Have you ever had to teach a horse to swim?

“I took my horse swimming during the summer and she sank. She doesn’t even try to keep her head above water, she just walks on the bottom sucking up water until i pull her out. How do I teach her to swim?”-Mikiah D

I have seen horses make mistakes when swimming. I have seen a horse walk in knee deep, paw, lie down (head above water)…and then try to roll completely over…head under water!

Click photo to see Newt's first swim.

Click photo to see Newt’s first swim.

On Newt’s first swim he really only made one mistake, but without guidance he could have been in trouble. I had taken him partway out and then ridden back to the shore several times but even with this prep he suddenly decided that we should go to the other shore…about a mile across the lake! He was determined we should to that way but he didn’t know that the water would continue to get deeper.

My first advice would be to keep your horse out of trouble. I would try taking her part way in and wading around at a safe depth. Don’t allow her to go deep enough to cause possible drowning.  I once had a horse that liked to blow bubbles in the water. She would stick her nose completely under, all the way up to her eyes! She would then blow bubbles and never made the mistake of breathing in.

All the horses I have taken in the water have known how to swim instinctively but that doesn’t mean all will. I am also going to ask for others to post their experiences…maybe someone else has seen this and has some advice.



  1. Pat Pehling on December 14, 2014 at 12:37 am

    One thing to remember is to be sure your girth is not overly tight. If a horse cannot take deep breaths, they have more tendency to sink rather than swim! Also, never try to swim or even cross water with a tie down on….if a horse cannot raise his head, he can easily drown.

  2. Judy on December 13, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    I don’t really have any desire to go into deep water to swim with my horse. With my luck I would be the one to drown! I know how to swim but am very much out of practice.

  3. jrvaughn1 on December 13, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    I once was about 30 days into training a 3 yo in February in Missouri Took him to a conservation area to ride. Was riding around a large lake and he showed interest in going to the edge of the water. So I thought I’d let him check it out with no intentions of going on the water. I was in my coveralls. We had crossed creeks w no problems.Thought he might drink or just investigate. He showed no signs of fear or spookiness at all. He lowered his head like he would drink And all of a sudden before I knew what was happening he lunged into the lake like he took off into a run! We were 20 ft from shore and he was sinking. I tried to turn him to shore but he sunk out from under me. I swam out of harms way and turned and screamed his name. He was completely under then all of a sudden his nose appeared then back under. I screamed and screamed his name and he came up again. Just his nose. I thought for sure he was a gonner. I think he sunk to bottom and pushed off w back legs to reach surface. Some how he turned my direction and with just a couple feet he could keep his nose above water. But that’s all I could see. He went back under and he must’ve took a few more steps. He finally walked to where I could get to him. I let him catch his breath and then led him out of the lake. I left him saddled. He no longer had a bridle on. It was lost in the water. I led him back to trailer w my belt and unsaddled and dried him off and blanketed him and borrowed a phone from a passer by to call the vet. My phone was soaked. I wish I could have kept that horse to see if he could be taught to swim. He was a wonderful horse. To this day I have no idea why he lunged into the water. He recovered perfectly fine. Had fluid come out of nostrils a couple days but never got sick.

  4. Lynda Lafontaine on December 13, 2014 at 11:56 am

    2 friends and I took our horses swimming in a lake a few times. They were all swimmers. We would ride them out bareback with just halters on until they started to swim then turn them back towards shore, slide off and hold on to their tails-what a rush when they got their footing and gained speed. One time we were too close together and one horse reared to turn and scooped me under his belly. I was able to relax and get out safely but it was quite a sight to see those four feet swimming him back to shore. These horses were all well trained and very quiet.
    One of them would walk out in the water by himself, put his whole head under water to get a mouthful of water plants, lift his head, shake the water out of his ears and continue eating the plants, dripping water all over the place-fun and interesting to watch.

  5. jeaninerenzoni on December 13, 2014 at 11:46 am

    All the horses I took swimming swam after some initial confusion … one did a minor sinking thing and launched a couple times before he understood to start the effort sooner, he also liked blowing bubbles with his nose and didn’t inhale underwater. I think he might have been so entranced by the bubble blowing that the loss of being able to touch bottom surprised him. I always started in a place with easy angles … no abrupt drop-offs so walking in deeper and deeper and back again was easy.
    I train dogs and have started lots of them swimming/retrieving in water. I’ve had dogs freeze (fear) instead of starting to swim which, of course means they sink, for them I played ‘get it’ or tug and moved them over the slightly deeper area until they were able to do it themselves. Dogs with high muscle/bone and low fat levels have to actively swim to stay up (just like people who are very muscular and have little fat will sink instead of float) and so have to work a bit harder – and all dogs in vertical posture in the water have trouble even excellent swimmers … short legged dogs in particular have trouble righting themselves and so need PFDs.
    Anyway movement forward is the key in achieving swimming in dogs-horses-people, progressive acclimation to the water depth and continuing to move forward. (note for dogs if they continue to try to touch bottom with their back feet I use their tail to lift their rear, voila swimming without splashing their face – no panic. This would not work on a horse, but I think the “freezing” is another way to react in fear… so more acclimatizing to the idea of being/wading/trotting in water may solve the sinking problem)

  6. Allie on December 13, 2014 at 4:07 am

    I’ve only been swimming with one of my horses a handful of times… Once we were in a river and got stuck in quicksand, the next time we were at the beach and he did awesome! The last time we went was at a lake. Little did I know, it was 40+ feet deep in the middle, and it had a sheer drop off from 4 feet deep to 40. That was scary… My horse had fallen out from under me completely. I couldn’t see him, he was completely submerged for what seemed like a long time but was probably only 20 seconds at the most. Anyways, I will only go where I can see the bottom now, and I won’t go too deep. I am content with splashing around 🙂

  7. folakemiodoaje on December 13, 2014 at 1:52 am

    That’s beautiful recreating a fond childhood memory!

  8. Lois on December 12, 2014 at 11:40 pm

    I used to swim my horse, across a small pond, when I was a kid. It brings back great memories. So fun when their feet leave the ground and they start to swim. Just an FYI: never swim your horse with a tie down!

  9. Ingrid Pearson on December 12, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    Not all horses have positive buoyancy. Some are negative buoyant which means it is their body chemistry that is preclusive to the actual swimming event. They have to weigh less than the amount of water they displace. The vet at university of Findlay taught about this.

    • Laurie Spry on December 13, 2014 at 7:30 am

      That sounds logical. I have had lots of dogs that swam just fine, but the Pug did NOT ‘float’, she sank and when she’d paddle she just ended up vertical in the water going nowhere in a panic. I always thought her body was too dense.

  10. Nikki Hale on December 12, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    I swam a horse that would drop to the bottom then launch himself straight upward and repeat. It was terrifying and I never did it again on that horse. He belonged to a friend and she told me he always did that. I don’t think he ever actually swam.

  11. Lori B. on December 12, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Swimming to the other side? Yikes! Something to consider if you are swimming your horse in the ocean! 😉

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