There are many ways to get your horse in shape. Whether you’re doing it for competitions, pleasure riding or just because it will promote a healthy and more engaging lifestyle for your horse, you can take a range of approaches. One of these approaches, of course, is swimming. Now you may be asking – can horses swim? And the answer is YES!
Keeping your horse exercised is important for horses, especially those who have been recently sick or if they are rescued. It’s pretty much the same principle as with humans: we are happier we stay healthy and active.
This article quickly reviews why it’s important for you as a horse owner to be proactive about training. It also covers rehabilitation, and how it can help to maximize your horse’s potential while minimizing their risk of injury. Then we’ll get to the juicy stuff: swimming for horses!
If you were wondering – yes, horses can swim! I promise you, they can. They’re actually pretty good swimmers given their build. In the wild, horses would swim to get across rivers and to escape pastures when they were flooded.
This practice is not common in the equestrian community. But if you’ve ever been to the Caribbean on vacation and been around the horses, you know that they swim all the time – and they love it! So I was thinking, maybe it’s time those of us that are further north try it out?
Fit Horses are Happy Horses
This is a pretty simple idea. But, day to day life can get in the way of training your horse the way that you want to. It’s similar to training a dog. Dogs need a certain amount of both physical and mental stimulation if they are to stay calm and happy.
Horses are the same. They need regular engagement both physically and mentally in order to stay happy and calm. We hear over and over again stories of problematic behaviour coming from active breeds of dogs. This is particularly true if they are crated too long during the day, expected to adapt to apartment life or if their owners don’t make the time during the day to engage with them.
To be fair, in the demands of today’s society, it can be extremely challenging at times to make a sufficient amount of time to do this kind of thing. Not all horses need the amount of effort and time. A racehorse will need more, for example. But all horses need some sort of regimen to keep them physically fit and mentally engaged so that they’re happy.
Fit Horses are Healthy Horses
We also hear a lot now about how important fitness is for people. We know that it’s not healthy to sit at a desk for 8 hours a day and then go home and sit on the couch for the rest of it. In addition to mental health problems like anxiety and depression, this can increase your likelihood of ending up with a physical health problem. It could be obesity, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, insomnia, or one of any number of other things.
Why should it be any different for horses? As mentioned above, keeping your horse fit will keep him happier but also physically healthier in general for a longer time.
Rest Days and Rehabilitation
Getting and keeping your horse fit is important but while you’re doing that, remember that you need to include rest days. Overworking a horse is more dangerous than not working them at all. Horses are notorious for bone and joint issues when overworked. Check out my article on useful supplements that can help if you’re worried about this.
At least one day a week, let your horse out into the pasture to graze all day with absolutely nothing to do. But do try not to use a stall on these days. Your horse might develop stiffness if they’re not allowed to move around very much all day.
Horse Swimming Therapy for Fitness and Rehabilitation
Swimming has plenty of advantages:
- Horses can do it when they’re recovering from an injury and can’t weight bear.
- It doesn’t create any impact at all on the bone and joint but it works all of the muscles gently.
- It’s a great cardiovascular exercise.
- Believe it or not, when introduced to water properly, many horses love it!
There are facilities that offer swimming for horses but these are limited. Give it a try and Google it in your area and see what comes up. There’s a chance, however, that you won’t be able to find anything for quite a distance. I would suggest you defer to your closest ocean (if the temperatures are reasonable), lake or river.
If the water is too cold, you’ll risk getting your horse sick and it certainly won’t help with muscle recovery. But if the water is warm enough that you’re happy swimming in it (and you’ll have to get in too!) then your horse should be okay as well.
If you do have a facility nearby, then be sure to check with your equine insurance provider and see if swimming is covered as it can be quite pricy to pay out of pocket.
Once you’ve got your horse used to the water, you can do all sorts of things:
- Ride your horse into the water.
- Hold onto their mane and just let your body float above his (this works better in salt water but you can also do it in fresh water if you have a life jacket on).
- Slip off the end of your horse while he’s swimming and hang on to his tail (use discretion though and make sure you don’t get kicked!).
- Enjoy the sounds your horse makes in the water, it’s hilarious 🙂
Here’s a quick Youtube video of horses from Patagonia:
Conclusion: Take your Horse Swimming!
1) Make sure you’re taking steps to get your horse on some sort of fitness regime to keep them happy and healthy.
2) Include at least one rest day a week where your turn your horse out to the pasture so they don’t get stiff.
3) Swimming is a fun, interactive activity that you can do with your horse that counts as fitness training, rehabilitation, physical therapy and is a great way to keep your horse active and recovering quickly after an injury.
I hope this article has helped you think of something new to keep your horse happier, healthier and increase the bond between the two of you.