The water jump...
I have a lovely little warmblood gelding that will jump the moon if you ask him to. If he's unsure about a 1m jump, he'll take it a stride back and add another 60cm to it. He's got some talent.
I started leasing him just right at the start of the year to event with. He seems to have a massive complex about water. Unfortunately the girl that owns him never evented him like she planned to and he went unridden and not competed for a good 18 months! Big waste on this horse.
We started the year with getting about 15m away from a lake and him refusing to go forward and he'd just start rearing to get away. Hate rearers! I told the girl and she was shocked he'd do that because she literally had to move him out of one place she agisted because he wouldn't get out of the dam! He'd spend all day in there and only come out for food.
So we spent a day at this particular lake with some treats and a horse that loves water and once he was in the water he was fine. I swam him at another lake before it got too cold and he'd rear and have a tanty about going in but once he was in he loves it. He'll throw his head under and snorkle and blow bubbles and have so much fun in there.
A few weeks ago before our eventing season started one of the local clubs had a training day. He didn't want to walk in, not even following another horse. But he jumped in no worries. I was doing prelim with him within 20 minutes no dramas. Go forward a couple weeks to our first event and he was going brilliantly for his first course ever, then we get to the water. I slowed him to a trot to make sure nothing was going to surprise him and he was forward and lovely until we got right to the edge (only a 20-30cm drop which he can do easy) and he reared and spun away. He did that twice so I took him over to the side we could walk in and he did it once there (eliminated) and then did a massive jump in to the middle then stood there going "yay, water!". :? Had a little splash and then jumped out.
Yesterday I took him to a little creek near us and he wouldn't go down to it, spent forever with him rearing and carrying on but once he was in, he didn't care. It seems to me that he has a complex about the change from land to water, maybe not water itself?
It's funny coz on two separate occasions he's jumped down about 60cm in to relatively fast running water, no dramas. This horse confuses me...
Unfortunately we can't go to local courses and train there anymore as the clubs are no longer allowed to offer that unless it's an actual training day which doesn't happen very much. I'm just not really sure how to go about fixing this coz it seems to be he has this fight at every body of water that's different.
Getting a horse totally comfortable with water is an ongoing thing trained in very small steps, and definitely not something that can be accomplished or "fixed" in a short time. Eventers spend YEARS getting a horse 100% comfortable with the questions they'll encounter on cross country. The statement you made in your post about "doing prelim with him within 20 minutes" and the issues you described with him rearing near the water is a huge red flag that he is not ready and you are pushing him too fast, horses can't talk but that is his way of trying to tell you that he is not ready for what you are asking. Many horses will jump very big over things they are unsure of, and his jump into the water sounds more like a panicked leap than the relaxed jump in the horse should be making. He still sounds fairly green overall to me.
When you first took him down to the lake the first time, you should have just taken him to where he was comfortable and then just let him stand there. Ask for a step or two forward when he was relaxed, and then let him stand. Maybe he would have went all the way into the water the first time, maybe not, but it shouldn't have been a big deal either way. Praise him big time for every step and any curiosity shown towards the water. Instead of forcing him in the first time, you should have introduced it slowly over a few days or a week, and went very slowly, and shown him it was no big deal. Now he's obviously got some anxiety about *entering* the water, not so much the water itself, it sounds like.
Every thing in cross country needs to be done in baby steps. You start with small logs, then gradually progress to larger fences. This is done over a summer or two, not over a single training session. Same with ditches, start very small and then slowly go bigger. Same with water, you start very basic, just walking and standing, then trotting and cantering through, then walk in off a tiny bank, etc. What you want to do is make the progression very gradual and step by step so there is never an issue, the horse never has a tantrum or gets overwhelmed or says no. This is how you build a good cross country horse with no holes in its training. There's no shortcut unfortunately.
Your horse sounds like he's trying very hard and seems like a very willing and forgiving horse. He also sounds like he's got a lot of talent as well, but he is scared. The good news is that I definitely think you can address and fix the water issue, but it's going to be a slow process. My suggestion would be to start back at square one. Getting him totally comfortable with the water again, starting over like he's a green horse that has never set a foot in the water. Then VERY SLOWLY progress to trotting through, cantering through, a very tiny bank in and out, and so on, and not moving on until he is total and 100% comfortable with the each step. That's the only way you're going to be able to fill the holes in his water training and fix his anxiety. An experienced rider might be able to get on and bully him into the water, but that's not going to make him more confident in himself or "fix" anything. You have to go back and fill in his blanks, which is being comfortable and relaxed entering the water. And you as a rider on a green to cross country horse have to be quiet but confident, firm but not harsh, and extremely solid and aware of your body position at all times.
Another thing, is to make sure that whatever water you take him in, has extremely good footing. If you're taking him into creeks and lakes that have muddy, sucking bottoms that his feet get stuck in, or the creek bed is rocky and hurts his feet and he has trouble walking on them, or maybe there's sticks and logs on the bottom that he may stumble on and can't see, or weeds that tangle around his legs, you're not setting him up for success for jumping into water later. He may not want to go in because he can't see the bottom, he doesn't know it's safe, he may think it will be sticky or rocky, maybe the water is a slightly different color, etc. When I am introducing a horse to water, I make sure that the first 5 or 10 times I do it it's in a very simple, laid back, and inviting way, with lots of confident friends around to give him a lead and calm him, and I make sure it's in a proper water complex with a well maintained bottom. And I don't make it into an issue, there is no schedule set in stone, you really have to read the horse and listen to what they're saying. If they're not ready and acting up, listen to them, stop pushing, and end the session on a good note. Then you try to progress a little more next time. You really have to set the horse up for success from day 1.
Lynn Palm had an excellent program only a few weeks back training your horse to go in water. As you know, you find the holes in their education when something seems different. She worked her 4yo stallion on the ground first. She used her "pond", which was maybe 3 1/2' deep in the center and looked to be about 20' diameter. First she suggested walking with the horse between you and the water. Then, it was walking along the edge, getting his feet wet. Then, it was in the water, out of the water, in the water, out of the water, first just about 1 ft. from the edge, then deeper.
She let him stop and smell the water, and insisted on forward motion. ALL of the waterwork was done in groundwork until her horse was comfortable.
She repeated this work under saddle.
You can probably find this on Hulu, or online in a video.
Hope this helps!
Just wanted to add that a HUGE pet peeve of mine, and something that I see a LOT of, is riders that use their crop on their horses for slowing down the slightest bit or even glancing at the water. It's incredibly common at the lower levels, mostly green horses and green riders. It's one thing if it's a seasoned horse is being silly or looky, a smack with a crop may be perfectly acceptable in a situation like that, but 99% percent of what I see is not the case.
Most times its just a simple shallow water pass through. You see the riders coming up to the water, and then some choose to ride like hell, gunning it the last 50 feet up, and usually they end up falling off or nearly coming off when their horse, no surprise, slams on the brakes. Then there's the ones who start whipping as soon as their horse gets near the water, which only teaches the horse that they should NEVER go near water, as they only get beaten when it's around. Then the one I hate seeing the most is the ones who let their horses slow down to trot slow or walk in, while stretching their head down to check out the water and that *exact* moment is when the rider chooses to smack the horse with the crop, effectively punishing it for going forward and showing curiosity in the water.
Everything should *always* be super positive and encouraging with a young or green horse.
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