Jamaica’s Swimming Horses

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Jamaica, a former British colony, is one of the horsiest places in the Caribbean. Anglo-inflected equestrian tradition meets sunny beaches on this large and vibrant isle, and in one corner of Montego Bay the combination takes a particularly surprising form: thoroughbreds that swim in the sea.

No, this is not some strange subspecies or time-honored island practice. Horse trainer Trina DeLisser (who is director of the equestrian center at Half Moon, a storied seaside resort) started teaching steeds to tread water some thirty years ago. Like humans, horses aren’t born swimmers, but their extremely powerful legs make them good at it. Many of DeLisser’s thoroughbreds—more than half of which are rescue animals—have been in training pools, which are often used for physical therapy with racehorses.

But a pool is a controlled environment—the sea is something else. Naturally, it’s easier to lead some of these horses to water than others. The enthusiastic swimmers help to train the wary newcomers, most of which come to realize that they can, in fact, proceed safely into the waves with their hooves hovering above the seafloor.  Essentially, it’s galloping. But easier on the joints. 

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