can horses swim

Can Horses Swim

Last updated on March 11th, 2023 at 10:25 pm

Can Horses Swim

You may have seen movies where horses splash through bodies of water, or have to ford the river, and may wonder if this is fiction or pulled from truth.

If you like to take your horse on trails through swamps or bayous, it may also be important for you to know whether or not your horse will be able to swim if the water begins to get too deep.

Read on to learn more about horses and water, such as whether or not your horse is able to swim, and for how long! 

Can Horses Swim

Horses are able to swim, though they are not able to swim underwater, since they cannot hold their breath or breathe once submerged. The ancestors of the horses we know today migrated across continents, so they had to swim and cross waterways at points during their journeys. Horses learned to swim in order to survive! When food sources in one area depleted, they and their herd were able to adapt and move to areas that were more fertile and had better and more food. Modern horses still have this instinct and are therefore able to swim as well, when needed. 

can horses swim
A Horse Swimming with a Girl

How Long Can a Horse Swim

Now that you know that a horse is able to swim, you may wonder how long they can do so, or how far they can go. This will, of course, depend upon the age and health of the horse in question. However, generally, a horse will be able to swim for about 30 minutes before it begins to tire or needs to stop and rest. For distance, the average is around a half mile. If a horse is in great physical condition, it may be able to swim farther and longer, while a horse that is older or in poor shape may be below these projected averages.

Swimming for Conditioning Horses

Aqua therapy is something that is used for both humans and horses, too, when they have become injured or need some form of physical therapy! It is so great because it is a low impact exercise. Doing exercise in water can help to increase muscle development, improve endurance, and improve the joint range of motion, too. Horses often relax in the water, once they are used to the aqua therapy expectations, and enjoy their session. Aqua therapy is a full body workout that helps to work out your horse’s body in different ways. 

The fitness level of your horse is evaluated before an aqua therapy session is put together, as it will need to meet the needs of your horse as an individual. In addition, as your horse’s fitness starts to increase, then the duration and length of the intervals of aqua therapy will need to be increased so that progress can continue to be made. Typically, in the beginning, trainers start slow and then work the horse up to eventually be partaking in three swim sessions every week. Working the horse in a pool for a third of a mile is the equivalent of galloping for a mile!

One of the tools that is used for equine hydrotherapy sessions is the rehab pool. This is a narrow trench that is filled with water and outfitted with a guidewire. The horse is hooked to the guidewire so it can help them to keep their head above water, as they would not be able to breathe if they became fully submerged. Most of these pools also have an entry that has a gradual slope into the water and gets deeper, similar to the entrance of a human swimming pool! 

Frequently Asked Questions

How long can horses go underwater?

Horses are not able to breathe underwater, though they are able to swim! Because of this, they keep their heads above water while swimming. Typically, a horse will be able to swim for around 30 minutes before starting to tire. This is just a general estimate, and a horse that is in good shape should be able to swim for even longer than the estimated 30 minutes. A horse can usually swim for around half a mile before needing to stop. 

Can horses hold their breath under water?

Horses are able to swim, so you may wonder if they can also hold their breath underwater like we humans, and like some other animals, can. The answer is no, that horses are not able to hold their breath underwater. Since they are not able to hold their breath above water, they naturally hold their head above water when they are swimming. This, of course, keeps their nose and mouth above the water level so that they are still able to breathe and do not get water in their nose or mouth. 

Can horses go underwater?

Since horses cannot breathe underwater, they are not able to go underwater, either, because they are not able to hold their breath while under the water’s surface. However, horses are able to swim. As long as their bodies are submerged but their head is still above water, the rest of them can go under the water. The horse simply needs to have its mouth and nose above the surface of the water so that it is still able to breathe while it is submerged and swimming— or even just standing in the water! As long as a horse can breathe, it can easily swim for 30 minutes or more.

Are horses afraid of water?

Horses are not necessarily afraid of water. Many horses swim in large bodies of water, or may like to paw at or splash in puddles. However, you may have also noticed that your horse balks when it comes upon a puddle, or hesitates when you try to guide them through it. This is not necessarily a fear of water, but comes down to trust. Your horse cannot see the bottom and may not be sure how deep it is— this is an instance of your horse needing to learn to trust you as a rider.