Can Horses Swim? Everything You Need To Know About Horse Swimming

Can Horses Swim & Important Things To Know About Horses Swimming!

The answer is yes, horse can indeed swim. In fact, they are actually very competent swimmers, due to their huge lungs, which enables them to naturally float.

Horses have a natural instinct to swim when they hit deep water and readily perform a paddle like action, not too dis-similar from a trotting action. A horses’ natural ability is necessary as a means of survival.

Horses Use To Swim To Survive In The Wild!

Horses are born with an instinct to swim. They have survived for thousands of years, due to their innate ability to adapt and travel.

This is a vital trait, as their ability to find richer food sources as ensured the survival for the equine species. This journey to greener pastures would often involve river crossings, not only to find those important food sources, but also to escape dangers.

This is similar to zebras today and is part of the natural herd movement, which is best demonstrated during the Great Migration, between Kenya’s Maasai Mara and Tanzania’s Serengeti, travelling towards better grazing areas.

How Do Horses Swim?

As long as a horse keeps a forward momentum while submerged in water, their body will stay afloat. As horses are unable to breathe underwater, they naturally keep their heads above the surface. Keeping their mouth and nose above the water, therefore enabling them to breathe. The most effective way for a horse to swim is a paddle-like action.

Due to natural water resistance, this form of exercise is physically demanding on a horse and is therefore likely to increase heart rate and cause heavy breathing. When a horse is swimming it is essential to allow it to do what feels natural in the water and avoid hindering any movements.

horse grazing by river side

Do Horses Like To Swim & What Is A Horse’s Fascination With Swimming?

Many horses are intrigued by water. They may test the water by pawing at it, rolling in the shallow ends or even blow bubbles. Horses are individuals, therefore it’s certainly not a ‘one size fits all.’ While some horses may love swimming, others are less keen and could be for good reasons such as:


  • Limited depth perception: Horses naturally cannot accurate perceive depth, therefore they have no idea what they are walking into and this could be pretty scary for them.
  • Bad Prior Experience: Some horses may have had a bad experience in water, therefore see water as scary and negative.
  • They simply don’t like getting wet! Just like other particular animals, they just don’t like getting wet, it’s as simple as that.
horse back riding horses while swimming

Can You Ride A Horse When It Is Swimming?

You can absolutely ride a horse while it swims and it’s exciting to feel its power propelling through the water. However, it is vitally important that you do not hinder your horse’s movement. While horses can naturally swim, it’s not necessarily the most natural action for them. Therefore, be mindful not to obstruct them. It is also important to keep a loose rein, to avoid blocking the horses’ natural head movement in the water. You should also remove the saddle before swimming, to allow the horse to move with restriction.

horses swimming while on horse back

What Are The Benefits Of Swimming For Horses?

Swimming provides extensive benefits for horses and is a good form of rehabilitation and training, as well as a fun recreational activity.

Aqua therapy is an excellent form of low impact exercise for both humans and horses. Combined with groundwork, the majority of horses show a vast improvement in fitness, as well as athletic performance. Because of the low impact, horses are also less likely to experience injury from aqua therapy.

Water exercises use the muscles in a new and different way, as well as working them from different angles, which ultimately increases muscle mass, flexibility, and endurance, as well as improving the range and motion within joints. Working a horse in water can result in a stronger, more balanced horse, with less risk of injury, compared to traditional methods.

Swimming is hugely beneficial for improving fitness, endurance and stamina, alongside flexibility and stride. The natural resistance of water pushes the horse to work harder, increasing the capacity of the heart and lungs, as well as the toning muscles.

Swimming can also aim Rehabilitation.  Many vets will recommend hydrotherapy for leg and tendon injuries as well as for muscle damage. Because this treatment doesn’t put any unnecessary strain on the existing injuring and also exercises the injury, it is a very effective form of rehabilitation.

horse bathing in river

How Fast Can A Horse Swim & How Long Can They Swim For?

When it comes to speed, a horse is nowhere near as quick in the water as on land, reaching a maximum swimming speed of about 4km/hour.

Horses exert a lot of energy from swimming. In fact, a 10-minute swim can be equivalent to cantering for several miles!

In open water, there are many factors to consider when making an estimate on how long a horse can swim for. It is also relative depending on the individual horse. As horses float well, due to their huge lungs, they don’t waste lots of energy trying to keep their bodies up on top of the water; the energy is spent thrusting forward. A horse moving in calm water moving slowly can swim for a longer period of time compared to a horse who is swimming against a current.

It’s important to look out for signs of fatigue in your horse, as horses have different fitness levels and different abilities.

aqua exercising horse in river water

Is There A Difference Between Swimming In Freshwater Or Saltwater?

In theory, yes. Saltwater provides more buoyancy than freshwater because of the higher density of saltwater. You may therefore notice that you can swim faster through saltwater, compared to fresh water. This is because buoyancy allows you to float higher in the water. However, there are other factors to take into consideration, such as depth and current.

Our Final Thoughts

Horses can naturally swim and float and swimming on horseback is absolutely possible. Swimming also provides countless fitness and rehabilitation benefits for horses.

When done responsibly, swimming on horseback is an amazing and unique experience. It is important to remember that a horse’s individual abilities differ, depending on relative factors and also swimming conditions.

We know this because we live and breathe horses!

If you want to find out more about what we do and where out stables are located, then click here ←



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