Can horse's swim?
Short answer yes.
But the real question here is probably should my horse be swimming? And if so how? Where? And how often? Should you swim with them?
Am I right?
If this is something you’ve been wondering then read on to find out the answers to all your horse swimming questions.
Firstly should your horse be swimming?
Swimming or another form of hydrotherapy such as walking or trotting etc. in water is hugely beneficial to most horse's. There are of course a few exceptions as with everything. For example if your horse has a water phobia this is probably not gonna be your go to exercise and similarly horse's with some injuries should not be having hydrotherapy some examples include cuts, mud fever, horse's with cardiac or respiratory issues etc. Therefore it’s important to check with your vet or rehab practitioner before introducing hydrotherapy to your horse if they have suffered any injuries or illnesses.
If you have a healthy, fit horse or one who is looking to improve their fitness swimming might be the ticket.
So how and how often should my horse be swimming?
If your horse is receiving hydrotherapy as a form of rehabilitation this will be determined by your therapist but if you're using swimming as a fitness exercise this choice is up to you. But how do you know?
What are the factors that influence your choice?
Do you want to work on range of movement or cardio? If you want to work on your horse's stride length, flight arc and joint health then using shallow water in either an underwater treadmill or a river, shallow lake or shoreline. Whereas if you’re wanting to improve cardio fitness deeper water with more resistance is going to be more beneficial.
Does your horse already swim? If your horse already has swimming or walking/trotting in water sessions regularly or have done in the past then the length or frequency of your sessions can be increased, however if this is a new activity for your horse start with just a few minutes every few weeks and build up from there.
Is your horse fit? How would you rate your horse's current fitness level? If your horse has just come off of box rest or has had some time out of work then you will need to be careful about how many different exercises you are pushing at your horse as allowing them to take on too much too soon will lead to them becoming sore and reluctant to work. We often seen this a month or 2 into restarting work where a horse begins to lack energy, starts bucking or doesn’t want to be tacked up. However if your horse is already in work adding hydrotherapy in can be a time effective addition to their fitness program as due to the resistance of water less work is needed to gain the same benefits as work on land.
Do you have access to natural water? If you live close to the coast or by a small calm river or stream then you are perfectly positioned to add in DIY hydrotherapy. However for those of us like me who live about as far from the coast as you can get and without access to calm rivers there are still some DIY options. We get a lot of rain here in West Yorkshire so there’s often the chance to use large puddles that take over our arena. But if this isn’t an option for you then finding a equine hydrotherapy centre will be your best bet. Unfortunately as yet, unlike in canine hydrotherapy there is no equine hydrotherapy associations so I would urge you to ensure you fully research nearby equine hydrotherapy venues to ensure your therapist is fully qualified in equine hydrotherapy.
With the DIY methods being more common and certainly cheaper it's important to remember to check the area you use is safe and that your horse is fit for both the length and intensity of the hydrotherapy work you undertake.
So you might want to know can I swim with my horse?
This is not possible in hydrotherapy centres due to their design; it would be unsafe for you to swim with your horse or ride them whilst in shallower water.
However with the DIY approach there are a few more things to consider.
Is your horse used to working in water? If they are then riding them in safe and calm shallow water is perfectly doable and even beneficial especially in eventers who need experience of being ridden through water. But if your horse has never done any water work before, begin on the ground in shallow water to introduce your horse to the idea of walking and trotting through the water. Water can be worrying to horse's as their depth perception is not as good as ours. However most take to it very well. Once your horse is used to the water you can increase the depth to swimming if you are looking to work on cardio primarily.
Can you swim? If you can’t swim you must not put yourself in danger as your horse may spook once out of their depth leaving you both stuck.
Are you alone? I would always advise you to take someone with you if swimming with your horse just in case you get caught out of your depth.
If coastal, what are the tides? Be sure not to swim your horse when the tide is going out. This will make it much harder for your horse and can potentially lead to them being dragged out.
Is there an undercurrent? Don’t swim your horse anywhere with an undercurrent that could lead to them being swept away.
What do you think? Can your horse swim?
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