Do Horses Swim? [Everything to Know About Equine Swimming

Due to their size and shape, you might wonder do horses swim?

Are they good at it, or do they even like it if they can swim?

You might be surprised by the answer!

Let’s look at everything you want to learn about swimming horses.

Do Horses Know How to Swim?

Yes! In fact, they are pretty good at it, though they are not capable of long-distance swimming.

Many horses love the water, while others hate it. More on that later.

An Appaloosa horse swimming under title Do Horses Swim

Many horse owners enjoy spending time with their horses in the water.

Swimming also has health benefits for equines.

Can Horses Swim With a Rider?

A horse can swim with a rider, which can be an amazing experience. In fact, near where I live, it is common to see some riders taking their horses into the sea for a swim.

The best way to enjoy this activity is to ride bareback. This prevents your saddle from getting destroyed or potentially causing an accident. You don’t want to fall off and get your foot stuck in the stirrup with water.

a lady riding a horse while its swimming

The best way to enjoy this activity is to ride bareback. This prevents your saddle from getting destroyed or potentially causing an accident.

You don’t want to fall off and get your foot stuck in the stirrup with water.

Can Horses Swim in Deep Water?

Horses can swim in deeper waters without any prior training. They have a natural instinct for how to swim, similar to dogs. They just know what to do.

A horse swimming in deep water under title do horses swim

They can swim in both freshwater and saltwater. Saltwater allows the horse to swim more easily because it is more buoyant than fresh water. 

Are horses good swimmers? All types of horses can swim well if they have to, including a piebald horse.

Do Horses Like To Play In The Water?

Some horses love playing in the water. In contrast, some are very cautious or won’t go into the water. I’ve met both types of horses.

In fact, two of my horses love it. One will always come over when you fill her water trough in the paddock to play. She sticks her face under the running water and puts her mouth in the trough, and splashes.

My other water baby will take any opportunity to paw and splash in a puddle or stream. She even rolls in a big puddle repeatedly if given the chance!

3 horses playing with water

Do horses like to swim? This comes down to the individual horse. Some love swimming, while others want nothing to do with it.

Just because a horse likes to play in the water doesn’t mean they will enjoy going into deep water and swimming. This brings up the question, are horses scared of water?

Yes, some have a fear of water. This is because horses have different depth perceptions to us and can’t see the bottom properly. They become scared or cautious when they can’t see where their feet are going.

That is why some horses won’t go into the water at all. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but can’t make him drink.

However, for some horses, this doesn’t seem to bother them, and they will happily go into any water to have fun or cool down.

READ MORE: Do Hoses Get Cold in the Winter?

The horses in this video are having a great time playing in the pond in their paddock.

Why & When Do Horses Swim?

There are many reasons why horses swim. Either naturally or when it is used as aquatic therapy or exercise.

#1 To Cool Off

During the heat of the summer, it is not uncommon to see horses venture into the water to stay cool. It can also help relieve them from biting insects. 

#2 Survival

In the wild, horses will need to swim to survive. Wild ponies cover a lot of ground, searching for food, shelter, and water to drink. Entering water also might be the best way to protect themselves from danger.

Sometimes, they will have to cross a pond or river to reach a better food source.

Check out the beautiful Salt River wild horses, get a drink, and then cross the river in this video.

#3 To Play

Some horses love to splash about in the water, as I’ve already talked about. This is one of the main reasons why a horse will swim naturally. 

#4 Training & Exercise

Swimming horses has long been a way to train and exercise horses. Did you know that there are swimming pools for horses? Yep, there are both horse swimming pools and water treadmills.

This video shows you the whole process of a horse on a water treadmill for the first time.

This type of exercise is used as a type of cross-training. It is a way to build strength without putting more stress on the horse’s joints. The water creates resistance and has several benefits.

This video shows you one type of horse swimming pool and how horse swims in the pool. This is a more circular pool type, which is different from a pool of water that goes along a lane.

#5 Form of Rehabilitation

Just like for dogs or humans, equine hydrotherapy is used as a way to rehabilitate injuries in horses. The water allows the horse to move and gain strength without adding concussions to its joints, tendon injuries, or ligaments.

#6 Surgery Recovery

Surgery for horses using a general anesthetic is risky, particularly when the horses are waking up. This is when many accidents happen, as the horse tries to get up too fast, leading to a catastrophic injury.

While it is still hard to access, some equine hospitals have a unique equine swimming pool they use when the horse is coming round from anesthesia. 

Here is the recovery pool at New Bolton Equine Hospital. The video also explains why waking up from general anesthesia is a risk.

Swimming for Horses: What Are the Benefits?

Swiming for horses has several therapeutic benefits, many of which equestrians have used for years. In recent years, vets have started recommending swimming for horses with injuries.

Let’s take a look at what some of the main benefits of swimming are here:

  • Can improve respiratory and cardiac strength, thus increasing lung capacity
  • Improving muscle fiber and muscle tone
  • Reduces the risk of injury to the legs or other vital musculoskeletal body parts
  • Stimulation of the mind
  • “Enhanced insulin-glucose metabolism” [1]
  • Improves stamina
  • Safer recovery from general anesthesia
  • Exercise variation
  • Cooling the legs and body
  • Non-concussive exercise
  • Helps stride length and flexibility [2]
  • Reduces inflammation and pain. [3]
  • Improves athletic performance
  • Prevents unnecessary strain of injuries
  • Improves fitness level overall

Risks of Swimming Horses

While swimming with a horse has several fantastic benefits, it also has risks. Some horses have problems that will worsen with swimming, and it won’t provide any physical help.

  • Developing dermatitis or other skin problems [1]
  • Though rare, swimming induced colic 
  • Injury if the horse panics in the pool or treadmill
  • Danger of drowning
  • Swimming can tire a horse quickly, so go very slowly
  • Exacerbate other health issues. Swimming is not suitable for certain horses
  • Taking to sea. A scared horse on its own or even with a rider in the ocean might swim out to sea. They usually swim in a straight line as turning is difficult. 
  • Not considering ocean conditions

Always study safety tips for swimming horses in the sea and follow them. This fun activity can turn very dangerous quickly.

What is the Most Effective Way for a Horse to Swim?

Swimming is arduous work for a horse. A short 5 to 10-minute swim is equivalent to cantering for several miles.

When introducing your horse to swimming, start slowing with short bursts. Do not venture into deep water until your horse is comfortable in the water and always take safety precautions.

Are horses good swimmers? Yes, they are, but they can only safely swim for short periods. Keep this in mind when spending time with your horse in the water. 

If your horse takes part in hydrotherapy, you will notice that time in the water is built up slowly.

Luckily horses know how to swim naturally, though some are better than others. They only have one style of swimming that looks like a very active walk, not dissimilar to the doggy paddle.

Take a look at this video with an underwater view of a horse in a pool to see how they move their legs when swimming.

How Fast and How Far Can a Horse Swim?

As I said, swimming is hard work for a horse, so they can’t move very fast in the water. So,  how fast can a horse swim? A horse’s maximum speed in the water is just 2.5 miles per hour.

This is significantly slower than the top speed of 55 miles per hour that a horse can gallop on land. 

The horse can only swim for a couple of minutes in the water and should never stay swimming in deep water for more than 10 minutes.

A horse can’t swim very far and probably only swim a few hundred feet safely as you can work out.

anchor text: do horses lay on their side 

FAQs

Can horses hold their breath underwater?

No, horses can’t hold their breath underwater, nor do they enjoy putting their head underwater. This puts them at a higher risk of drowning.

Is Swimming good exercise for horses?

Yes, swimming is good exercise for horses. Just make sure to do it correctly, in moderation, and if the horse does not have an issue, that will be made worse by it.

Conclusion

So, do horses swim? As you can see, the answer is yes. Spending time with your horse in the water is a fun way to enjoy your friend.

Whether your horse enjoys swimming is down to the individual. Of course, sometimes we ask our horses to swim for their benefits, such as aqua-therapy and training exercises.

Have you ever been swimming with a horse?

A majestic stallion swimming under title do horses swim

Does your horse swim? Please share your experiences below!

Resources

1. Swimming for Horses: Yea or Whoa? Kentucky Equine Research. Published March 27, 2019. https://ker.com/equinews/swimming-for-horses-yea-or-whoa/

2. Higher Spen Equine – Hydrotherapy. www.higherspenequine.co.uk. Accessed May 25, 2022. https://www.higherspenequine.co.uk/hydrotherapy/

3. Why might horses need hydrotherapy? Vet Help Direct. Published June 28, 2021. Accessed May 25, 2022. https://vethelpdirect.com/vetblog/2021/06/28/why-might-horses-need-hydrotherapy/

Siun L
Siun L

Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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