It is easy to think that introducing your horse to water will be a nerve racking and stressful experience for both you and your horse but with patience, understanding and clear guidance it should be exciting and rewarding for you both.
The initial introduction to water should be done calmly and quietly. By taking your time and listening to your horse you will build trust and confidence from the beginning of the experience, it is important to create these feelings from the start. To ensure that your horse associates the water with positivity make sure to reward him.
If your horse is very green it may help to give him a lead in from a reliable, experienced horse that can help to assist him. Having a lead horse will show him that there is nothing to fear. It is amazing to see just how much another horse gives the green horse a boost of confidence, allowing him to see the other horse is in no danger and displaying no concern in what he is being asked to do.
On his own the inexperienced horse will not know anything about the water, he will be questioning, if the water has a firm bottom, how deep is the water, what is beneath the water, is there something in the water that can hurt him, he cannot be expected to know all these answers.
You must check that the water is safe before every practice so you do not destroy the horse’s trust and confidence from an early bad experience. As a result of careful mileage, the horse will gain as much trust in his rider as he has with any lead horse.
When attempting ditches, it is advisable to attempt a simple natural water hazard such as a ford or shallow river instead of immediately trying to jump in off a bank. Walk quietly into the water instead of jumping immediately in off a bank, this will deter negative experiences of water for your horse.
When you are in the water, at a constant pace try to walk your horse through or around in a positive but not rushed frame of mind. By introducing your horse to water as frequently as possible in the initial stages, it will become less of an issue each time.
When first beginning to jump into water, chose a small plain bank selecting a simple approach. A water complex is a good place to start as they have the option of an alternative entrance that doesn’t involve a jump. Try the exercise in trot, allowing your horse sufficient time to assess the situation in his approach. Build strength in the last few strides, it is important not to ride in with too much speed as this will surprise the horse, not knowing how he may react.
Encourage your horse with both your legs and voice to ensure he jumps cleanly in. Repeat this process until he no longer hesitates before attempting the jump in canter.
When in canter, do not go too fast. The water could suddenly slow your progress causing the horse to lose balance as his legs are held back by the drag effect of the water. Shallow water would be most sensible for an inexperienced horse at this stage.
If your horse becomes cautious with the idea of lowering himself into water, positively ride him forward to encourage him to stretch himself into a jump. Remember that it is not sufficient for him to step in, one foot after another. Make sure to put him in front of the leg. Once you have presented a horse to a fence do not give up, however do not attempt to present him to a fence if you do not feel you are in a position to help your horse.
Once in the water ride the horse forward. Do not let him become too timid or change the speed of his pace. This will help for the next stage when he jumps fences sited in water.
If you find your horse launching himself into the water and rushing through, this is usually because he has a fear of the water. To overcome this, approach quietly, reducing the speed and once in the water try to remain in the water, circling or stopping, making sure that your horse does not take charge and remove himself from the water on his own accord.
Reward your horse and then come out of the water. Repeat this exercise until the horse becomes more settled. Make sure that you do not catch the horse in the mouth and be prepared to slip the reins on entry to avoid this. Try to land on your stirrups opposed to the horses back.
At times when jumping out of the water it is easy for a fall or problem to occur. When travelling through the water obstacle, try to keep your horse as together as possible. If you are in canter, keep it short and bouncy. Make sure you maintain a rhythm and do not anticipate the take-off spot.
Your ability to judge distance may be affected by the way the horse reacts to the effects of the water splash or depth to list a couple of potential contributing factors. You may find that some horses shorten their steps as a result of the water splash whilst some do the opposite and attempt to clear the water and exaggerate their strides which is something to take note on so that you can effectively maintain balance and connection without losing impulsion.
It is important to always remember to be patient and be prepared to educate your horse quietly with water.