can horses swim, and is it safe

Can Horses Swim, and is it Safe?

I’m sure we all agree that horses have an instinct to swim. However, this doesn’t give us a complete insight into the question, “can horses swim, and is it safe?” Its believed that this evolved at a time when they were living in the wild.

The reason was to enable them to cross deep waters to escape danger or find new grazing ground. Thus, this article will explore the facts about horses and swimming. Join me as we discover these fascinating facts. The fact is, horses can swim, and they are very good at it.

Do Horses Like to Swim?

As human beings, we have different personalities, and going for a dip is something we choose. Some of us like it; others don’t. In the same way, all horses are different, and some like swimming and many that don’t.

Thus, you will find horses testing the water using their feet. Others roll in shallow ends. Did you know horses can blow bubbles?  

However, there are reasons why your horse won’t swim, and this might come in handy in helping the horse overcome this fear. 

Horses Don’t like Getting Wet.

Some horses don’t like getting wet. However, you can distract them by giving them a treat which gets their mind off thinking about getting water on them. You won’t believe me, but a horse will do anything to get a piece of mint or cinnamon cookie.

Perceived Depth

Horses are prey animals and hence have their eyes on the side of the head. As such, it’s difficult for them to judge distances. Thus, going into the water can be a scary experience. Being patience with your horse and introducing it gradually to water will help create confidence in your horse.

Bad Experience

Although horses are natural swimmers, their first experience in the water is essential because it shapes how the horse feels about water the next time you take them for a swim. 

A bad experience in the past can make a horse cautious about swimming, particularly so in open water. Giving your horse time to learn that water isn’t going to hurt is the best way to go.

Things to Know about Horses Swimming

Horses can swim and are competent swimmers. This competence is due to their large lungs that enable them to float naturally. When they hit deep waters, they paddle; a movement not too different from trotting. 

This natural ability is necessary for survival. However, this doesn’t mean that you can take your horse for a swim without planning. You need to know a few things while keeping the safety of your horse in mind.

You can ride your horse while it swims. The feeling of its power as it propels itself through the water is exciting. However, as much as horses can swim naturally, do not hinder their movement. Keep a loose rein so that you don’t obstruct their natural head movement in the water. 

Also, remove the saddle before swimming to allow them to move freely.

How do Horses Swim?

Horses are natural swimmers and will float in water. By keeping a forward momentum when submerged in water, their body remains afloat. The horse then moves its legs to maintain balance and stability.

Since water has natural resistance, the paddling is demanding to the horse but beneficial to the horse. As such, its heart rate is likely to increase, thus causing heavy breathing. Therefore, allow your horse to do what is feels natural without hindering its movement.

However, horses cannot breathe underwater. Thus, they keep their head above the surface, helping them breathe. When their head is underwater, they can get stressed. If it’s windy in the ocean and there are big waves, there is an increased danger of drowning. 

Thus, if the horse gets its head underwater, water might run in its ears. Horse ears have no lower passage to drain water, and hence it will build up inside them, causing discomfort and possible infection.

Is Swimming Good for Your Horse?

Swimming is suitable for all living creatures, and horses are no exception. Water has natural buoyancy, thus being able to support the horse’s body. Therefore, the muscles and tendons move freely without any restrictions. That’s why there is the use of hydrotherapy as a part of training competition horses. 

A combination of hydrotherapy and groundwork leads to improvement in fitness and athletic performance. Since its alow impact exercise, there is less risk of injury to your horse.

Other benefits include:

Aerobic Exercise

While swimming, the horse legs move intensively, thus increasing their limb range motion which helps build their core muscles. The movement in water helps to improve fitness and endurance. At the same time, it helps in toning the horse’s muscles.

In addition, it helps strengthen the heart and lungs and provides stamina to the horse.


Swimming is used in physiotherapy, and the exercise helps boost muscle development, especially in horses with injuries as they aren’t carrying their weight. Since there is no strain on the trauma, then the healing process is quicker. 

Strengthening the Bond

How do you get closer to your horse? Well, swimming is fun and can help you create a bond with your horse. Swimming will help your horse overcome its fright for water and build an unconditional trust in you. Hence, your bond will grow closer.

It’s Fun

We can’t overlook the fact that it’s fun swimming with your horse. However, observe safety measures to avoid your horse drowning or causing injury to you.

Is it Safe to Ride Your Horse while it’s Swimming?

You can ride your horse while it’s swimming. If you haven’t, then try it. However, it would be best if you didn’t hinder your horse’s movement in any way. The horse needs to move its head freely to be able to lift it above the waves.

When a horse comes out of the water, it rolls on the ground. As such, when you see it paw the ground, then it’s time to jump off quickly.

How Fast Can a Horse Swim?

Horses are known to be quick on land. However, it’s not the case while swimming as their swimming speed is about 4km/hour.

There is alot of energy exerted while swimming. Thus, swimming for ten minutes is equivalent to cantering for some miles.

There are many elements to consider when estimating how long a horse can swim in open water. In addition, it depends on the individual horse. Due to their enormous lungs, horses will float well in water without using lots of energy trying to keep their bodies on top of the water. Most of the power is spent in thrusting forward. 

A horse moving slowly in calm water can swim for a long time compared to one swimming against the current. Since horses have different levels of fitness and ability, you must look for signs of fatigue.

Can a Horse Swim in Open Water?

There is no known reason why horses can’t swim in open water. However, this might be dangerous if you arent prepared. First, if you haven’t learned how to swim, don’t take your horse into the water. Learn how to swim first to reduce any risks. 

Secondly, horses are herd animals and will be happy going into the water with other horses. In addition, ask other riders to accompany you. These riders will come in handy if something happens to you or your horse.

However, if you cant avoid going alone, then consider the following.

  • Check how deep the water is and a way to get to the shallow end quickly if an emergency arises.
  • If there is a sudden drop in the water, it will be difficult for your horse to get its footing. Thus, be cautious and examine the swimming area first.
  • Horses don’t like obstacles in their way while swimming. Thus driftwood in the water will scare your horse. On the other hand, motor-driven boats will make the horse nervous.
  • Check the ocean bed for sand, rocks, and corals. The uneven and hard ground may hurt the horse’s legs.
  • Waves that are too big mean that the horse will not keep its head above the water. So please don’t enter the water until it’s calm. Also, consider the current in the ocean. If it’s too strong, then the horse uses alot of energy and tire quickly. For a strong water current, don’t go deeper than the horse’s knees.

Safety Tips in the Water

Although swimming with your horse is fun, you need to take preventive measures, especially in an ocean with big waves. Below are some of the steps to take before taking your horse to the water.

  • Obstacles and steep dropoffs underwater can be dangerous to your horse. Thus, ensure the swimming area is safe enough to avoid your horse drowning.
  • Using a bridle and a lead rope ensures that you can move your horse’s shoulder freely.
  • To avoid restricting the horse’s upward movement of their head, remove the saddle and other equipment. Horses need free reins to hold their heads a bit over the surface.
  • Allow your horse to wade through the water slowly and to come out before it feels nervous.
  • Since horses can’t breathe underwater, don’t bring them to the sea if the tides are high enough to wash over their heads since this can make them drown.
  • Swimming is a tiring activity as the horse takes up more energy than on the ground. Thus 10 minutes are enough for a good swim. Allow the horse to get back to the beach after 5 to 7 minutes and check its breathing.


Swimming comes naturally to horses. However, just like human beings, some like to swim while others don’t. Through proper training and patience, you can help your horse overcome the fear of water. It’s also good to note that swimming is a great way to rehabilitate horses with leg injuries.

Thus, take that trip down the ocean and have fun with your horse. However, put into consideration the safety tips above, and you will have no regrets.