I happen to be lucky enough to be right across the street from the ocean. My new mare arrives soon and I was wondering if I should include swiming in her conditioning routine. Hoping to break up the monotony a little and have a bit of fun while exercising. I've never really swum a horse on a regular basis. I mean, I've taken a horse out and played around in the water, but I'm not sure how to work it into a program. I was thinking once or twice a week, start with wading in the deep water and work my way up to actual swimming.
Has anyone used swimming as a regular part of their conditioning program? Any tips?
I have never swam a horse in the ocean so not sure it exactly relates but I have swam countless horses in a horse pool. Swimming is hard work especially on their hind end. Even race fit horses can only take a matter of seconds of actual swimming the first time. We used to take the horses in the in ramp and swim them right across to the out ramp a couple of times in the beginning then work up to once around the pool which was about 30 seconds. Five minutes of swimming is a long time. The most I ever swam a horse was about ten minutes and that took weeks to work up to. If you err on the side of swimming them longer than their fitness level can handle they run a big risk of tying up.
There is a nice incremental drop to the shore so no need to actually swim at first. I can just use the water resistance while walking around. Still easy on the joint while helping to build muscle.
I got my gelding, who swears that the waves are horse eating devils, to go in the ocean and wade around chest deep. I had the help of two other horses/riders who take their horses in on a regular basis. Like most scary situations, having a calm buddy makes a world of difference.
Just had a conversation with my vet about this, as our horse is due to start some "aqua aerobics" soon at a rehab facility with an underwater treadmill. He said that actual swimming can be hard on them due to them having to keep their head up and the back inverted. Walking in the water with their feet on solid land is better. They can round up and use their back this way. You might try walking her in the ocean just up to her chest and use the resistance to help build some muscle.
I swim and play with my horses in the water a lot. I have a small creek which has holes deep enough for a short swim and then a short ride away (5 minutes) I have a decent sized river with great spaces for swimming the horses. They only need to do a short distance for it to be hard work. My fit eventers will be puffing if they swim about 15 metres. The river is great because it gets deep gradually and then there are shallower places for rests for them.
I also ride them along the river in the water. The "resistance" training is good for fittening too.
Swimming in the sea is fun. The salt water is more bouyant and so easier for the horses. If I really want to swim, (as opposed to play (resistance training) in the waves) I'd prefer to take them to a bay or area where there aren't any waves - or only little ones.
Its best to go in a group. If someone falls off, the others can stop and hopefully the loose horse will come back.
If the water is deep enough for the horse to really swim, it will be reallly deep - like the length of your horse deep.
If you are not a good swimmer, wear a life jacket.
If its cool, wear a short wet suit.
Have lots of breaks.
When the water comes over the back of your horse, hold on to your neck strap or mane and allow your body to float out behind.
DO NOT steer too sharply - if the horse has all four feet off the ground, its quite easy to twist him so he'll loose balance.
When they're swimming, horses thrust out behind REALLY hard with their hind legs - don't get in a position where you're in the water following your horse and he's swimming - it hurts to get kicked this way.
Most of my horses love the water and play in the river on their own if I let them. Its a great way to muscle them up, especially on a hot day when you don't feel like going for a ride.
If I had the ocean across the road from me, I'd use it and the beach and sand (if its a sandy beach) every day.
Friends of mine used posts to mark out a dressage arena on their "beach" at the very edge of a tidal flat. They couldn't use it at high tide, but it got groomed twice a day and was a great, flat surface for schooling on. Very cheap all weather arena!
Thanks for the tips! I wil definately keep them in mind. I think "wading" is the way to go.
I likely won't be able to do much until the spring. It's never really cold here, 70 on a chilly day, and there is a nice little "bay" protected by a coral reef, but the waves on the North Shore can be brutal in the winter. Even though the 30+ footers break well off shore, they stir up decent sized waves on shore.
The beach is actually pretty well enclosed. It's right off the polo field and the gates are all kept closed for the horses' safety. Even if I ended up in the water the horse couldn't go far. (Well, okay, she could go pretty far, but in a safe area). I also have access to the pond/lake in the cross country field. Nicely enclosed and it's calm in the winter. It's not water you would actually want to swim in, due to the risk of leptospirosis, but wading should be fine.
I would also keep it in the shallow end. Adding resistance of water is great, but as someone else posted, actual swimming causes as inverted back and the hind end kicking out behind. Inversion is obviously the last thing you want in a sport horse. The kicking is also hard on the stifles. While swimming is great exercise, I would prefer using something like an aquatred/going in the ocean with lower water. It will actually encourage rounding of the back.