Can Horses Swim? Find out if horses are natural swimmers

The average horse weighs about 1000 pounds, moving this much weight as fast as they normally do requires incredible agility. Remarkable creatures really, but do horses swim?

Well, yes! Some are even exceptional swimmers. Horses have survived for many years in the wild due to their natural ability to adapt to various environmental factors. But they do not hesitate to migrate should the need arise.

Many horse owners find them to be intelligent and social. They are really fun to be around. Although it is not often you find a horse swimming, it is becoming increasingly popular among horse riders.

Even though horses cannot hold their breath underwater, nature has gifted them a large pair of lungs that help them stay afloat despite their weight.

Perhaps you want to have an adventure, try something new, like riding a horse through the coolness of a nearby river or a swimming pool. Terrific idea!

But just before you go on to tick that off your bucket list, there are certain things to consider. What is worth doing is worth doing well.

We have taken the time to provide you with answers to satisfy your curiosity.

How do horses swim?

You already know the first thing about horse swimming, that they can do it. But how do they go about it?

Horses have agile limbs that carry their weight, but when it comes to movements that require flexibility, they aren’t exactly windmills. So how do they manage to swim?

Horses employ the same trotting mechanism to swim as they do on land, using the hind limbs to propel their body and maintain forward momentum.

The buoyancy of the water helps relieve them of the responsibility of carrying their weight, so they easily move.

Their body only supports basic movements in water, so don’t expect sophisticated strokes and freestyle twists and turns.

An important tip to always remember is that horses can’t breathe underwater and solely depend on their nose to breathe. So always make sure that your horse keeps his head above water level to avoid suffocation.

Why do Horses Swim?

Horses are remarkably fast. They can easily outrace many wild and domestic animals without breaking a sweat, literally.

If they are so good on land, why do they swim?

There are at least three reasons:

  • Migration: originally, horses are from North America. They migrated to various parts of the world searching for favorable conditions. Up till today, wild horses migrate from one region to another, a typical example is the annual Great Migration of wildlife from Tanzania to Kenya. En route to their destination, horses swim across rivers towards greener pastures.
  • For Fun: Yes, some horses willingly gallop into the water for the fun of it. So you may want to get ready before getting too close to the water. However, some horses would rather stay dry and don’t fancy the idea of getting wet. So know your horse. Some horses are trained swimmers and participate in swimming competitions such as the

Chincoteague Pony Swim annual event.

  • Exercise and therapy: Some injuries, especially of muscle, require aqua therapy. It is generally safer for an injured horse to exercise underwater.

Do Horses Like to Swim?

It is safe to say that most horses like swimming. They are naturally capable of it.

But just like humans, there are individual differences in genetic make-up, physical ability, and preferences.

We advise that you study your horse and gradually introduce swimming to his routine. They are fast learners and are likely to grasp the techniques and later master them. You should, however, avoid forcing your horse into the water.

You should also watch out for any signs of exhaustion and use this to appropriately time his swimming duration.

Should you ride a horse when it is swimming?

Horse swimming is physically demanding and requires a large amount of energy.

Consider the following before riding your horse on water:

  • You need to be a good swimmer to control horse swimming movements and tackle problems that may arise.
  • The physicality of your horse. If your horse is strong enough to swim through while carrying your weight, do it. It will be fun!
  • Don’t place unnecessary restrictions on his movements. You can ride without a saddle, it is liberating for your horse and saves the leather of your saddle.
  • Consider using a loose martingale to allow for appropriate head movements.

Is Swimming Good for Horses?

So far as your horse likes it, yes! It is even recommended in certain situations. The following are benefits of swimming for horses:

  • Fitness: Keeping your horse healthy requires adequate physical activity. While it is normal to go out on a ride across the field, it is advisable to try in-water exercise for your horse.

Deepwater movements help muscle growth and protect against cardiovascular diseases.

  • Recreation: It is good for your horse to feel the coolness of water for a change.
  • Hydrotherapy: There are specialized Physiotherapy Pools designed for rehab. Some of these pools have in-water treadmills to help horses recover from injury. Horses with arthritis, heart, and respiratory conditions should not be exposed to such therapy. Consult a vet to get appropriate therapy for your horse.

How fast can a horse swim?

It is hard to exactly know how fast a horse can swim. This is because of many factors that influence the speed of a horse in the water.

Factors that may decrease a horse’s speed in water include:

  • Depth of water: horses generally lack efficient depth perception. This may compromise their ability to appropriately swim.
  • The direction of current: swimming against a strong current reduces speed.
  • Fatigue: some horses are exhausted quicker than others.

Even with such factors, the average horse can swim about 2.5 miles per hour.

How long can a horse swim for?

Swimming consumes energy faster than field exercise and involves more muscles. This and the fact that horses are not naturally aquatic, reduce their duration of swimming. On an average, a horse will last longer galloping on land than moving in water.

The duration of swimming can be increased by maintaining a consistent pace, this helps build fatigue endurance.

It is also less exhausting when the horse swims along with the water flow rather than against it.

Can Horses Swim in The Open Ocean?

Oceans contain salty water, which has more buoyancy than freshwater. This means that objects float easily on the ocean compared to freshwater.

Therefore a horse will find it easier to swim in the ocean than in some swimming pools.

But leading your horse into ocean water requires some steps.

  • Consider the depth of the water and how fast the depth changes. Some depths are sloppy.
  • Consider the ocean floor.
  • Keep an eye on aquatic creatures, especially leeches.
  • Make sure your swimming is at least good.
  • Start practicing with smaller swimming pools before going to the ocean.

Famous Swimming Horses

Some horses master the art of swimming and are recognized for it. They do it fast and in style.

Here’s a list of some famous horse swimmers:

  •  Rebel Rover: he got the whole world looking when he ran into deep water. He was rescued after swimming for about 7 miles.
  • Shoshoni: this filly swims at least five minutes from her home island to the mainland in southern Scotland. She has been doing it for 16 years!


Horses are social beings, capable of incredible things such as swimming. Many horses enjoy the ride through cool water, be it a swimming pool, a river close by, or the ocean. Swimming improves the heart and respiratory functions of horses and has very few risks.

We do hope you enjoy your ride.

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