What do I need to know before taking my horse swimming?
A year ago, I would have said, “nothing, just go”. NOW - different story. I’m at a barn where there’s a pond, with a nice little beach for the horses to wade slowly into the water. There are photos everywhere of the horses and people swimming, and some of the horses even have water nicknames, like “Hippo”. I was so enthralled with the idea of swimming, that I immediately decided to add it to my horse bucket list and then promptly did a lot of google searching on how to make it safe. You know, to be on the safe side. Short story long, there are a lot of stories out there about horse swimming gone wrong - so I have compiled a list so that your horse swimming adventure will be awesome!!
- Go with a buddy! I suggest this for most riding anyway, but when you are with a buddy, you can commiserate about wet underwear together on the ride home.
I went with a bareback pad, Natasha had a saddle. Lots of choices here.
- Be mindful of your tack. Tack that holds your horse’s head can create a drowning situation. Don’t use tie downs, martingales, or other devices that prevents your horse from lifting his head and neck as high as possible. When there is no more footing on the bottom, your horse will basically only poke his nose, ears, and eyes out of the water to swim. Tack can restrict this and your horse may drown. It’s horrible to even think about. Don’t think that you can control every step, he may spook at a lily pad and end up in deep water anyway.
- Be prepared for a few things. Lots of splashing, your horse may try and roll (NOPE not allowed), he make panic and run back to shore or end up in deep water. Take things slowly and carefully.
Migs with his eyes on the prize!
- Know the water, the footing, the currents, and the rock situation before you go in. Ponds are usually great because there is no current, but there may be snapping turtles. Streams and rivers can have dangerous rocks, currents, and questionable footing. The ocean is fantastic and fun, stay on the hard pack sand near the water, deep sand can lead to tendon strains and injuries. And watch out for sharks. Footing is KEY - mud can have disasterous results including you and/or your horse getting stuck, as in need a tractor and the fire department to pull you out stuck. If you can't see the footing because it's covered in debris like leaves and twigs, I would stay away.
- Be prepared for the “floating” situation. The deeper you go in, the more you tend to levitate above your horse. This makes it super fun, a little weird, and very easy to end up without a horse under you.
- Have something to hang on to. A neck rope if great, if there is no chance of a leg getting stuck in it. So basically hang onto it all the time. You can also go in a cinched up bareback pad, and hang on to the front. You can also relive your childhood as you “grab mane!”
Lots of crazy mane to grab if need be.
- Remember what your horse does after a shower? Shake and roll? Pay attention and nip this in the bud so you don’t end wet AND squashed after you and your horse hit dry land again.
- Be aware that ponds and rivers are home to lots of other creatures - like snapping turtles and gators and even simple guppies that may decide they are hungry. If you have not already guessed, I don’t want to be chewed on by ANY creature that lives in water.
- When you get back to the barn, give your horse a thorough rinse. Depending on where you live, you may need to also check for leeches. (And you thought ticks were bad!!) If the water was salty, dirty, or even questionable, I would also use some shampoo. Make sure all shoe nails are tight, mud can sometimes “suck” off part of a shoe.
- Thoroughly clean and condition your tack as well, water will dry it out, causing damage to the leather. Unless you need a reason to go get some new tack? For more details on how to deal with a wet saddle, look here!
What’s your best tip for swimming with your horse?