Jessica York, an equine hydrotherapist who oversees the hydrotherapy centre at Moulton College, explains the benefits of swimming for horses and how horses are introduced to the water.
There are many benefits for horses where swimming is concerned, just as for any other animal or person. The key advantages are fitness and rehabilitation.
Swimming can be incorporated into many horse’s training programmes, usually as an alternative to gallop or canter work, as it provides a good cardiovascular workout. It’s best suited to horses that are already reasonably fit and ideal for those that have a reason to gallop regularly for fitness, but need to limit concussion through the feet and legs. There is, of course, a strength element too, from repeatedly pushing and pulling themselves – not only through the water, but also up the ramps and out of the pool.
As we all know, predicting how a horse might react when faced with a new challenge is near impossible. Even a horse you know well may surprise you. When it comes to swimming, if it’s your horse’s first experience, it’s important to make sure it’s a good one.
Most pools have a loading bay, where the horse can first be introduced to the idea of walking forwards into the water. This is where it’s essential to take as much time as the horse needs, letting him stand and contemplate his path forward.
Different centres may have different techniques, but at the Equine Therapy Centre at Moulton College, we find a correctly and snuggly fitted lunge cavesson is the best thing for a horse to wear. With an experienced handler holding a lunge line on each side, gentle pressure can then be applied to encourage the horse to take a step forwards. We generally find that once the horse has taken a tentative step onto the ramp and into the water, he sees that it’s not as scary as he might have first thought.
Most horses learn to swim well and hydrotherapy becomes a beneficial part of their training regime.
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