Can Horses Swim? – Things You Need to Know

group of horse riders

Ever wondered if your horse can manage to swim in the water? If it has been tiptoeing and looking disgruntled when first introduced to waters, then it’s a valid question. In this article, we would discuss if horses can swim and the tricks and safety issues you need to know.

So, can horses swim? Yes, horses can swim and float well without the need of being taught. They seem to have an instinct to move their legs in a similar way they trot to advance in the water. However, it doesn’t mean that all horses are great swimmers, nor they love being in the water. Here’s what you need to know about horses and water.  

How Do Horses Swim?

Like other mammals, horses have an instinct to swim in deep water. They can swim in rivers, lakes and even oceans. Since they are massive creatures, most parts of their body will be submerged in the water all the time. Their technique is quite like those of larger dogs that kick their way forward.

When submerged in the water, horses will instinctively lift their head over the surface to breathe, and their body will stay afloat if it keeps forward momentum. And their legs typically move in a paddle-like manner to maintain their balance and stability in the water. Swimming is physically exhausting for horses due to the natural resistance water provides. But it is beneficial for them.

But the thing is if horses can swim, can they breathe underwater as well? Let’s find out.

Can Horses Breathe Under Water?

Unlike humans, horses cannot hold their breath underwater. They can easily get stressed out if their head is under the water. So, if it’s windy in the ocean and there are big waves, it can be dangerous for your horse to swim, and the risk of getting drown is relatively high.

Therefore, it is critical to check the ocean or any swimming area before taking your horse into it. And if the horse gets the head underwater, water might run into the ears. Since the anatomy of the horse’s ears has no lower passage that will drain the water, it will build up inside them and cause discomfort and infection. So, it’s crucial to avoid water from getting into their cavity.

But even if horses have a natural swimming ability, it doesn’t mean that they love water. Some have a phobia in it. Let’s see the reasons why.

Horse’s Fear of Water

Some domestic horses who were surrounded by waters since they were born are comfortable in swimming. But those who are not familiar with water aren’t. Here are some reasons why they might be afraid of water:

  • The eyes of the horse are located on two sides of the horse’s head, which is advantageous because it helps them to see broad scope in their surroundings. However, its downside is it prevents them from perceiving details. Thus, it is natural for them to feel scared and vulnerable when wading into the water because they are unaware of what’s beneath it.
  • Horses with bad experiences or past traumas in water may associate it with something negative. So, bathing and swimming would be more difficult for them.
  • Like other animals such as cats and dogs, some horses just don’t like being wet.

Those are the reasons why you should not rush the process. But how can you convince your horse and help it to overcome their fears?

The first experience of a horse with water is essential because it’ll shape the horse’s feeling about water next time. So, if your horse had a bad experience in water in the past, it will be afraid and feel difficult to swim in the future. It would be best to introduce your horse to water slowly let it have a good time.

But if it won’t work, you can try persuading it that the water is safe and it’s a fun environment. Horses are friendly kind of animals, and if they would see that their fellow-creatures are enjoying the sea, their fear will gradually disappear.

Safety Tips in the Water 

Swimming with your horse is fun, but it also poses several risks, especially if you’re in an ocean with big waves. So, here’s some of the precautionary measures that you must do ahead before taking your horse to the water:

  • Use a bridle and lead rope and make sure you can freely move your horse’s shoulder away on cue.
  • Ensure that there’s no obstacle in the swimming area and no steep drop-offs underwater.
  • When swimming in the ocean, check if the seafloor has sand, stones, or coral. Hard and uneven surfaces may hurt and injure your horse’s leg while swimming.
  • Horses can’t breathe underwater, so it would be best not to bring it to the sea if the waves are huge enough to wash over their heads because it can get them to drown.
  • Remove the saddle of your horse and other equipment that restricts the upward movement of their head because they need free reins to hold it a bit over the surface.
  • Ask your horse to wade into the water slowly and to come out before it feels nervous.
  • Let your horse lunge in a circle that is partly in the water and mostly on the shore.
  • When swimming, stay forward of the horse’s wither to avoid getting accidental kicks with its legs.
  • Don’t swim for too long. Ten minutes in the water is enough. Swimming is a tiring activity for a horse because it takes more energy in the water than on the ground. So, don’t overdo it. Take your horse to the beach after 5 or 7 minutes to take a break and check if it’s breathing returns to normal quickly.

Benefits of Swimming for Horses

Swimming has a variety of benefits to your horse, which is why it is used for training and rehabilitation of horses. Here are the perks of bringing your horse to the water:

It’s a good aerobic exercise

Swimming allows horses to move their legs intensively and increase their limb’s range of motion, which helps to build their core muscles. In fact, swimming is part of the physiotherapy regimes in equine pools. It’s a beneficial exercise that enhances muscle growth and heals horse’s serious injuries without having to carry their weight. It also helps to strengthen their heart and lungs, and stamina.

It can strengthen your bond with your pet

Swimming is a fun activity that can help you be closer to your horse. If you can would your horse overcome its fear of water, it will build unconditional trust upon you, and your bond will grow stronger.

So, why not try to create new memories with your horse by swimming together? It’ll be challenging at first, but you’ll surely have a great time. Don’t go to any swimming area with your horse alone, though. It would be best to have an experienced companion who can assist you anytime.  


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