Can Horses Swim? – Yes, But Not Always!

Water and horses. Do they really mix? From the looks on the horses’ toes and their displeasure when asked to cross even the smallest puddles, I think it’s a fair question! Here’s what you need to know about horses and swimming.

Can horses really swim? Horses are naturally capable of swimming, and they move their legs as if they were trotting through the water. Swimming is an excellent endurance workout for horses and can be used for recreational purposes as well as fitness and rehabilitation to build or restore muscle mass and strengthen tendons.

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How do Horses Swim?

Horses, like many other mammals, have a natural instinct to swim in deep water. It is believed that this ability dates back to when they lived in the wild and had to cross rivers to escape danger or reach new pastures. It was simply part of their natural movements in nature.

When a horse is immersed in water, its body stays above the water while maintaining the forward momentum, and instinctively raises its head above the surface to breathe. The legs typically move like a paddle to maintain balance and stability in the water.

Because of the natural resistance offered by the water, swimming is physically demanding for a horse and it is common for it to breathe heavily during this type of exercise. In the following video, you can see how a horse typically moves and breathes while swimming.

It is important to know that horses cannot hold their breath the same way we do. This means that if the horse’s head goes underwater, the risk of drowning is very high. Therefore, it is important not to rush the horse’s acclimatization process to water and swimming. Due to the particular anatomy of the horse’s ears, where there is no lower passage for water drainage, it is important to avoid water entering this cavity, as this could cause discomfort or even an ear infection.

Do Horses Like to Swim or Are They Afraid of Water?

  • Horses are individuals, just like us, and even though they have a natural instinct to swim when they enter deep water, it doesn’t necessarily mean they like it. Comfort varies from horse to horse. Some are happy to be approached directly, while others are skeptical and nervous. It can take a lot of time and patience to get a horse used to swimming.
  • These are some of the reasons why some horses may be afraid of the water.
  • Horses have limited depth perception, which means that wading in water is basically like walking into the complete unknown. And that’s pretty scary!
  • Some horses may have had bad experiences with water in the past and therefore associate it with something negative.
  • They just don’t like the feeling of being wet. Just like certain dogs, cats, or other animals, some horses don’t like being wet. Frustrating? Yes!

Is Swimming Good for Horses?

Swimming has many benefits for horses, so it is often used for training and rehabilitation purposes.


Swimming is a great way to keep a horse in shape while rebuilding and toning muscles and strengthening tendons after an injury, without the horse having to carry the weight. As a result, swimming in horse pools is often part of many physical therapy regimes.


As in humans, swimming is an aerobic exercise, so it is a great way to build endurance and fitness for horses. Swimming regularly strengthens the horse’s heart and lungs.

Because of the way horses move in water, swimming helps increase the range of motion of the limbs. This in turn can increase flexibility and stride length, which is highly desirable in many equine sports. One thing to keep in mind about swimming as part of a training program is that it also works the muscles that are typically undesirable for horses in competitive sports, such as the muscles used to keep the head up and above water. However, this is only a problem if swimming is the predominant or only activity performed by the horse.


Swimming is also a fun activity to interrupt a walk on a hot summer day! If you have confidence in your horse and know how it reacts to water, we recommend it!

Can Horses Swim in the Ocean?

Horses can swim in the ocean and swimming with your horse is one of those things that can be an incredible experience, but can also be wrong very quickly. Here are a few things to consider before taking the plunge, so to speak.

How deep is the water? Is there a consistent angle or slope?

What is the nature of the ocean floor? Is it sand, rocks, coral, etc.? Remember that hard, uneven surfaces can injure a horse’s legs when swimming.

Are there waves? Remember that horses cannot hold their breath. So don’t swim in the ocean if the waves are big enough to wash their heads.

Is the current strong? If so, stay on land or just tip your feet. This can still be a refreshing break for both of you!

Check your surroundings. Are other people on the beach or in the vicinity disturbed? Are there people swimming there? Show consideration for others.

Rules and regulations: Are horses allowed, and are they allowed in the water? Many public beaches have restrictions, so look for appropriate signs.

Remove the saddle and consider a little less bridle. Be sure to remove ANY equipment that restricts upward movement of the head, as the horse needs free reins to keep it on the surface to breathe.

We do not recommend swimming alone with your horse. First of all, it is safer to be with two or more people in case something happens. Second, because horses are herd animals, it is easier to convince a hesitant horse to go into the water if it can follow another.

Can You Ride a Horse While It Swims?

It is normal to drive while he swims and it is exciting to feel his power moving through the water. But we must keep in mind that it is not his natural element, and it is important not to hinder his movements or impede him. While doing this, make sure you don’t pull on the rain (if you choose to keep the bridle). If you need to hold onto something, reach into the mane for support.

Swimming is very strenuous for horses. Therefore, pay attention to your horse and get out of the water while it still has a good energy level. Reward it with some snacks and a break in the shade when you’re done.

How long can horses swim for?

The resistance of the water can make swimming quite tiring for horses, so they should not swim for too long at a stretch. After all, the effort they put in during a 10-minute swim can be equivalent to a mile-long gallop.

However, they can also swim for much longer, as Rebel Rover proved in 2016. The Australian racehorse decided to break away from its rider before swimming 6.8 miles (11 km) off the coast of Brisbane. It took a team of water police officers and volunteers about 90 minutes to “rescue” the five-year-old, who was a bit tired. Apparently, he had only done a couple of short 5 to 10 minute swims prior to this event.

Can you ride your horse while it swims?

With modern technology as sophisticated as it is today, it is often difficult to tell the difference between reality and CGI in movies, so despite the fact that we see people riding horses in deep water in movies, we still wonder if it is really possible. The simple answer to this question is yes, you absolutely can ride your horse while it is swimming, in fact I would go so far as to say if you can, you absolutely should. However, I would add that it is important that you stay out of your horse’s way and that you do not impede his movements. This is especially true for his head, he needs to be able to move it freely so he can lift it over the waves.

Most horses roll after they come out of the water. So if your horse starts pawing at the ground, you know it’s time to jump off quickly.

Can horses swim in the open ocean?

There is no reason why horses can’t swim in the open sea or ocean, but it can be dangerous if you are not careful and prepared. If you can’t swim, you shouldn’t take your horse into the water or you could get into trouble. It is also advisable to go with other riders. Horses are herd animals and prefer to go into the water with other horses.

If you decide to ride your horse in the ocean, you should consider the following.

  1. How deep is the water? Are you able to quickly get into shallower water when you need to?
  2. Does it get deep slowly or is there a sudden drop? If the bottom drops off suddenly, your horse may have trouble finding his footing at first.
  3. What is the seabed made of? Is it sand, rocks, coral, etc.? A hard and uneven bottom can hurt your horse’s legs.
  4. Are there any obstacles in the water? While motorboats can obviously unsettle horses, even something as innocuous as driftwood can seem scary to a horse.
  5. How high are the waves? If the waves are too big, don’t enter the water, as your horse may not be able to keep his head above the waves.
  6. What is the current like? Horses can swim easily, but they also get tired quickly and their energy level drops much faster in strong currents. If the current is strong, you should go no farther than knee level (the horse’s knee, not the rider’s).
  7. Will you disturb other people? The ocean and beach are for everyone, so be careful not to disturb other swimmers or bathers.
  8. What are the rules in the area? Not all areas allow horses (or other animals) in the water or on the shore. Find out before you head out, after all, you don’t want to show up somewhere only to find that you’re not allowed to swim there.
  9. Is the water safe? There have been a number of cases of organisms, such as cyanobacteria (or blue-green algae, as they are also called), that can be very toxic to humans and animals.
  10. Is there anything you need to be extra careful about? Unless your horse is swimming in a special pool, there will always be things to watch out for, such as jellyfish and turtles, or even leeches if you are swimming in standing water.

As for the saddle stuff, you should take off the saddle before you go into the water. Not only will this prevent it from being damaged by the salt water, but it will also allow your horse to move without restriction. If you can, you should ride with a hackamore (or other bitless bridle) so that you do not prevent your horse from lifting his head. Under no circumstances should you ride with a tether or martingale, as these prevent your horse from lifting its head and, unfortunately, have been the cause of horse drownings.

The most important thing, however, is that you don’t overdo it. Swimming can be tiring for horses, so don’t stay in the water too long.