Can Horses Swim? Everything about Horses and Swimming

September, already? And you have not even tried swimming with your horse? If that’s the case, give it a try before the winter comes. Here is complete guide about horses and swimming.

Can Horses swim? Yes, horses can swim by trotting in water. Horses instinctively keep their head above the water for breathing. Swimming helps to improve the fitness and stamina of horses. It helps in strengthening muscles and tendons.

Horses do not need to be taught they just naturally know how to swim. But this does not mean you can just take your horse into the water there are few things you need to know. After all, your horse’s safety is your biggest concern. Isn’t it? Follow me down to know everything about swimming with horses.

But if they know how to swim then what’s the problem? What do I and my horse need to practice?

There are so many things you need to know, rest assured, we are discussing all of them here but first, let’s see how helpful it is.

How do Horses Swim?

As soon as they get into the water they know they can not hold their breath so they keep their head above the water. And as long as they keep the forward momentum their body stays afloat. They naturally know how to move their legs to keep their stability and balance intact.

This is an excellent time to take advantage of it.

It’s September the temperature is decreasing and the water is turning a little colder. The colder the water, the quicker it is in treating injuries and generating a sense of relief. It’s hard to get into the water in winters so take advantage of this balanced hydrotherapy as soon as you can.

What swimming does to horses? And how is it beneficial?

Swimming is a recreational activity not just for you but for the horses as well. Swimming is beneficial in many ways. It does not just spice up the same old boring routine but also helps with some medical issues and it is an excellent exercise. And now with the presence of equine therapy pools, this recreational activity is becoming a regular part of their routine because of its health and therapeutic effect.

 It helps in

Improving glucose and insulin levels

Research conducted on thoroughbred horses as they are the only horses that go through multiple pieces of training including swimming on a daily basis and it showed a remarkable increase in blood glucose and blood insulin levels. Ground exercises can also help in boosting glucose and insulin levels but swimming is easy as it gives the horse better control. 


Swimming is an excellent workout for humans and animals(who know how to swim). The movement against the water helps in building stamina, improving endurance, and taking the stress off the horse’s body.

Strengthening muscles and tendons

It is an excellent strengthening training as the liquid resistance helps in building muscle strength. Besides strengthening muscles and tendons, it also helps in reducing musculoskeletal injuries(tendinitis DDFT: tendinitis). Repeated routine exercises are blamed to cause contractures, stiffness, and spasms. Swimming gives room to the muscles and limbs to stretch freely thus promoting muscle symmetry, core balance, and flexibility.

Research showed swimming helps in improving strength and endurance more quickly than any other exercise. And you know why the superiority is given to the swimming over ground exercises? Because water resistance is much stronger than air resistance.

Treating injuries

Water has been used for cooling and healing injuries for ages. It’s healing properties help in reducing pain and recovery. It becomes even more necessary for horses taking part in races, usually suffering from tendons and ligament injuries, water helps in bringing them back to their peak performance.

Improving cardiovascular respiratory system

Swimming is known to improve the contractility of the heart as it contracts and relaxes the heart at the same time. This improved condition then helps in enhancing systemic circulation. This increased respiration improves oxygen supply to the tissues which help in bringing the production of lactic acid down responsible for muscle fatigue. When the horse starts swimming on the daily basis the heart rate goes up to the 150-200 beats per minute thus inhaling almost 90 liters of oxygen in a minute which is enough for tissues to reach their peak performance.

Psychological benefits of swimming

Injured horses are seldom allowed to leave the stall to speed up the recovery process. Not leaving the stall, living in a confined place is against their nature you may have noticed horses going crazy in such situations. Like humans, they need to keep moving for sound and a healthy mind. Swimming eases this process by keeping them sane in this entire process.

Now Let’s get into the basics:

how do horses swim

Horses are natural swimmers. How do they do it?

Yes, they have known the art of swimming since the beginning of time. Before being adopted they were living in the wild. They were crossing rivers, lakes, and puddles of water to avoid the danger.

Do horses like to swim?

It is hard to answer. They are pretty much like humans. Some of them will be seen enjoying it and others would not even be willing to put their foot in the water.

And not all horses are great at swimming

Not all horses are great swimmers. The horses that have spent some part of their life living in the wild are great swimmers but those who have opened their eyes in the backyard and have only lived there are probably gonna face some difficulty with swimming.

It’s tiring but do they enjoy it anyway?

If you have come across such activities you may have noticed the horse is breathing heavily. It doesn’t mean they are tired already. They breathe heavily as soon as they get into the water. Because of the resistance of water, they find it very tiring.

How long horses can swim?

Swimming is tiring but they will continue swimming anyway if you are not taking them out. 10 minutes of swimming is equal to several miles of continuous running. It’s better to start with 3 to 4 minutes of swimming and then gradually adding more minutes to the routine. Once they are used to this new routine they will be able to swim for some more minutes but why tire them out? Put a full stop at 10 minutes.

How fast can horses swim?

On average, the swimming speed is seen ranging from 0.79-1.28 m/s.

Horses roll after swimming

You might find it surprising if you have never taken your horse out on swimming. They like to roll after swimming for some unknown reasons. Some say that they roll because they do not like the feeling of being wet. Try brushing them off as soon as they get out of the water, if you find this about swimming with a horse annoying.

Can horses swim in deep waters?

Fortunately, horses can swim in deep waters but it’s getting risky if you do not know how to swim or if you are not being careful about it. Swimming with a horse in deep water is a unique experience and fun but it doubles the danger. Only an experienced person can handle this situation. So, if it’s your first time with a horse It would be better not to step into the deep water. Step in only when you are confident that you can handle this.

Can Horses Swim in the Ocean?

Of course, they can but you need to keep their safety your priority. There are few things about the ocean that makes this recreational activity the worst thing to try on the planet Earth. It is advised to remove saddles and other such aiding equipment while swimming in the ocean for free movement. And the other precautionary measure you need to take just not for swimming in the ocean but in lakes as well, do not swim with your horse alone.

Take someone else with you to help you in danger. Considering a few things make it all fun and safe but for this, you need to ask yourself a few questions first and they should be:

  • Is the water safe? As the blue-green algae outbreak has made several swimming places unsafe for humans and animals.
  • Is this ocean at an even angle? Not all ocean floors are even, there can be a drop or something. 
  • How deep would this water be? Is it too deep for your horse? 
  • What would seafloor be made of? Would it hurt my horse? Is it of sand, stones or corals, etc? Sandy floors are safe stones and corals can hurt your horse’s legs.
  • The intensity and the height of waves. Will your horse be able to handle the sudden waves? You and your horse will only be able to enjoy swimming in the ocean either at peace or when the waves are not stronger.
  • Is it horse-friendly? The environment should be horse-friendly or at least there should be fewer human hindrances while swimming. 
  • And of course, rules and regulations. You need to check if the authorities allow your horse to swim or not.

Watch out for leeches, jellyfishes and snapping turtles, etc.

As you expand the horizon for them, the danger starts lurking in the shadow. You should watch out for leeches in water, snapping turtles in the ponds, and jellyfishes in the oceans. They all are not going to be nice with your horse as they and some other insects find the wet horse tempting. Insect repellent is a great idea to kick some danger off the ocean.

can horses swim in the ocean

Can you enjoy riding while your horse swims?

Can horses swim with a rider? Riding while the horse is swimming sounds fun but this is going to restrict their movement. You can ride but I would recommend not to, as it is tiring for them already and you would definitely not want to put an extra burden on them. You can go riding once or twice to get the taste of its power moving on water but do not make it a habit. 

Take the burden off their shoulder

Horses are submerged in water, while swimming, you can only see their head moving above the water. So while riding you too are pretty much in the water as well. Don’t swim with them to brush the burden off their shoulders. Swimming is tiring already and putting your weight on their back is cruel.

Stay on their back

While being on their back do not even think of leaning towards their neck as it will take things out of your hands. Stay on their back for a safer and fun ride.

Some horses find getting into water scary:

Are Horses Afraid of Swimming?

Like humans, they have feelings, and their likes and dislikes are different. Not all are afraid of water and there is no particular reason to be afraid of. Some horses are afraid of water may be because:

  • They have had a bad experience with water.
  • They do not like being wet.
  • They have never faced such a situation in their life. And this strange feeling makes them a little nervous.

But there is a way to overcome the fear

Taking baby steps is the key to add something new to your routine. You have probably heard someone saying this to you. The same goes for the horse. Do not get them to deep waters the first day just because they know how to swim. You will only be calling danger this way. Know the basics of swimming, take them to practice first and follow the precautionary measures to overcome their fear of water.

Here’s how you can build their confidence

You can only build their confidence if you know what makes them go nuts. Boosting their confidence is not a hard nut to crack. You just have to make the place and the environment a well-known place for them. Take them to the beaches and let them feel the peace of the beach sunset. The sound of waves and the sensory effect of water is going to take the fear off their shoulder.

Seek help to make it safer

Every horse out there is different. Self-judgment is not enough to get benefits from this activity. As you may fail to understand what needs to be done. So it’s always better to ask the veterinarian if your horse can or can not swim. If swimming will help your horse or not. Don’t be the judge, ask the qualified person.

Introduce swimming to Horses

If you are thinking of taking your horse on a swim with you for the first time you have to introduce them in the right way.

The first thing you need to do is get them used to be wet as most horses do not like this feeling. See their reaction by spraying some water to check if they are okay with being wet or not? If they are half of your problem is solved but if they are not you have to keep on spraying on a daily basis until they start enjoying it.

Now they are okay with their body dripping water. The next thing you need to teach them is the feeling of keeping their feet in the water. Walking them to the puddle of water is an ideal way to make it usual for them if they have never faced anything like this before.

Do not rush this process. Take a ride to the beach in the bright daylight. Let them get familiar with the place. Let them go a little forward than the puddle water and then take them out, deeper, and then bring them back. Keep practicing this until their fear is gone.

Use the lead rope as a guiding star to cue him in the water. Always make sure the direction of the nose is towards you as it will help in following the directions provided by you.

Teach him to back off immediately as you pull the rope. And do not skip the circle practice even if you are confident that your horse knows how to swim. Make them go-round on the part of the circle on the trap and the part of it off the trap on a daily basis to master the skill.

These were the few basic things you can try on your own to put a full stop to the fearful swimming training session. You will start seeing the results in just two or three days for sure. You do not have to follow all of them, you can add some more to make it more comfortable for your horse to swim.

Safety tips

  • Before jumping into the ocean or deep water make them swim in a swimming pool or try crossing a stream with them. It will give you the idea of their swimming skills.
  • If they have no such history gradually introduce water to them.
  • Select an obstacle-free area. There should be no boats and watch out for steep drop-offs.
  • Do not go far. So, if your horse gets tired or nervous you can come back before things start getting serious.
  • To avoid being kicked off by the horse always stay a few steps forward.
  • Keep and use bridle and lead rope in your hands for better control. You can use the lead rope to move them in the desired directions.
  • Remove saddles, griths, reins, breast collars, and martingales. Do not trust the movies.
  • Select a sandy or gravel type floor to start with.
  • Give them some time to convince themselves that water is a lovely thing.
  • While making them circle around you make sure their nose is towards you and their neck is bent.
  • Start with walking in the water then move towards swimming.
  • Relax and handle things with patience.

Do not forget to bring a camera

Now you know the basics and risks of swimming with the horses I am pretty sure you are going to have fun riding a swimming horse. Would you not want to film it or at least photograph it? I bet you would never want to miss this opportunity of taking the best photographs so better take a camera with you to film this unforgettable experience.

Caution while Swimming with Horse

Horses do not know how to hold their breath so if you see their head going under the water you should know what to do. You may see them drowning pretty soon if you do not know what to do. Stay alert while riding the horse in the water and do not let the water get into their ear. It may cause infection serious enough to visit the doctor. And remember, horses are not that great swimmers so your reckless behavior can put pressure on their chest area.

Frequently Asked Questions

What seawater does to horses?

Salty seawater works as cold therapy for the horses it helps in relieving pain. Besides relieving pain, it emboldens the load-bearing aspect of training and hoof growth. 

Do horses like being ridden while swimming?

Horses like being ridden but swimming is no less than an intense cardio workout for them. It’s tiring and they are breathing heavily so they will probably not enjoy being ridden.

How well do horses swim?

Horses know how to swim and they swim pretty well. But all horses are not the same. Some are afraid of water and some simply are just not that great at swimming. But in general, they are great swimmers and they need not be taught.

What needs to be taught to the horses to swim?

Specifically for swimming, I would say nothing. Most of them know how to swim. But for your horse’s safety and as a preventive measure, swimming training is a good idea.

Are horses afraid of water?

Not really, they are not afraid of water. Pet horses that have been living in the backyard since their birth are exceptions.

Is swimming good for horses?

Not just for horses, swimming is a great workout for everyone. It helps them physically and psychologically. It provides assistance in improving stamina, cardiovascular and respiratory system, and strengthening muscles and tendons, etc

Is riding a swimming horse dangerous?

Yes, it is for newbies. Trained owners know to handle the risk of being fallen and kicked off in the water. To minimize the risk you need to know how to swim.

Is riding while the horse is swimming tiring?

Yes, it is super tiring but some people find it enjoyable too. It is not the same for everyone. Newbies are mostly seen complaining that it is tiring because they do not know the tricks of handling the horse in the water. You can only enjoy 3 to 4 minutes of the ride in the water.

In brief, horses can swim some of them might not need to be taught. But not all horses are the same. And yes, the fun part is even you can enjoy the swimming ride on their back. If they have never experienced swimming their entire life follow the above-mentioned safety tips to ensure their safety.

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They can swim in the deep water and even oceans but this innocent creature will need your assistance. And the most important thing you should be aware of is going alone with the horse for swimming is not a great idea. Take a ride before winter takes over!

Hi, I am Waqar and active in the horse world since 2012. I have MSc (Hons) in Agriculture from the University of Agriculture Faisalabad. I love to solve equine health care issues and note down in the form of research papers. I have written hundreds of equine health care, accessories, names, and history-related blogs. My equine related work is watering a lot of horse-related magazines and blogs.

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