Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Water & Horses: Do Not Mix

It's nearly the end of summer. You've played with, pampered and ridden your horse up and down the sunny hills. But there's one thing you may not have done yet; swimming with your horse at the beach.

For so many people, the ultimate fantasy ride is a galloping across a wet beach at sunset, or swimming their horse across warm turquoise waves.

Personally, I don't get it. Water is deep, unpredictable, polluted, filled with slimy living things you can't see, and it can kill you. And that's for people. Add a spook-prone horse into the mix, and it gets even worse! Okay okay, I might be a little biased on this issue. I love to swim about as much as the average housecat does. But my personal preferences aside, swimming with your horse, or even taking him to the beach, has major risks. If you absolutely must take to the water like some sort of fishy abomination, please remember:

1) Never swim a horse in an unfamiliar place. Know where the slippery or jagged rocks, sinkholes, ensnaring weeds, sunken junk, driftwood, fast currents, riptides, tangled fishing lines, etc are located before you take a horse out there. Of course, you can't see underwater half the time, and you can't scour every possible bit the horse might move across, and stuff moves all the time...

WI Tragedy
2) Never make a horse swim very long, unless he's used to it. When was the last time you swam more than two laps? Ten years ago? Uh huh. Try it, and remember how tiring it is. Now, when was the last time you swam two laps with significant weight on your back? That's right, never. But you're going to ask your unconditioned horse to swim, carrying your fat ass, for an hour? No. Like any activity, swimming requires conditioning. Ten minutes treading water is more than enough for the first time! That's equivalent to a ten mile canter. Hell, even trotting a horse across deep sand can be exhausting. When was the last time you tried to run around in an arena/roundpen filled with deep sand? Yeah, that was terrible, wasn't it? Now imagine that sand is wetter and heavier, and sticks to you.

3) Don't swim near other people. Plenty of people have gotten legs or ribs broken after a horse kicked them while swimming. A horse has to kick in order to swim, and many of them paw violently at the water if they're unfamiliar with being in it. I don't recommend you even try to swim in the water next to your horse-- ride him or stay out of the water. And remember, you can't control a horse nearly as well when you're swimming! Everything is floating, you can't keep tension on the line, the bottom is uneven, you have no leverage/purchase... ugh.

4) Mud is BAD. While you, with your light human body, may be able to easily pull out of mud or not even sink into it, a heavy horse can become trapped easily. Don't swim or ride anywhere that there isn't a firm shore and bottom. Which is pretty much everywhere...
The picture at the right is brought to you by a moronic Australian woman just this week. She thought a beach ride would be fun-- then got her horse stuck in the muddy sand while the tide rose around them. Article here.

5) No tack! It's not just because your horse doesn't need the added weight, when he can barely keep his head above water. Horses have drowned because idiots left tie-downs on them, meaning the horses couldn't get their heads above water. Then, girths, bridles, breastcollars, bucking girths and everything else tend to slide around and get tangled in seaweed or fishing line or even a horse's leg. Hell, you could just drop the leadrope and it might wedge somewhere terrible, or wrap around a sinking horse's leg... On the other hand, without tack, you're going to have a harder time staying on and controlling the horse, right when you're in a new and scary situation...

You know what? Just don't do it.
Don't swim your horse.

Yep, sorry folks, I can't in good conscience recommend that you swim with your horse. There are just too many damn things that can go wrong. If you've got a fancy equine hydrotherapy facility, fine. If your horse is dead calm, and you live on a very firm-bottomed, crystal-clear beach with absolutely no impediments anywhere, okay. If you are a real cowboy who absolutely must swim across a river in rugged territory, go ahead I guess. But for the rest of you, just don't do it!

This summer, a horse drowned at the UK's historical Appleby Fair, where swimming horses to bathe them is traditional...but one owner's tactics were not. Article here. Video of another horse at the fair, owned by a guy only slightly less idiotic, here.

In the U.S., another horse drowned this summer when it's owner was "trying to teach it how to swim." Although the horse hadn't ever been swimming before, the man made it cross a lake three times while carrying him. On the third crossing, the horse became exhausted, the reins broke, and the horse slipped and drowned. Article here.

There are many, many more incidents of horses drowning each year, all so that humans can enjoy a stupid fantasy.

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