When you think of animals in the water, a horse is not the first to come to mind. However, if introduced to the water properly, horses have a great time swimming! The Horse Fact Book notes that their legs move in a trotting motion to swim, so it is not only fun but a great workout on a warm day.
According to Equisearch, before swimming with a horse, water safety must be taught. First, make sure the water is free of drop-offs and large rocks that would impede movement. Use the same “forward” cue that would be used to have a horse enter a stall or trailer and ask them to come into the water. If the horse becomes nervous, come back out of the water. Repeat this until the horse shows a relaxed body posture upon entering the water.
When preparing for swimming, make sure not to use anything that could restrict the horse’s head. Breast collars, saddles, martingales, reins, and girths should be removed. Horses cannot hold their breath or breathe underwater, so if they become entangled in any of their gear, there is a real possibility of them drowning.
When selecting a place to swim, make sure there are no obstacles or drop-offs. Horses’ legs are long; use a long stick to probe the water bed to check for mud and ensure clearance for the horse’s legs. Ideally, the water bed will be gravelly, and the horse will have plenty of room.
Once the swimming hole is selected, lead the horse into the water. Start small with one hoof at a time. Allow the horse to smell the water and get the sense that it will not hurt them before leading them deeper. Once the horse is ready, move to ankle depth. Keep going until the horse is comfortably in the water up to its neck.
It is essential to follow the horse’s lead and stop when they are nervous. If they show any sign of hesitancy, it is time to back out of the water, give them a break, and try again. Swimming with horses can be fun, but you never want to turn an experience into a negative one by forcing the horse to do something they are not comfortable with.