How to teach a horse to swim? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 20 Old 06-05-2013, 08:49 AM Thread Starter
Join Date: Dec 2008
Location: Erwin, NC
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How to teach a horse to swim?

Yesterday, my SO and I went for a rare mid-week ride on our horses after work, and stopped by the pond on the property. SO has gotten his horse in this pond a few times before, but it was just a quick in-and-out to make sure he will go where his nose is pointed.

Yesterday, he was being a bit of a turd, so we were determined not to leave until that horse would go in that pond without issue. He did eventually get to the point where he would go in without fuss (he discovered those pond grasses about a length out were way more tastier than the regular grass) and SO went to ride him a little bit further.

Turns out there was a bit of a deep spot in the pond, and Horse went for an unexpected swim. He came out of the water like a Russian Sub playing peek-a-boo, and was unharmed, head never went under, etc. (I really don't want this thread to turn into "OMG WHAT WERE YOU THINKING WHY WOULD YOU DOOOOO THAT?!" It was a freak incident. Not the point.)

What I am wondering is how do you introduce a horse to swimming, or is there really a way? We would love to go swimming in that pond (obviously not in that hole) or other places, but I don't want to traumatize (again) the poor critters.

What is the best way to safely introduce horses to actually swimming? Are all horses capable of the activity? Is it something horses know how to do instinctively? Is it ok to be on them while they are learning or should it be done by ponying from a more experienced horse? Should this be done with or without a saddle on? Does it ruin your boots?!!?!

I would love to hear your input and advice, and see your pictures and videos! Thank you so much!

(here is a picture of SO and Charlie in the pond at the end of last year, when it just started to get chilly. My horse is STILL convinced that alligators come from here, soo...)
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post #2 of 20 Old 06-05-2013, 08:59 AM
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It's a natural instinct that they all have. Some will get right in and swim head above water, others sink then pop back up and swim along. I used to take the track horses swimming all the time - some we're better than others but even the craziest of them would get in and do a few laps.
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post #3 of 20 Old 06-05-2013, 10:14 AM
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Unfortunately, some horses either can not or will not swim. I'm not quite sure which, but we've had several that simply would not swim. They would have drowned if we had not been in a small pool. They went to the bottom and walked on the bottom.

I did not know a horse could hold it's breathe. All but one, that would not swim, held their breathe until they were above the surface. I thought the one that didn't hold it's breathe was going to drown before we got her out. She came out snorting and shaking, laid down several times, and finally shook it off.

If you are swimming with your horse, be very careful to stay out of reach of their feet and legs. When they are swimming, they pay absolutely no attention to what might be in their way. If you get hit by a hoof, it could do major damage.
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post #4 of 20 Old 06-05-2013, 10:47 AM
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Unfortunately, some horses either can not or will not swim
I'm so glad I've never met one of these I've swam some pretty fast water with my horses, you slip off and hang on to the saddle and the horse pulls you across. I've seen some that go under, then pop up, others that swim very strongly from the start, but they all swim.

I beleive the chincotegue(cant spell, sorry) ponies have to swim a big section of open water to get to the round up.
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post #5 of 20 Old 06-05-2013, 10:55 AM
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"I beleive the chincotegue(cant spell, sorry) ponies have to swim a big section of open water to get to the round up.

Yep, that mare of ours(that would not swim) would be shark bait.!!!!!!
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post #6 of 20 Old 06-05-2013, 11:02 AM
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I knew a girl who forced her horse into a pond. The horse freaked out and kept going to the bottom to touch something solid and drowned. She was traumatized and crushed. He was a beautiful animal.

I have no idea on how to test whether a horse will swim or not. I have a feeling my mare would kill herself because she gets all hot and lathered when I try to take her into the river.
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post #7 of 20 Old 06-05-2013, 11:18 AM
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I teach all my horses to swim. I never heard of a horse that would not swim (until now), it is their natural instict.
Usually we go in the water bareback, as I do not like my saddles to get wet and I think it is better and easier for the horse, especially when it is not used to it.
First introduce your horse to the water from the ground, on a long lead line, maybe even with a horse that is already a good swimmer. (Love to train my horses that way - with experienced horses, makes the job so much easier).
Let it go in deeper, and out again and deeper again and out again, do not rush the horse. Eventually it will swim and see that is not a bad thing.

Swimming with horses is so different for them and you! I love it and do it almost every day in the summer. If you swim in the lake I would not worry about my clothes to much but if you go in the ocean, go with as less tack and clothes as possible as the salt water eats everything after a while.

My little 14.1hh pony swims, so does my 17.1hh warmblood! They love it, but I did have a little paint mare that had really small feet and she had a hard time swimming, she did it but it was a lot more work for her than for my other horses.

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post #8 of 20 Old 06-05-2013, 11:32 AM Thread Starter
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Awesome!! Thanks you guys, keep them coming, please!
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post #9 of 20 Old 06-05-2013, 03:43 PM
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For what itīs worth (not much ) hereīs my experience with my four horses, all of very different characters and ages.

We went on a little lake visit simply to get them clean - laziness on my part...

I took each one in to about belly height, got them all wet and soaped, then led (or tried to) them in deeper to rinse off.

The pony (previously reticent to cross even small streams) took approx. two seconds to start swimming, and would have carried on swimming for the rest of the afternoon if weīd let her...

The second horse, our lead mare, also swam very naturally as soon as the water got to her chin level, and did a few circles around me, but seemed fairly pleased to go back to being on solid ground.

The gelding (my old boy) rolled in the water as soon as it was up to his knees, but didnīt fancy going any further than the water at his rib height. He did go, but circled back round me and went back to a more comfortable depth.

The last and youngest horse swam, but only back towards shore and her friends (and away from the waterskiers).

I second staying well clear of the hooves

Four horses, two people. 4000km in to the South American leg of our trip,and now in Brazil. Drop us a line on The Great Horse Trip
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post #10 of 20 Old 06-05-2013, 05:26 PM
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I always assume they will swim, but just to make sure, I try it in a small hole that is only over their head for a short distance( 10 to 15 feet max) . Just enough to make them swim. If they don't swim, they panic, and run on the bottom getting out. If your on them when they do this, get the heck out of Dodge, before you get hurt. They are getting out of there and if your in the way, they run right over the top of you, beating you with their hoofs as they go.
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