Summer fun: Should you swim with your horse?

10 questions to ask before you make your first big splash
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Have you looked at the calendar lately? Summer’s flying by! Did you get everything done this summer you hoped you would?

The horses of the British Army's Household Cavalry unit evacuate London every summer for a few weeks and head to the beach for summer camp. Captain Jack Campbell said: "Some of the horses may never have seen the sea before, and for them this is a test of bravery and trust between horse and rider. The sea is also a great environment for them to exercise in as it works muscles and is a lot of fun into the bargain! (photo © British Ministry of Defence)

The horses of the British Army's Household Cavalry unit evacuate London every summer for a few weeks and head to the beach for summer camp. Captain Jack Campbell said: "Some of the horses may never have seen the sea before, and for them this is a test of bravery and trust between horse and rider. The sea is also a great environment for them to exercise in as it works muscles and is a lot of fun into the bargain! (photo © British Ministry of Defence)

Is it on your bucket list for the summer months to finally go swimming with your horse? Some people seem to have it made: they live close to an ocean beach that is horse-friendly, or have a pond or river nearby where they can safely swim. Others tell dare-devil tales of adventures on the trail or during vacations abroad. But what about you? 

If you’re like most riders, you’d love to go swimming with your horse, but you want to be sure everything is safe for your horse. Since you want swimming to be great fun and relaxing, do your homework ahead of time and ensure a Facebook-share-worthy adventure for all involved. 

If you go into deep enough water that your horse is really swimming, you'll love the feeling of floating over his back, and you'll understand why swimming is such great exercise for horses (and humans). But if you float off his back, beware of his legs and hooves, and know where any other horses are in relation to you if you are alone in the water. This video was shot while a horse was in a physiotherapy pool at Morrisville State University in New York.

A little planning can make your first swim with your horse the fun time it should be. Even if you’ve been swimming with horses before, every horse is different, and every place you go to swim is different, too. So here’s a quick checklist. 

1. Can you swim? Chances are your horse can, but can you? Don’t take any risks, if you’re not a good swimmer. You can have plenty of fun in shallow water. 

2. Has your horse been swimming before? Check with former owners, and ask about any behavior problems or bad experiences. Does your horse like waves or motor boats or other water distractions? Introduce your horse to water gradually, especially the ocean with breaking waves and sand that shifts under his hooves. 

3. Is the water safe? An outbreak of blue-green algae has made many ponds in the Northeast off-limits to humans and animals this summer. Find out about any health problems in your area before you head out. Is swimming with horses allowed? In some places, horses are allowed during certain months of the years, or a permit or membership is required. Do your homework ahead of time so you won't be disappointed. Be sure to bring a shovel and be prepared to clean up after your horse.

Horses aren't welcome everywhere. Check first! (John Halam photo)

Horses aren't welcome everywhere. Check first! (John Halam photo)

4. Is someone going with you? Do not go swimming with your horse alone. Repeat: Do not go swimming with your horse alone. 

5. What’s the terrain like where you’re going? Is the river bank steep? Is the pond edge rocky? Think about your horse’s traction. You’ll probably need to remove hoof boots (check with the manufacturer for recommendations, since some drain really well). Leave all your tack and gear a good distance from the water. 

6. Where’s that old hackamore? You might want to hack to the lake in your good bridle, but replace it with a synthetic one or a hackamore that you care less about for swimming. Your horse’s head should be free. A halter with some reins will do, too, if you can control your horse. Bring extra leadlines or reins and a bridle with your just in case something breaks. Think about what you'll do when you come out of the water. What if you aren't near your gear? If you trailered to swim, close and lock your trailer while you’re in the water. Hide your car keys in a safe place. Do not swim with your keys (or your phone) in your pocket.


Don't be surprised if your horse just has to roll after swimming. (UK Ministry of Defence photo)

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7. Why do horses paw the water? Who knows, but they do. Remove tack before allowing your horse near the water, or your tack will be soaked from pawing. Along the same lines: Why do horses roll after swimming? You can try to stop him, but good luck. Bring a brush to clean him off if you have to ride home. 

8. What is THAT? It’s probably a leech (bloodsucker). They’re common in still water. Other things to watch out for: jellyfish in the ocean, snapping turtles in ponds. And lots of other things. You’re invading their world, so learn to identify what’s dangerous and what’s not. Insects may find a wet horse irresistible, so bring some insect repellant! Beach grass and almost anyplace woodsy is the home turf of ticks, so check yourself and your horse carefully when you get home. You'll want to hose your horse off well, no matter where you have been swimming or you may be surprised by the way your horse smells in a few hours. Rinse manes and tails well.

10. Can I ride your horse? If you’re in a public place, like a park or a beach, people will gather to admire your horse. They will also want to ride your horse and they won't be shy about asking. Use good judgment. Keep people at a distance. Be friendly but firm and always think of their safety first. This is where your friends can be a big help. 

Now, about aquatic equitation: getting into and out of the water is half the battle. Being in the water with your horse is where all the fun takes place. Take care of all the details so you can relax. Ask other riders if you should wear (old) tennis shoes or go barefoot, since pond bottoms are sometimes very rocky or slimy. 

If your horse is nervous, introduce him to water gradually, and with another horse. Don't make the experience about pressure or panic. And if you're nervous, see if you can possibly try it on an experienced horse before you bring your own horse to the water.

No matter what, bring a camera (or, better yet, a designated photographer) and make sure you share your fun with us!