Love them or hate them, you’ll likely come across a ditch somewhere on a cross-country course and practising them at home is the best way to give you and your horse a good chance of clearing it safely and confidently. Jumping natural ditches is also a useful skill when you’re out hacking.
In the video below, six-time Badminton winner and Petplan Equine ambassador Lucinda Green explains how to mimic a ditch in the arena so that your horse clears any you meet out in the country.
In the video, Lucinda uses a Petplan Equine banner between two fence posts as a ditch. You could use tarpaulin, a water tray and anything similar that is rectangle shape that you have to hand at home. Just make sure it’s safe and won’t harm your horse in the event that he steps on it.
1 Do it in walk
Walk Lucinda advises walking over the ditch several times first, in both directions, to give your horse time to look, assess and jump over quietly. Do it as many times as you need to until he becomes calmer and he isn’t putting in an awkward leap over the ditch. When you’re ready, repeat in trot.
2 Your hand position
“Remember to keep your fingers soft, your elbows by your side and have a contact that’s ready to go concrete if they try to dodge,” says Lucinda.
The key here is allowing your horse enough room in the rein contact to lower his head and look at the ditch, but still having enough of a contact that you can prevent him whipping around if he tries to run away. When he goes, you also need to keep the hand soft so that you don’t catch him in the mouth in the event of an awkward leap.
3 Your upper body
“Be careful you don’t allow your hands to move forward,” adds Lucinda. “Your fingers allow the reins through, but if you allow your hands forward you’ll unplug your bottom from its ‘ready-for-trouble’ seat.”
Sit behind and don’t let your upper body tip forward up your horse’s neck. You don’t want to fall off.
4 If your horse stops
The second horse in the video, ridden by Juliet, stops to look at the ditch a good stride out.
“He’s interested in it and not sure it’s not going to kill him,” says Lucinda. “Juliet just sits it out and gives him a bit of time to breathe.
“I love the way he’s summing it up and you’re just sitting quietly ready to be soft [with your hands] or ready to be concrete if he tries to leap left or right.”
The horse starts looking around.
“Now he’s looking somewhere else, which is typical — horses do that when they’re not sure, they look up at something else.”
Juliet keeps the horse straight and looking ahead at the ditch. Eventually he walks towards and jumps over.
5 Consider your direction
When you jump a ditch with the sun behind you, it creates a shadow and affects how the horse sees the ditch. So always try to jump it the other way first.
“When the sun is behind you, effectively the [horse’s] shadow gets to the fence first and makes it look like the ditch is moving,” explains Lucinda.