Wet areas for the dressage horse would be puddles in the arena, for the showjumper, a water jump, and for the eventer a water complex.

– A suitable place to accustom the horse to water should fulfil the following criteria:
– The water should be no more than 20 cm deep.
– It should not have an uphill approach, as the young horse would not see it until the last moment and would be afraid.
– The underlying ground should be firm and without holes or large stones. Deep or muddy going makes the horse feel insecure and he will easily lose confidence about stepping into water.

If the horse has not so far reacted adversely to new experiences, he should have no fear of water right from the outset. The first introduction to water should be behind a brave lead horse who goes into and out of water easily and can cope with a young horse who may stop suddenly or spin around. In some circumstances it may be necessary to have the ‘lead’ horse beside the youngster and, if the youngster gets upset it can sometimes happen that he will slam into his companion, so the lead horse must also be able to cope with this.

How do we proceed? After loosening up, a single jump should be ridden out of trot and canter. Then use this training day to introduce the horse to other easy obstacles – it depends on the individual horse whether he is ridden alone or behind the lead horse.

A rest should be taken after about forty minutes and before introducing the water. This not attempted at the beginning of the session because we want to ensure that the horse is quiet and not too fresh and that we have built up his confidence over other obstacles. Should there be problems going into water the horse will use his power and energy against you. He is easier to persuade if he has been ridden sufficiently beforehand and is not fresh straight out of the stable.

The first approach should be in walk, one or two horse’s lengths behind the lead horse. The rider should keep a soft contact with the horse’s mouth to prevent him from running out to the side. A young horse can stand quite confidently in front of a water jump, but then comes his reaction to the rider’s aids.

There are two things the rider should beware of: the horse must not be allowed to turn around and, with weight and leg aids he should be prevented from stepping backwards. If he cannot be prevented at the same time from doing both, going backwards is better than turning away. This is difficult for most horses to do for more than a few lengths. Ideally, the young horse follows the lead horse into the water. If he simply refuses to move, the rider should give him a long rein and wait a moment, allowing him to snort. The lead horse should stand still in the water while the young horse is asked to go forwards again.

The rider should wait for the right moment to encourage the horse to go forwards with the voice and leg aids and not suddenly use the whip, provoking resistance! If used, the whip should be applied lightly against the shoulder or behind the leg. When taking the reins in one hand, care must be taken that the horse does not spin around. After the first step towards the water the horse should be patted and reassured with the voice. If the young horse still refuses to move, the lead horse should be ridden out of the water in another direction, and then come in again beside the young horse. He should stand briefly beside the young horse and then both horses are ridden forwards together, stronger aids being used with the youngster. The lead horse should progress slowly and not get too far in front.

There is a great likelihood that the inexperienced horse will leap suddenly at the second attempt and progress with hesitant steps. If this happens, he should be praised while he remains in the water. He will snort and eventually put his nose in the water, and may also drink, in which case the rider should give the reins and wait. If he starts pawing the water and splashing, then he should immediately be ridden forwards. Holes in the bed of the water obstacle are dangerous as he could put a foot in one at this stage. Also, pawing can precede rolling, so it is best to let the lead horse come out of the water, and follow behind.

However, if the young horse has followed willingly and strides forwards without hesitation, the lead horse can remain in the water while the youngster is ridden through it. Once the young horse is out of the water, he can be ridden in again to where the lead horse is standing.

The next step is trotting into water behind the lead horse. Some horses are irritated by splashing water from the lead horse and may refuse to move. It is important that nervous horses are kept back from water spray otherwise they will not want to trot. Energetic driving aids should be used to keep them going forwards. However, the trot should generally be ridden rising to ease the horse’s back, the rider only sitting when the driving aids are necessary. The next stage is to try without the lead horse.

The same steps should be repeated a few days later, going into the water at the same place before trying somewhere unfamiliar. There are some young horses who are brave and not intimidated by water. These can be taken a step further, finishing the session by cantering through the water. Some horses actually enjoy water from the beginning. This motivation should be utilized, especially in warm weather when cooling the legs in water is very welcome.

Familiarization with water is part of the basic training of the young horse and belongs in every training plan. Getting a horse used to water is not only important for the event horse: showjumpers often have to cope with mud and wet patches of ground in a course and a heavy downpour can leave large puddles in the dressage arena. Going into water is all about trust rather than anything technical. With patience and conviction your horse will lose his fear. Take sufficient time and have enough patience! Once he is confident, you can try a variety of water obstacles.

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