Help your horse to splash through water with confidence in four easy steps with advice from eventing pro Karen Dixon.
1. Give him confidence with company
If your horse is young or inexperienced, it’s important to go cross-country schooling with a friend on a calm, experienced schoolmaster who’ll be able to give him confidence. Choose your venue carefully – ideally it should have a variety of water jumps to practise over, of varying depths, with inviting slopes in and out that are safe underfoot.
Cross-country schooling is all about building your horse’s confidence, so let him have fun following his more experienced friend into the water for a paddle, then ride out the other side, then turn around and ride back through the water again. Repetition is key to teaching your horse that water’s nothing to be afraid of.
2 Take it slow
Start by walking your horse through the water complex and forget about any jumps that might be there. Once he’s confident at walk – both following a friend through and on his own – move into trot, then try walking in and trotting out, and so on. I always advise riders to stay in walk and trot when they’re introducing their horse to water.
3 Introduce jumps into water
Once your horse is happy to walk and trot through the water complex on his own, it’s time
to introduce a bit of jumping. While I’m not a huge fan of jumping out of water, I find
it helps to boost a horse’s confidence no end if you can pop out of the water over a little step or jump, then turn around and jump back into the water over the same jump. The fact that he’s already familiar with the fence coming out will mean he’s much more confident going back in over it. Again, do this with the lead of a confident horse at first then try it on your own – and keep it steady. Choose a tiny step or jump you can pop over in walk first, then try it in trot.
Always jump in and out of water on a completely loose rein. Use a neck strap so you’ve got something to hold onto and hang on tight! Horses will often do a really big jump into water, and it’s important you’re not hanging onto their back teeth.
4 Try the seven-day trick!
If your horse has a problem with water, or is naturally suspicious, follow the advice I was once given by a natural horsemanship trainer – and that’s to tackle seven different water fences in seven days. It really works! I had a horse who rammed the brakes on whenever he saw a water jump. Over a week I took him to several different venues – I did two one day and three the next – and within a week his confidence had grown. It’s all about encouraging your horse to perceive water as just another thing he has to deal with.