Swimming for Horses

by Matt

Recently on our Facebook page (facebook.com/equine.architecture) we’ve shared some photos of horses swimming that have been very popular. Swimming, along with hydrotherapy and water treadmills, is rising in use for horses recovering from a variety of ailments and lamenesses. So what is swimming for horses all about?

Essentially, swimming allows a horse to regain (or maintain) condition without causing undue impact or pressure on the hooves, legs, or abdomen. This makes it an ideal exercise tool for horses who have undergone leg surgery, abdominal surgery, or who are recovering from laminitis. It’s also a useful way to build up strength and coordination in horses recovering from EPM, who may have suffered muscle atrophy during their illness, and horses suffering from neurological symptoms who might suffer a lack of balance during regular exercise.

Many equine rehab stables and large training centers are adding swimming facilities to their line-up of amenities. Some are opting for full-size swimming pools with a depth of about 14 feet; the horse swims along the perimeter while a handler walks along the edge. Others install a short trough with a flowing current — the horse is walked down into the pool and swims in place against the current, while one handler stands at the head and another at the tail to keep the horse from backing out.

If you are interested is something smaller than a pool, we have worked with the following companies and their products:

Kraft Horse Walker
Hudson Aquatic Systems, LLC

Swimming does have its drawbacks. Critics point to the posture of the spine in the swimming horse — neck raised, back hollowed, hindquarters kicking downwards. Too much swimming can lead to sore backs and stifles, to say nothing of building the wrong topline for most performance horses.

Despite this possibility, many horsemen are still integrating swimming into their conditioning and recovery routines. Like everything else, swimming, in moderation, can be a valuable tool in building up and maintaining a horse with minimum shock impact to their legs. If you’re thinking of swimming your horse, consult with your veterinarian to see how you can best incorporate this therapy into your horse’s life.

41 responses on “Swimming for Horses

  1. Jeff Howard says:

    I am interested in installing a swim pool for horses and cattle. Can you send me any 8nfo you have concerning costs of construction. Also, is a vet required to be on site or does a vet have to write a prescription for the swim therapy? Thanks, Jeff

    • Matt Johnson says:

      Hello. A swimming pool is a great solution for offering low impact exercise for large animals needing conditioning or recovery from injury. We have worked on projects utilizing either an unground design or land based units. Please give us a call anytime to discuss these options further along with general costs.

  2. Errol Downey says:

    I would like some info on your construction for a horse swimming pool I am considering to construct a long mote like pool on my property and would like a quote for this project.

  3. Glory Smith says:

    I would like to install an equine swimming pool indoors and would like any information you could send me regarding doing a project like this. Also, if you know of any facilities that have a pool already installed that I could look at to understand how it is designed. Thank you.

  4. steven says:

    Hi, I am interested in any desighn ideas you might have with useing a 20ft shipping container in ground as it would be very much appreciated.

    • Matt Johnson says:

      Interesting idea, and might be a great solution for some free swimming with careful thought about how to get into and out of the container. Our typical recommendation for a long pool (straight) is 50-85m (164’-279’) long by 3m (10’) wide by 3-3.7m (10′-12’) deep, including ramps. From our experience we have found that this length is a comfortable to increase endurance without putting the horse at risk.

  5. Do you have any experience swimming young horses? I am the father of 3, each child swam. The leagues at the local recreation department (NCAA rules) and the club level (USA Swim or Olympic rules) start the kids at 8 years old. Each child’s experience and longevity is different. A few things evident are the conditioning, heart & lung capacity, I noticed in the kids. Another characteristic was the work ethic they gained compared to some other sports. 1 & 1/2 hours of 25 meter laps 3x a week for a grade and high school ages requires dedication. It also requires the dedication of a good coach and support of the parents to make it fun for the kids.
    Have you ever done any condition work with weanlings or yearlings? My kids athleticism was enhanced by swimming early. Can we equate this to the Thoroughbred?

    • Matt Johnson says:

      Swimming can be a great way to condition horses of any age, but it’s a good idea to have a vet examine any horse before beginning a swimming regimen, regardless of the horse’s age. Introducing any horse to swimming needs to be done gradually and carefully – and with younger horses still learning ground manners, the danger to both horse and handler is increased. Be sure to stay safe when swimming young horses!

  6. Chris says:

    Hi, I’m interested in a round pool for a rehab center for horses.

  7. Diana Paris says:

    I am installing an equine swimming pool and I’m looking for information on dimensions and prices.

  8. Kimberly Jesmain says:

    We are opening an Elite rehab facility and are in need of quotes on not only an aqua tred and aqua walker but also an equine pool were the horse will swim against a current. Could you please contact me.

    • Matt Johnson says:

      Congratulations. Please email us with your specifications.

    • Peyton Francis says:

      I’m curious to know what people generally pay for having their horses swam.. do you have any info that will help me?

      • Matt Johnson says:

        Hello – prices can vary widely depending on your location, the length of the session, and the type of package. On average, you can count between $40-50 for a 30 minute hydrotherapy session. Some rehabilitation centers will also offer weekly or monthly packages including boarding and several sessions of hydrotherapy. These packages can run between $600-1,200 depending on the facility and type of rehabilitation program for your horse.

  9. Karen says:

    Hi what is the smallest size for a round pool? Thanks

    • Matt Johnson says:

      Our recommended typical round pool is 18m (60’ diameter) minimum by 3m (10’) wide by 2.5-3m (8’-10’ and sometimes 12’) deep. From our experience we have found that this size is a comfortable length to increase endurance without putting the horse at risk. We have seem smaller pools but due to the turning radius, the horses are positioned for direct impact from their hind legs with the walls as the swim. If you have any additional questions, please let us know.

  10. danny craven says:

    hello, i want to build a 50m long by 2.7m wide by 2.7m deep. could i ask your thoughts on this and what degree should be for the ramp in and out?

    • danny craven says:

      my apologies i forgot to say swimming pool for race horses

    • Matt Johnson says:

      A typical long (straight) equine pool is 70-85m (230’-279’) long by 3m (10’) wide by 2.5-3m (8’-10’ and sometimes 12’) deep depending on the intended use, but some have done much shorter. From our experience we have found that this length is a comfortable length to increase endurance without putting the horse at risk. For swimming pool ramp slope we typically use 25% to 36.5% for entry ramps, and 25% for exit.

  11. Judi says:

    Hi, how often should an equine training pool be emptied and cleaned if up to 300 horses per day are using the pool?
    There is a backwash-type filtration system and automated chlorine dosing pump. A robotic vacuum is used daily as well as floccing agents but this doesn’t clean out the hose hair and other matter from the sumps

    • Matt Johnson says:

      The cleaning frequency will partially depend on the size of the pool, as well as whether you’re treating the water with chlorine. Using chlorine means you’ll need to clean the pool less frequently, but be sure to hose off horses thoroughly after they’ve been swimming in a chlorinated pool. Equipping your pool with a strong filtration/sanitization system will also help to keep the water clean.

  12. Julie says:

    I’m an appraiser and have come across a couple of equine hydrotherapy pool and I am trying to get information on cost to construct etc. Would you have any information that might help me out?

  13. Tina Cain says:

    Can you give me best guess est on a round pool 18×3 and if straight is more reasonable? . We are just considering at this time, would like idea of cost. Thank you

  14. cindy r musselwhite says:

    interested in a straight pool for my horses. Would like any info on what you offer, sizes, maintenance, is there a salt water version, cost etc…? The pool will be for private use only and for enhancing the health of my horses. The water treadmill may be more economical and easier to care for so, please advise. My horses are healthy and i am just looking for alternative exercise to implement into our program.

    Thank you,
    Cindy Musselwhite

  15. Bob taylor says:

    I would like information about building a swimming area in my pond. Please contact me.

  16. Ashlie Muñoz says:

    I am interested in starting my own Equine aquatic therapy and would like to know any information needed to get started. I have been looking at the treadmills as well as a pool. The facility would be installed here on my own property in New Mexico. Do I need to be certified in anything? Does a veterinarian need to be on site? What all do I need to really get this started? In the area I live in we mostly have race horses, rodeo and show horses. Any information is greatly appreciated. Thanks

    • Matt Johnson says:

      What a great project you’re planning! Required certifications will vary from state to state. Contacting a local equine rehab facility or your state’s veterinary board may give you a starting point. Your vet may also have some information or resources to help you out. Do let us know if you need any help in designing and planning this project.

  17. Safey says:

    I am interested in water treatment of swimming pools, is there any difference in the pH and chlorine levels for the pools of the horses. Is it possible to use the same salt chlorinator for the horse’s pool? Are there any references I can read regarding the pool chemistry for the horses?

  18. Brian says:

    I am a pool service company/builder in the Idaho area and was wondering if you had any information on building an equestrian pool. I have a customer who is looking into the idea and came across your article online. They are looking for 100ft straight 12ft deep type. If you had any recommendations on equipment does and don’ts or could put me in touch with a pool builder that deals in this scope of specialty pools i would greatly appreciate it.

  19. Stacie says:

    I am interested in a potential swimming facility and was wanting some more information on design and prices.

  20. Terri Douvres says:

    I am building an equine swimming pool for conditioning and rehabilitation of performance horses and adequate for dogs also
    I am seeking info for in ground with ramp circular or elongated with depth up to 12’ and center island
    Gunite or vinyl designs

  21. Bradley Knott says:

    Hi, I am looking to build just a small pond for our horses to take a dip when it’s hot, not for any type of therapy but just to cool off, it is advisable and any advice

    • Matt Johnson says:

      Creating a small pond for your horses to cool off during hot weather can be a good idea, though it’s important to distinguish between cooling off and actual swimming. The size of the pond should be tailored to your available space and the number of horses you have (it should be large enough for them to wade and cool off comfortably but not so deep that it poses a safety risk). You may also consider factors like depth, water quality, and providing a safe, supportive entrance and exit ramp. A gradual, sloping edge for entry and exit can help prevent accidents. If the pond is deeper, using a lead line while your horse cools off is a sensible precaution to ensure they don’t end up in waters that are too deep for them. Another important consideration is maintaining good water quality: make sure to regularly monitor and treat the water to prevent stagnation and the growth of harmful microorganisms.

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