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Hit the water: teaching your horse to swim

Swimming is a great exercise for horses, helping develop conditioning and stamina.

People swim for a number of different reasons. Not only is it a great form of exercise and socialization, but there’s something especially calming about wading or bobbing through a body of water. As it turns out, many of those same benefits can apply to your horse. However, given their size and natural inclination to the land, taking a horse swimming doesn’t mean simply leading it to the water. Instead, there’s a number of considerations to take in order to ensure a safe and healthy swimming experience for your horse.

Always take it slow
When emerged in water for the first time, a horse can have a number of different reactions. Because of the added pressure on the animal’s lungs, the horse could begin to breathe louder than normal. Or, if water gets in their ears, they may begin to shake around intensely, which can often throw off their coordination. They may also attempt to drop to the floor of the pool or lake bottom, using their back legs to kick themselves out of the water. Any number of these behaviors may prove problematic to both the horse and the rider, and it’s important to ease them into any swimming situation. Be sure to choose a body of water that’s shallow for their first time, and always make them enter gradually. As well, watch where the water rises on their body; ideally, they should be able to move their heads freely. Finally, if they begin to react negatively, take them out of the water in a timely manner.

Know the body of water
There’s been several cases where a horse is lead into a lake or river, only to get stuck in some unseen mud. Or, there was a sudden and unexpected drop-off that then caused the horse to react fearfully. No matter how many times a horse has been in water, there will always be that level of uncertainty. As such, it’s vital that you know what to expect from any water source before your horse goes swimming. You’ll not only need to know the water source’s terrain, but if there’s nearby birds or wildlife to be mindful of. You also want to make sure you’re comfortable enough to swim in the water if need be, as you may be thrown off into the water. There is also a chance the horse might need to be guided through a particularly treacherous area.

Be aware of any equipment
Just as there have been tales about horses getting stuck in mud, there’s been nearly as many regarding equipment issues. Some riders have waded into a nearby lake only to find the horse’s saddle gets tangled in some vegetation. Or, the rider’s gear might get stuck on the same kind of plants. That means that you probably want to avoid using either a martingale or a tie-down; they might be helpful in other conditions, but in the water they’re often just problematic. It is possible to keep using reins and leads while in the water, as they’re perfect for guiding and calming the horse down. Just be mindful that they’re not too long or they might otherwise get tangled. Finally, avoid taking a cart into water if you drive your horse. If the current’s too strong, the cart’s added weight is enough to encumber the horse.

Structure the swimming regimen
Once you’ve gotten your horse used to entering the water, letting it swim with some regularity is a great addition to its ongoing exercise regimen. To begin, you want to try and limit the horse’s time in the water; try and stick to just a 100 yards or so per session. Once you feel the horse is more capable, and won’t run the risk of over-exerting itself, then you can gradually bump that time up to the neighborhood of 800 to 1,000 yards. You also want to make sure that swimming isn’t its own form of exercise. A well-rounded regimen will span about three days a week and also include some light lap running and groundwork.

As with any exercise regimen, the proper supplements can also help. The vitamins found in JC’s X-Tie Up™ can help promote proper muscle function. Ultra Fire™ offers many of the same benefits, and it’s multivitamins and minerals also promote healthy hydration.

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