Can Horses Swim? A Detailed Guide


Can horses swim? How can they swim if they only have hooves to propel them in the water? Can horses go underwater? There are so many questions about this topic, and I hope I can answer them all.

So Can Horses Swim?

Yes, horses can in fact swim! People actually swim horses all the time whether it’s at a lake, an equine pool, or moving them across a body of water. Horses know how to swim naturally as a survival mechanism in case they find themselves in a situation where they need to swim to escape.

Equine Pools

This may sound absurd, but there are actually equine or horse swimming pools at a number of barns and facilities across the world. I’ve recently been looking at a horse facility to purchase to start my own barn and it comes with a horse therapy pool!

Horses walk down a ramp to slowly enter the water. Then the ramp falls away to the rest of the pool and the horse will swim through the pool until brought back to a ramp where they can exit.

Equine pools are mainly seen in two styles. One is basically a normal swimming pool with a ramp on one end. The horse can swim around and around and then when finished, will exit at the same ramp. In this style of swimming pool, the horse has one handler who helps the horse keep its head above the water. They hold the horse’s lead rope and walk along the edge of the pool to keep the horse’s head held up

Another style of an equine pool is kind of like a path-like pool where the horse follows along the path that it takes them and then reaches another ramp when at the end of the trench-like swimming pool. In this style of equine pools, There can be two handlers of the horse. This would ensure that the horse’s head is held above water as it has a handler on either side walking along the edge of the pool. This pool style is compareable to a ‘lazy river’ or similar design where the pool is narrow and winds its way around.

How Do Horses Swim?

Horses, because they have such large lungs and a wide barrel, are actually pretty buoyant in the water. They can’t float completely, but it doesn’t take much effort to keep them swimming or afloat.

Horses swim similarly to dogs where they do a horse version of the ‘doggy paddle.’ Their swimming action is comparable to their trot action on the ground, though more of a paddle. They can even carry a rider when swimming as long as the rider doesn’t restrict the horse’s movement.

Can Horses Swim Under Water?

No, horses can’t swim under water so it is essential that they keep their head above the water.

Horses can’t swim under water because they aren’t able to hold their breath. This means that if their head is under the water and they inhale they can drown almost instantly.

Another reason why horses can’t swim underwater is the fact that their bodies are too buoyant. It would be hard for the horse to go very deep without floating back up to the water’s surface.

Horses’ ears don’t drain the same as a human’s ear or a dog’s ear. If a horse puts his head under water, and his ears get full of water, the liquid will only trickle down and be held somewhere in the head, where there would be no place for it to exit. This would mean that bacteria would have a warm, moist, and dark place to grow potentially causing infection.

Is Swimming Hard For Horses?

Swimming is not really what horses are made for so yes, swimming is really difficult and tiring for horses. A horse swimming for 10 minutes requires the same amount of energy as if they were cantering for several miles. Swimming is a difficult activity that some horses participate in for exercise, therapy, or another reason.

Swimming helps the horse to build their stamina and work muscles they don’t normally work. It is a great activity for the horse to do, but don’t over do it because it works them so hard already.

Other Uses For Horses and Water

The famous racehorse Barbaro was retired from racing when he broke his leg. His owners tried everything they could do to save him. One of these things was surgery. Barbaro, still under anesthesia after surgery, was placed in a type of sling that encased his legs and had an inflatable outside to keep him above water and his body dry. He was then hoisted up with a crane and lowered into the water of a recovery pool so when he woke from the anesthesia, his flailing around would be slowed by the water. There are only one or two of these pools in the world, but when they are used, it greatly increases the chance of the horse’s survival.

FAQs On Horses Swimming

Can horses carry a rider while they’re swimming?

Yes horses can carry a rider when they’re swimming. They can do this partially because they are good swimmers, but mainly because they are actually really buoyant animals.

They have a large wide barrel with lungs that are constantly filling and refilling with air so it is not difficult to stay afloat.

The rider just needs to make sure that they are not restricting the horse’s movement in anyway to keep them from drowning as horses can easily drown.

When do horses learn how to swim?

Horses are actually naturally able to swim so they don’t need to learn how. They are born with this ability naturally so they are able to escape a situation by water if they have to.

Hailey Johnson

Horses have been my passion ever since I can remember. At school, I was known as that weird horse girl, and I would read horse encyclopedias for fun. Over the years since those days, I have only learned more. My experiences with horses of a variety of breeds have taught me a lot. Now I want to share what I know with you!

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