Ditches are a regular sight on cross-country courses, but they can often feel like a leap of faith if you and your horse aren’t used to them. When you’re nervous, the smallest of gaps can turn (in your head) into the Burghley Cottesmore Leap of ditches, and making it to the other side can seem like a miracle in itself.
Event rider Flora Young has two top-tips to help you tackle ditches with confidence.
1 Fake it (without using a shovel!)
One problem with practicing ditches is that it can seem impossible if you don’t have access to one. Before you head into the open countryside searching high and low, look no further than your arena. It’s easy to recreate your own ditch – and you don’t even need a shovel.
“You can easily make a ditch out of poles, or by using a water tray,” she Flora. “It’ll be less intimidating as it’s an environment your horse is used to and it won’t matter if you go wrong.”
To make a ditch, use a water tray or place two poles on the ground, 2ft apart (you can make this bigger the more confident you and your horse become). Between your poles place a tarpaulin (or one of your horse’s rugs) to recreate the ditch element.
Try putting your newly created ditch below or in front of a fence to make your own trakehner-style jump.
2 Take things slow and steady
Tempting as it is to go gung-ho at ditches to get them over and done with, approaching them slowly and steadily will increase your chance of success.
‘A walk or gentle trot gives your horse plenty of time to read the question,” explains Flora. “If you go too fast, you risk scaring your horse and knocking his confidence.”
A slower approach will also help you to keep your horse going straight. Aim for the centre of your ditch and ride towards that point.
If you feel him back off or try to duck out, you’ll have plenty of time to put your leg on and give him reassurance.
To read more from Flora about jumping ditches, grab yourself a copy of Your Horse issue 440 to see the full feature. You can buy a copy here