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Swimming with horse

From: Willem

Dear Dr. Jessica,

I've read each and every Q & A you've ever posted to horse-sense, but I don't recall reading anything about swimming with horses.

We've had a lot of rain last month and a dirt dam close to our stables, that are normally dry, are now full of water. The other day me and a friend went to the dam and swam with our horses through it. I'm not sure if my horse actually swam, it actually felt as if he was jumping along on his hind legs. My friend, who swam with horses before, suggested that I lie down on the horse's back, just drifting along with him, but I drifted off of my horse and ended up next to him when we came out.

My question. What can the rider do when swimming with a horse to make it easier for the horse. Also, how can I keep control over my horse. As soon as he started swimming, all I could do was to hang on till we got out on the other side.

Thank you for a great service.

Willem. (Having fun in all the water ;-)

Hi Willem! Horses are natural swimmers and usually enjoy swimming very much. Your horse may have been pushing off against the footing with his hind legs - if there had been more and/or deeper water, he might have felt smoother. "Hanging on" is perfectly appropriate - just do it in a way that is easy and comfortable for both you and your horse.

To make it easier for a horse to swim, the most important thing to remember is to let the horse have complete freedom with its head and neck. Every year, some horses drown because their riders took them across water with their heads tied down (with an English martingale, a Western "tie-down", or any other related piece of auxiliary equipment). So first, before entering the water, be sure to remove or disconnect any such equipment. Then, let your horse use his head and neck in a stretched-out position.

The easiest way to swim with a horse is simply to slide off the horse and hold his mane, allowing yourself to float along next to him. His motion will carry you along. If you keep yourself attached to the horse by holding the reins, you'll make your horse uncomfortable, so if you anticipate going for a swim, it's best to plan ahead and ride in a halter rather than a bridle, or put a halter on under the bridle before you leave the barn.

One warning: Swimming is great fun, but when your horse leaves the water, be ready. Most horses will shake themselves hard as soon as they're out of the water. This serves to remove a lot of water, but it can also, occasionally, remove a rider. A wet horse can be very slippery. This is just something you may want to keep in mind. ;-)


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