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Hi All-
I think I need some help/advice on water crossing training for my 7 year old mare. I went out with her this past weekend and for the first time we encountered a shallow water crossing (I've had her about 3-months), about 50m across. My friend, who goes on this trail regularly ponied her and after a bit of urging she took a gigantic leap into the water, almost sending me into the water and unseating my friend. It was almost like she was trying to jump across the whole thing. The same thing occurred when we had to cross back as well.

So, this got me thinking that maybe she wasn't a big fan of water. To test my theory, it rained last night and this morning I found a 10ft wide puddle in the pasture, just a few inches deep and tried to lead her across it and she did the same thing... after urging she didn't just step in but instead took a huge leap into the middle of the puddle.

My question is, how do I get her used to the idea of crossing water safely. I know if she continues these huge leaps it's just a matter of time before I end up being baptized. ;) Thanks for your help!
 

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Hey Lauralynnee, it has been my personal experience that it is only through constant exposure that horses get better. With the first puddle what should have done was rode her backwards and forwards, in and out of it until the jumping stopped. While it was nice that you had a friend to pony you the first time, after that you really needed to push your horse in on your own. From what you have written so far your mare has been lead through water 3 times and she did it grudgingly and reluctantly everytime. At some stage you are going to have to get her through water on your own in the saddle (or get used to wet feet!).

You are going to have to find yourself a puddle or a little creek with a safe ford and push your horse across, giving her no choice but forward. When I say no choice but forward what I mean is that if she gets really stubborn about going in you are going to have to do something that doesn't let her off from working. If she won't go forward then make her go sideways or backwards untill she wants to go through the water.

The thing that worries me is that the first time she probably was worried about the water but you may have set a precedent of her having to be lead through water so you may now have quite a fight on your hands.
 

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You might find it really useful to reinforce going forward off your leg promptly away from the water. Includea voice command such as "walk on" but insist that you get an immediate response. Use a stick if you need to.

Treat the issue with the water as a disobedience to your leg aids, rather than about the water, per se.

The idea is to establish this away from the water so she then doesn't associate the stick or being pushed forward just with the water. Once you've got the response reliablely, go back to walking back and forth through your puddle.

Take a break and go back and reinforce the response to leg aid away from water if you need to.

Be sure to let her, no, encourage her, to put her head down and look at and smell the water. Horses instictively distrust footing that isn't firm or doesn't look like the rest of the surrounding footing - this is a good instinct and one you don't want to subvert. If she puts her head down at the edge of the water and blows out, that's a good sign - she's investigating the footing and thinking about it. The next step is usually a tentatively step in or pawing. Make her move forward if she paws.

This requires patience, control and time - you don't want to lose your temper and make it a huge fight so she then associates that negative experience with the water.

It also helps if you have a friend give you a lead through the water, but goes slowly and stops ever few steps so your horse doesn't have room to jump.

The ideal place to school a horse through water is shallow with firm footing, with relatively flat, easy approachs and too wide for the horse to readily jump.

If there's nothing like that on the trails near you, try flooding a shallow place in your ring or pasture with a hose to practice.
 

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My mare wouldn't cross water either, but I always rode alone. One day I went on a ride with my friends and they crossed a water chest deep. My mare slowed, but didn't stop and went right in like she'd done it a million times. There was no way around the water. It was a river and it was cross or be left behind.

I vote for going with other horses and find such a crossing -- something far too wide for her to imagine jumping. Cross and recross as many times as your friends will have patience for. No you have a good base. Now, never let her jump into water again -- if she does, go back and forth until she settles down.

I agree -- exposure and repetition to reinforce the correct way to cross water.
 

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I agree with everything - practice, practice, practice!

Good idea to use other horses first, but eventually get her to the point where she goes by herself. When she doesn't hesitate following the other horses it's most likely because she sees "they survived!" or something to that effect ;)
When you take her through water by herself you need to make sure she trusts you enough to step right in since they can't judge the depth. Round pen work can help build her trust in you, which should help with the issue.
 

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What always worked for me with the OTTBs I've had is backing them into the water. Then once I am in the middle walk them forwards, back in a few more times, make some small circles in the water, walk in and out etc until its no big deal to be in the water.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Thanks everyone for such great advice! I'll be sure to keep you posted on the progress and hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas and many blessings in 2010!
 

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I'd start by making sure shes desensatized to walking over other things, like tarps and bridges, ect. After it rains I ride in the ring as if it didnt rain. I dont make a big deal about the puddle. If my mare evades me and goes around it, we circle and go back. I dont look down or point it out. Its no different then her deciding to balk out when I go down the straightaway of the ring. Sometimes its dangerous to lead a horse inhand in a puddle, you may get crushed toes.

After you conquer puddles work you way to small streams. You can even make a little one in the pasture (just a small trench.) Most horses also follow other horses, and assume there is no danger if the lead horse dosent act up. You could try that, if you know someone with a well despooked horse.
 

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You might find it really useful to reinforce going forward off your leg promptly away from the water. Includea voice command such as "walk on" but insist that you get an immediate response. Use a stick if you need to.

Treat the issue with the water as a disobedience to your leg aids, rather than about the water, per se.

I agree with this. Once your horse comes off your legs everytime you'll be able to ride her in so many different places. I perfer spurs over a stick, reason being, with the stick your don't have both hands on the reins or infront of you. If you are urgeing your horse forward with a stick and she goes to vear off you'll have a harder time keeping her straight with only one hand. Also, using spurs your can escolate pressure. If you can ride your horse without haveing to spank her everywhere other than water crossing then she knows how to come off your legs, so why use something thats not attached to your legs. I'm not saying you should jump on and start jabbing your horse with some spurs, what I'm saying is you start with a bump from your leg, then another, then roll(not jab) your spur up the side, then add some more pressure while rolling then bump her with the spur. I garantee you that the spurs will be more effective and easier to use then a stick or flag.
If she truely is affraid of water, try some sending excersizes. Lung her around the water and every few circles around take a step or two towards the water. You could stand 5 feet from the water and send her between you and the water, keep doing it getting closer and closer, only going closer when she's really good at it.
 

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Sorry for the half finished posted above pressed enter by mistake.

My 4-h County every year holds a desenstizing clinc that I help run. We set up a water obstacle by simply digging a shallow square hole in the ground and placing a shower curtian over it and filling it with water. The shower curtian is very important because it keeps the water in there and allows you to use less water. You can cover the edges of the curtain if you are worried about the horse getting caught on it. I have never seen a horse get caught on it but it nevers hurt to be extra safe.

Next we tell the kids to keep their horses facing the obstacle and if they have to move around have them over around the obstacle but not away until you tell them too. We always let them smell the water, drink it (gross I know but sometimes they do), or play in it before we ask them to move over it. When they are pretty comfortable with it we ask them to go over it and if they move they move around the obstacle not away. We never pull a horse across or hit them to get them over it. If this doesnt work and you have tried it a couple of times then I would suggest getting her to back through it. Pacience will pay off with this. The more comfortable the horse is the more they will do for you.

A technique we teach the students to safely get their horse over the obstacle is what we call the drive. It is where you can "lead" your horse from a distance and get out of the danger zones. We begin teaching them this by holding out our left hand pointing the direction we want them to go and flicking the end of the lead at their butt. Can be very similar to longing but you want them to go in a straight line. We also turn and "pin our ears" at them. You look like a weird but I swear by it. This can take a while to teach but is worth it if it will keep both of you safe.

I would also recommend getting your mare to go over tarps, cardboard, and anything to put on the ground to help gain her confidance in your abilty to keep her safe from scary objects.

Once you get your horse going over the obstacle keep doing it until your horse is doing it automatically with out thinking. I would also keep from riding your horse over acual streams until she goes over the man made one just fine because one wrong thing could go wrong and either hurt your horse or you which would be horrible.

Happy Training and Hope this Helps
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