Can horses really swim? Horses naturally know how to swim. In fact there are wild ponies that swim across a channel every year from Assateague Island to Chincoteague, Virginia in order to keep their numbers down on the island. We grew up going to Assateague Island near Ocean City, Maryland and would often go to the beach there for the day. My grandfather also had a boat so we could find remote parts of the island to enjoy playing on the beach. Beautiful wild ponies could be seen walking around the dunes and grazing on plant life.

Read on to see how these amazing creatures can not only run very fast but also swim!

How do Horses Swim?

Horses have a natural instinct to swim when in deep water. This capability stems from the days when they lived in the wild, and when crossing rivers was necessary to reach new pastures. It was simply a part of their natural movements in nature and still is today.

When a horse is submerged in water, it’s body will stay afloat as long as it keeps forward momentum and it will instinctively lift its head over the surface to breathe. The legs will move in a paddle-like manner to maintain balance and stability in the water. Horses have extremely strong legs which helps propel them through the water.

Horses cannot hold their breath like we can so it is essential for them to keep their head above water at all times. The horse only breathes through its nostrils. They do not breathe through their mouths unless they have an injury or abnormality to the soft palate. They are like a powerful machine moving through the water and once it starts it cannot be stopped. They will get tired very quickly if they are forced to try and tread water.

Remember those wild ponies? Watch them swim right here:

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 amazing experience, but that can also quickly go wrong. First, not all horses love the water. Like any animal or human the water can be intimidating if they are not accustomed to it so you would need to proceed cautiously and let them “test the waters” naturally. Here are things to consider if your horse may swim in the ocean:

  • How deep is the water? Often times the sea floor will drop off steeply where the waves break.
  • What is the condition of the seafloor? Is it sand, stones, coral, etc.? Consider that hard and uneven surfaces may hurt the horse’s legs while swimming.
  • Are there waves? Obviously this would not be a good idea since they cannot breathe underwater.
  • Is the current strong?
  • Remove the saddle and consider a bit less bridle. Make sure you remove ANY equipment that restricts the upward movement of the head as the horse needs free rein to hold it over the surface to breathe.
  • This is something that should done with others people to ensure safety.

Is Swimming Good for Horses?

Swimming is an excellent way to keep a horse in shape while rebuilding and toning muscles and strengthening tendons after an injury, without the horse having to carry their weight. Therefore, swimming in equine pools is often included in many physiotherapy regimes.

As it is for humans, swimming is an aerobic exercise so a great way to build endurance and stamina for horses. Regular swimming activity will allow the horse to strengthen both the heart and lungs.

So swimming is indeed good for horses as it is for us! It is also a great way for your horse to cool off in the hot summer months. Who would have thought that horses can enjoy the water so much? These magnificent land mammals never cease to amaze us. They truly are unique creatures.

horseback riding in the ocean
Photo by Leonardo Rossatti on

Can You Ride a Horse While It Swims?

It is ok to ride a horse while it swims and it’s exciting to feel its power advancing through the water. Many people ride or have their horse swim through rivers on their trail riding journey. This is entirely at the comfort of you and your horse and should be done gradually. You must know your horse and your own limits when dealing with water. You must also know the river and how fast the current moves and approximately how deep.

Swimming is tiring for horses so try to pay attention to your horse and get out of the water while it still has good energy levels. Give your horse a break when trail riding to ensure overall health.

We hope you enjoyed some of this information on whether horses can swim. Clearly they can and they truly are amazing creatures. Don’t forget to learn more about the Assateague Wild ponies. There are many other herds of wild horses across the United States even to this day!

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