Swimming with Horses 101 by Guest Blogger Amy C. Witt
Photography and video by Jamie Changala (@changalaaussies)
Amy C. Witt of caliidreamin.com tells us about how she has fun in the sun this summer!
Being born and raised in California’s gorgeous Central Valley, I am no stranger to the danger of high temps and long summer days. Our record high temperatures can make it extremely discouraging to even consider adventuring horseback too far from home. But, living in the state’s heartland offers some of the most authentic and rich experiences amongst nature to share with my favorite equestrian friends. So instead of staying indoors on sunny afternoons, I load my horse and head to the lake where we stroll through the sunflower adorned paths that lead us to a refreshing glittery shoreline.
Swimming with my horse, Mo has been a life-changing experience. It’s not only made me a better rider, it has taught me a lot more about my horse, our communication, and the connection we share. I’ve had Mo since he was two years old. He and I have forged our bond through years of shared experiences. From running through barrels and poles, to heading and healing steers, breakaway roping or dragging calves to the fire for a brand — Mo has become an extension of myself. Our bond has only been furthered by our favorite activity, swimming! Last summer, my good friend and photographer, Jamie and I decided to take our horses to Lake Success in Porterville, CA, for some water therapy.
The opportunity to swim horses provides an immense benefit to the body by offering a new stimulating environment to navigate. As they work their way through the water, horses’ powerful legs, muscles and tendons are elongated, giving them the ability to stretch freely which promotes muscle symmetry, flexibility and balance. Swimming also increases the range of motion in their limbs, prevents muscle spasms, and contractures. Additionally, this form of hydrotherapy allows horses to build strong respiratory and cardiovascular systems. It’s an ideal way to help your horse build a strong heart and increase their level of cardiovascular endurance without hard impact on their soft tissues, bones, and joints.
I know you’re sold on this but before you set out on your cruise, remember safety comes first. Here’s a few things you should consider: make sure you take someone with you, don’t go alone – because just like anything else, (especially if this is your first time) you don’t want to put yourself in any situation that could inflict harm onto you or your horse. You don’t want to have to think about being left alone in the event of an accident. It’s almost mandatory that you take a horse that is gentle, broke, one that you trust and have full control of – especially because, this can be a test of bravery and trust to see just how connected you and your horse really are. Find a lake, pond, river (or even ocean) that has a recreation center or area where there is not a lot of people or distractions. Putting yourself in a position where there is heavy water traffic like boats, jet-skis or people could cause anxiety, dangers and be uncomfortable for both you and your horse. Make sure you’re confident that the water is safe before your maiden voyage. Check the conditions under the water – are the banks steep or are there sharp rocks or standing sticks/trees? In some states and countries, bodies of water can be contaminated by diseases, blue-green algae, insects, fish or animals that could contribute to risky or harmful conditions to you and your horses’ health. Also consider that rattle snakes (and possibly other snakes depending on where you live) enjoy water and rocks near water – so check your surroundings and be aware.
When you find your perfect swimming hole, introduce your horse gradually into the water as your friend(s) and their horse(s) do the same. Doing it together, makes it easier on the horses and gives everyone support and encouragement. You can welcome them into the soothing water two ways – either by leading them or riding bareback. When I first started, I led Mo in the first couple times to get him acclimated to the water. When we drifted to deeper waters and actually began to swim, I grabbed his mane and swam alongside of him. Now, I prefer to ride bareback straight into the water. I’ve found that riding into the water bareback is more effective as it gives them a sense of safety and security while they seem to ease in rather, smooth and quietly. Not to mention, you can learn so much more about yourself and horses’ systems.
Jamie and I swim our horses at a local lake, Lake Success. We found a paved road that leads us into the water. With this being said, I would suggest finding an old recreation road or boat ramp that is not used. Boat ramps are cemented, so they can be slick and slippery – however, they do provide support and a bit of security for horses as they travel into the water. If you make sure to stay on the boat ramp, you are able to obtain a better sense of depth and direction. The ground outside of the cement is different and horses are very aware of this. If a boat ramp or road is not an option, make sure the ground is hard enough to support the horses’ weight and traction. As you feel more confident to venture into deeper waters, be conscious to give them their head and make sure not to hinder them with your body.
his summer, I encourage you to spend time with your best horsey friends and go for a rejuvenating swim! It is simply amazing to spend hours in water with your friends on a warm summer day take some floaties, sunscreen and your camera and relax with your horse as together, you enjoy a fun day in the sun! But, most importantly, have fun! Swimming your horse should be an exciting and rejuvenating time.
After a day on the lake, I wash Mo with the Ultimate Gloss Shampoo and Conditioner by Mane ‘n Tail. But he’s not the only one who gets pampered. I keep myself fresh with Mane ‘n Tail Color Protect Shampoo and Conditioner.