart and blood vessels work to efficiently supply blood during exercise.

Like any aerobic exercise, hydrotherapy improves the efficiency of the cardiovascular system – that is, the heart, blood and blood vessels without the added stress to joints and the bones from regular exercise

  • It reduces injury to the bones and muscles. Racehorses or horses that regularly exercise on hard ground but need to limit the effects from concussions on the limbs can replace some galloping sessions with water therapy exercises.
  • It helps your horse develop muscle strength through resistance training as water has a greater resistance than air.
  • Underwater treadmill walking is often used to improve the range of motion for horses undergoing water therapy. The treadmills are set at varying depths to help extend the range of motion for specific joints.
  • Apart from helping horses stay fit, equine hydrotherapy is an increasingly popular way to rehabilitate horses with injured ligaments and tendons.
  • Differences in the temperature of the water have different therapeutic effects on horses. For example, warm water improves blood circulation and helps to reduce muscle spasms. While colder water tends to help to reduce inflammation by decreasing blood flow.

While swimming with your horse is good. It is no substitute for a good workout on land because when your horse is swimming, it experiences far less muscular contractions than when it is running on land. It is useful to help improve muscle strength, but ultimately your horse will be used on land and so it needs the experience.

Except your horse will be a full-time Water Horse, you should use swimming only as part of a workout program. Any horse will want to feel solid ground beneath it and exercise on land. But if somehow you convince your horse to settle for only water exercises, your “seahorse” will not be a reliable land animal – or sea animal for that matter – after some time.

Also, note that excessive water exercises may weaken the strength of your horse’s tendons and affect her bone density. You won’t be using your horse only in the water, will you?

Horse swimming therapy tips

Here are some things you should remember if you’re thinking of hydrotherapy for your horse.

  • Coldwater is therapeutic for horses. Pamper your horse in a spa with water at a temperature between 2° C and 4° C. Cold water helps reduce inflammation and heat in the lower legs.
  • If you cannot afford to give your horse a spa treatment, cold hosing is another practical way to achieve similar results.
  • Be careful if you use an icepack directly on inflammations. Using it for long can cause tissue damage.
  • Do not swim your horse in water that has a similar temperature with your horse. If you do, your horse will not be able to lose the heat it generates from exercising in water. So do not swim in water with a similar temperature or even a higher temperature than the horse.
  • Do use a water treadmill to help your horse build up its muscles without placing too much strain on the legs.

This list is not exhaustive, and it does may apply all the time. You should reach out to your veterinary doctor for proper guidance before developing a horse swimming therapy programme for your horse.

When should I not let my horse go for a swim?

Sometimes it is not a good idea to let your horse swim. Your horse may show you some signs of not wanting to get into the water or uneasiness when she’s already in the water. You should be attentive so that you can know when to get her off or even skip swimming altogether.

  • You should not try to make your horse swim when it has an injured stifle or an injured hock. Swimming may make the injuries worse. Alternatively, you can exercise your horse on an underwater treadmill instead of getting it into deep water to swim.
  • You must never try to get a horse that has difficulty breathing to swim. If your horse has respiratory problems or a heart condition, swimming is not an option for it, because swimming demands a lot of effort from the heart and the lungs. You could seriously hurt or even kill your horse if you try to make it swim when it has cardiovascular or respiratory complications.
  • If your horse has an open wound or a draining sore, it should not go for a swim.
  • If your horse is running a temperature or has a surgical incision that has not healed completely, it should not go for a swim.

In general, when your horse is sick, consult a qualified veterinarian before taking any action.

  • Lastly, do not urge or try to force your horse to swim when she is nervous or afraid. You can lead a horse to the water, but you cannot and should never try to force it to swim. You might end up losing the horse.

5 things you didn’t know your horse could do

Now that you have discovered your horse’s superpower – you may want to take her on your next beach trip. Good! While you’re at it, here are some fun facts you never knew about horses.

  • Your horse can rotate its ears 180 degrees. Horses have 16 muscles in each ear that allow it to rotate their ears!
  • The teeth of your horse will never stop to grow. Don’t worry though, it won’t be much of a problem. It is, in fact, one of the best ways to tell how old a horse is.
  • Your horse is a genius – an equine genius! According to Reader’s Digest, “Horses can solve advanced cognitive challenges, learning and a degree of concept formation.”
  • Horses have a very long memory. A horse’s memory is as sharp as an elephant’s memory.
  • Your horse can produce up to 10 gallons of saliva a day! Now, that’s some spit!
  • Horses have the largest eyes of any land mammal.
  • Your horse cannot vomit. If you see a vomiting horse, chances are that it’ll soon be dead.

Horses are amazing creatures and one of the best friends of man. There’s a lot more to know about horses and how to properly take care of your horse. Now you can saddle up your horse for that ride to the beach and a quick dip into the sea. Your horse should love it!