How to Swim With Your Horse & What To Expect

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Are you planning to get a good swim with your horse in the summer? Whether you’re swimming with your pet just for fun, exercise or hydrotherapy, it’s always an exhilarating experience for you and your horse. However, it can be quite a challenging activity for beginners and you’ll need to do some homework about how to swim without injuring your horse or getting trapped in deep water. 

So we’ve put together some tips to help you safely prepare for a swim with your horse. As a beginner, it’s always helpful to have a guide on how to swim with your horses, so in this article, we will discuss all things “swimming with horses” and lay out some things to consider before diving into this activity (no pun intended).

Before taking your horse to the water, understanding how they swim is crucial to ensuring both you and your horse are kept safe in the water. So let us first consider a horses’ swimming technique: 

How Do Horses Swim?

Horses propel through the water by trotting their legs, similar to how they trot on the ground. However, they can’t breathe underwater; that’s why they need to keep their heads and nostrils above the surface. Water should also not get into their ears due as it can cause infection if it gets blocked in the ear canal. 

Things To Consider Before Swimming With Your Horse

1. Horses naturally know how to swim, but the bigger question lies with you. Can you swim? If you can’t, it’s best to learn and be confident in the water before taking your horse for a swim. Once you are confident in the water, we recommend staying in the shallow water to start off to avoid any accidents until you and your horse are more comfortable swimming together.

2. You also need to know from the previous owners if your horse has been swimming before, has behavioral problems, or bad experience in the water that can cause trauma. Don’t forget to consider if your horse likes or dislikes waves, motorboats, or other distractions.  

3. Be sure to do your homework ahead of time to know if the water is safe from toxic organisms like blue-green algae or the presence of leeches or jellyfish found in the ocean, and snapping turtles found in Lakes. A wet horse is irresistible to some insects, so you should bring some insect repellant with you.  

4. Keep in mind that big waves are dangerous for horses; if it washes over your horses head, it might distress the horse and in more serious cases, may lead to drowning. We recommend swimming with your horse when the weather is calm and the waves are 0-2ft. Sea safety is essential for the wellbeing of you and your horse, make sure to research your swimming spot, be aware of any currents or strong riptides in the shore line. Swimming in these spots will quickly drain your horses energy and you risk getting pulled out to deeper waters.

5. Horses are not welcome everywhere, so check the rules of the beach or area before the swim, and if there are other swimmers or bathers on the beach, make sure that you won’t disturb them. 

6. Don’t forget to check the depth of the water and what lies on the seabed as well because rocks and corals can hurt your horse’s hooves, and your horse may find it hard to find its footing if there are sudden drops in the depth of the water. 

How To Swim With Your Horse

Good preparation beforehand is necessary to make sure you will have a safe and fun swimming activity with your horse, so here’s a quick guide on getting everything ready to swim with your horse safely. 

Preparing Your Horse For The Swim

Before bringing your horse into the water, you’ll need to do some ground training first: 

  • Moving away from pressure: If you swim alongside your equine, you need to stay at a distance from your horse to avoid getting kicked. If it comes close to you, you may use your hand to push the horse away by its shoulder.
  • Responding to reins and leg pressure: If you ride on your horse as it swims, it must react quickly to neck reining and your leg cues. 
  • Understanding and responding to your verbal cues: When your horse reaches the solid ground, it will possibly bolt forward. It could mean trouble if you are not prepared. 

Getting The Swimming Area Ready 

Before swimming, you need to find a good swimming spot and check if there are no obstacles in or under the water like trees, boulders, pilings, branches or any garbage, and deep mud. The best conditions for swimming are sandy or gravel-type bottoms, there must be a firm ground and a shoreline that gradually extends into the deep water. 

You also need to check if the area has enough space for a swim and its depth before taking your horse into it. It would help if you also found a dry spot where you can leave your saddle and tack. 

Introducing The Horse To The Water

Take your horse to the water slowly, letting it walk to the edge and sniff around. Then, encourage it to take a couple of steps toward the water, and if the horse bolts, let the horse relax and start over, taking a couple more steps forward. 

If it’s the horse’s first time to reach the water deep enough to swim, chances are it might panic or feel uneasy. But it can help if you can have an experienced horse lead the beginner horse or bring a friend with you who has some experience swimming with horses. However, you must keep a reasonable distance from each other to avoid a collision or getting each other kicked. 

Swimming With Your Horse

You have to choose how to spend time in the water with your four-legged companion: riding on their back or swimming in the water alongside them. 

Riding on a horse’s back as it makes its way in the water is hassle-free for you but difficult for the horse. You need to have good balance to prevent falling off next to the horse and getting hit by its legs. Using a saddle may be easier for you but remember that water can damage the leather. 

While you may enjoy riding your horse through a deep body of water, this will be a hard and tiring task for your horse. Therefore, you’ll eventually need to get off your equine to reduce its workload and ensure that it can keep its head, nose, and ears above water to minimize the risk of drowning. It may sound like additional work for you, but it can also be a fun exercise, besides, it’s called swimming with your horse for a reason, not “riding your horse through a deep body of water.” 

On the other hand, swimming beside your horse while it pulls you along is easier for your equine but riskier for you. You may need to hold a grip onto its mane by the withers and kick your feet to keep up with your horse. To steer your horse, just push his nose in the desired direction. Be ready when the horse reaches a depth they can touch because it might speed up and lurch out of the water. 

Additional Tips For A Safe Swim

Plan Your Gear

Most people often swim with their horse bareback, but you can also use an inexpensive bareback pad to ensure you have enough grip whilst in the water. Never go for a swim with a tie-down, martingale, grazing reins, or side reins that restricts the horse from moving its head freely. These are significant drowning hazards that you should avoid. A halter, nylon, or bitless bridle are more preferable options, but a well-oiled leather can also do the job. The only necessary gear for you is a safety helmet. It can help avoid getting hit by a churning hoof. 

Never Swim Alone With Your Horse

Take a friend with experience in swimming with horses or hold a swim party with other riders. They can help you when you need some backup, but make sure that are confident in swimming in open waters and have good control of their horse. 

Pay Attention To Your Equine

Give your horse time to adjust to the feeling of buoyancy by going into the water slowly. Grab the mane or neck rope if you need something to hold on to. You may also need to keep a distance from others in the party to avoid collisions. This is why having a snaffle or hackamore with a milder direct-rein effect is necessary to steer your horse. 

Don’t Overdo It

Swimming is a physically exhausting activity for both the horse and the rider, so you shouldn’t overdo it. Don’t let your horse get too tired in the middle of the deep water. It would be best if you ended the swim while it still has the energy to go back to the bay – taking a break after 5 to 7 minutes of the swim is also a wise way to help it cool down and relax.


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