Swimming with horses an amazing summer activity and definitely one of my favorite things to do with horses. It is simply AMAZING to spend some hours in the lovely water on a warm summer day. Many horses loves it too! But as with most other things, safety is important, also in the water. If you want to stay out of trouble and have a nice experience with your horse, I recommend you to read my check list for equestrians who want to go swimming with their four legged friends. I can assure you that the experience will be way better if you take these ten steps into concideration before you pack your bikini and head for the local beach.
1. Check the seafloor before the horse enter the water
An average horse weights from 300 to 700 kg. Many lakes and beaches have a layer of on clay and mud covering the bottom, which works just fine for a 70 kg human. But when you put a large horse on this surface, the horse might sink and start to struggle, which can be traumatic and scary. The horse being stuck in mud underwater is no fun for either of you, so be careful! On some beaches, the water can suddenly get very deep, especially in the ocean. To avoid your horse stumbling and falling underwater, inspect the seafloor all the way out to be sure about the footing. Check the bottom thoroughly before you go out. I prefer beaches with small rocks and sand.
2. Follow local rules
Not all countries and regions allow large animals on public beaches and so on. Some beaches and lakes are also private, so make sure you follow the local rules. You don’t want angry people yelling at you, that will for sure ruin your day, and cause troubles for other horse owners in the area. If you decide to go swimming on beaches also used by humans, smile and greet them when you get there. Ask politely if you and your horse may enter the water in the opposite side of the beach, and respect the fact that some people don’t like horses. Clean up after you, and remove any manure before you leave.
3. Do not enter the water unless you have complete control of the horse
It does not matter if you use a halter, bridle with a bit, bitless bridle, rope halter, neckrope or nothing: make sure you have 100% control over your horse before you enter the water! It is always important to have control, but when you go swimming, the outcome of a loose horse can be a thousand times worse. A horse bolting on land will eventually stop and eat grass somewhere, but in the water, a horse in panic can end up swimming in the wrong direction, and drown. I have seen horses run straight towards the deep water, or simply start swimming away from the beach, and believe me, you don’t want to be that horse owner who desperately try to get in a boat to manage to capture the horse before it is too late. Horses react based on instincts that date millions of years back, and they can do stupid things. It’s your responsibility to keep your horse in control, so if you are in doubt, stay on the beach.
4. Start with a calm beach without lots of waves
Many horses find waves scary. The first time Batman saw waves, he was so scared I could not get him to move. He froze to ice 15 meters from the beach, and was terrified. I chose calm beaches without any waves the first 6 times we went swimming, and that worked out well. He got a safe introduction to the water, without much noise and waves. Lakes are often calmer than the ocean.
5. Wear shoes if the bottom is rocky
If you plan to walk next to the horse in the water, I recommend shoes. Water shoes are the best, but old sandals or jogging shoes works just fine. This is simply to protect your feet from sharp rocks, shells and corals. You need to be able to move away quickly if your horse spooks, and keep up with the horse in the water.
6. Wear a helmet while riding – also in the water
Most riders skip the helmet while swimming with horses. In my opinion, it is at least as important with a safety helmet on the beach! On deep water it is unlikely to fall off and hit a rock, but in shallow water, the bottom can be filled with corals, rocks and other things you don’t want to hit your head on. Horses often show larger movements in water, and if you ride bareback, it is definitely harder to stay on. The horse might spook because of waves, a surfer, a boat or something else, and if you fall off, a helmet can save your skull. Mind your melon!
7. Leave your saddle on dry land
Saddles are expensive, and yes, they can for sure resist some rain and bad weather, but going swimming is not recommended. The water can get to the inside of the saddle and leave moisture on the inside, which can damage the materials over time. Many horses also loves to roll after a swim, and you don’t want that expensive jumping saddle of yours so disappear in the sand, under the back of your super, happy rolling horse .. Go bareback, or with a washable bareback pad!
8. Let an experienced horse lead
If you are going swimming for the first time, I recommend you to bring an experienced horse as a safe buddy to lean on. Not all horses feel comfortable in the water, so it always smart to team up with a friend. Take your time, and don’t expect your horse to dive in on the first attempts. Some horses need many trips to the beach to get comfortable, so just take your time and be patient! Take it as training. If you feel more comfortable with riding, ride. If you prefer entering the water walking, walk next to the horse.
9. When you reach deep water and the horse start swimming, sliding off is in most cases the smartest way
Some horses are strong enough to carry a rider while swimming short distances, but in most cases, it can be smart to simply slide off, and swim next to the horse instead. I only swim a few meters at the time with Batman, and he will easily carry me, but all horses are different, so find a way that works best for you.
10. Give the horse a shower after being in sea water
To get rid of the salt, you can give the horse a quick shower when you get back to the stable.