How to Teach A Horse to Cross Running Water

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Does your horse have issues with water? Especially running water? There are a few things you can do at home before you venture out on the trail that may help you when you have to cross running water.

“The first thing I would do is to walk your horse through puddles. Although puddles aren’t the same as running water, if he won’t step in a puddle, it is quite unlikely he’ll step in a creek. The tricky thing with puddles is that your horse is smart enough to know he can go around it instead of through it. Start with a large puddle that is harder to walk around. You can cross it while in the saddle where you have better control of his body, but if he is a trusting horse, you will be better off leading him on foot in the beginning. There is no way he will follow you through¬† it unless you are ready to get your feet wet, first. Be patient and encouraging. Practice until your horse doesn’t seem to care whether he is in the water or not.

The next step is to create your own little creek by simply using a garden hose on the ground as your running water. A horse that is comfortable with a puddle may still be anxious about running water. Begin by running the water in a thin stream, and give your horse time to examine the water and satisfy his curiosity. While he is getting accustomed to the water, you can groom or massage him to make this a positive experience. When he looks relaxed, it is time to lead him over it. Go back and forth and gradually increase the size of the flow as he shows he is not worried. Finally, repeat the entire sequence while mounted. Be ready to back off at any point if your horse appears nervous. This does not need to be completed in one day. Some horses work better when increasing the difficulty of task if they can think about it overnight. Other horses progress faster. By using your observation, you will know when your horse is ready to advance. To further challenge your horse before you try a real creek or river, you can also dig a trench or run water over a tarp to make the obstacle more difficult.

If you are fortunate enough to have a stream nearby, there is a very gradual approach that you can take. This is something that works well with a very young horse that you haven’t started to ride yet, but you are looking for productive things to do. Take your horse down to the water on a long lead rope, relax and let your horse graze. Don’t try to get him in the water, just encourage him to be near it. Do this whenever you get a chance. Over a period of time, your horse will enjoy being near the water, and he may even step in it on his own. After a while, try leading your horse to the water and encourage him to drink or walk in it. When you are ready to ride or lead him across, he will be much more willing.

Without a doubt, the best advice I have found was from the well-known horse trainer John Lyons. His solution is simple and logical; I am surprised no one else mentions it. He suggests riding your horse as close as you can to the water, always pointing him to the exact spot you want to cross. Stop him when he shows signs of being fearful. Face the crossing spot, and let him stare at it for as long as it takes for him to become bored instead of scared. At that time, ask him to go closer. Keep repeating this until you get right to the water’s edge. Allow him to sniff the water and stare at it until he is really bored. At that point, keep him there an additional five minutes for good measure. (Be sure to wear a watch because time will go very slowly for you.) Finally, ask him to go into the water and praise him profusely when he does. I did this with an older Quarter Horse mare, but I still couldn’t get her to in until I went first. I got wet, but it was worth it – she finally followed and go her sugar cube reward. The next time she went in with no hesitation.

Since I like stacking the deck in the trainer’s favor as much as possible, I have added my own twist to the lessons in river crossing. Have a friend or two bring their horses to the river crossing about half an hour after you get there. This way, when your horse is ready, his friends will show him how to cross. This should work with most horses that haven’t had a previous frightening experience. The joy to this method is that it avoids any form of confrontation and prevents your horse from forming any negative attitudes towards crossing water.

Your first water crossing with a new or problem horse should be well planned, not haphazard.

Small creeks can be trickier to cross than large rivers because your horse may feel it is safer to jump over it completely to avoid stepping into the unknown. Be prepared for this to happen so that you won’t become unseated. I have found that when a horse jumps anything you don’t want him to jump, the best thing is to go back and do it a few more times. Eventually, he will step into the water. Give him lots of praise when he gets it right and then go home. ”

If you work with these tips with patience and consistency, you will have a better chance of riding a horse that willingly enters any water obstacles that you may encounter on the trail.

Judi Daly offers more advice in working with horses and water in her book, Trail Training for the Horse and Rider, which this was excerpted from.

Trail Horse Class – Training for the Slicker – Part 2

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In Trail Horse Class – Training for the Slicker – Part I, the basics were covered for training the prospective trail horse to a slicker. As the author recommends starting out slowly, the slicker was not actually introduced. In this lesson, the slicker will be introduced and taught to the horse.

INTRODUCING THE SLICKER

Allow plenty of time for this lesson so that you do not need to rush. Also, allow enough days in advance before he must carry a slicker or other object. Once your horse accepts a large towel, repeat the procedure with a saddle blanket or other object. When he seems to accept those objects,get the slicker and repeat the procedure. When he will let you rub the slicker all over his body, then teach him to accept it over his saddle. This shouldn’t cause him any alarm.

The easiest way is to rub the slicker over his saddle at the end of your lesson. When he accepts it, quit and put him up for the day. With some horses, you can advance to this point in a day.  End at that point and wait until the following day to finish teaching about the slicker while mounted. Think slow. Take your time. That one day may be the difference between a horse that accepts the slicker and succeeding objects or one that blows up and then takes weeks to get back to this point in training.

Remember, what you teach a horse today, he learns tomorrow. Stop on a good note today and your horse should be prepared to accept more tomorrow. Give him time to think about what he did that cause he to get rewarded.

If your horse objects to the slicker, you accustom him to it first from the ground. You can also start with a smaller, less noisy item, such as a towel.

If your horse objects to the slicker, you accustom him to it first from the ground. You can also start with a smaller, less noisy item, such as a towel.

Be sure your horse accepts the slicker before you try to pick it up while mounted.

Be sure your horse accepts the slicker before you try to pick it up while mounted.

On the following day, if your horse is the type that must have his warm up or play time before getting down to business, warm him up accordingly. After he settles, hang the slicker on a pole (as you might find it in a trail class) or lay it over the arena fence. Walk past the slicker as you follow your normal schooling routine. Let the slicker be part of the surroundings. Let your horse look as he chooses. Be ready in case he spooks, but remember not to let him feel your apprehension through your body. As he shows signs of accepting it, or when he no longer tries to avoid the slicker, begin to move him closer to it as you pass by it. At the end of your lesson, walk your horse up to the slicker and stop with the slicker in line with your arm. It is a little easier and a little safer to reach forward for the slicker than to have to twist backwards in the saddle to reach it. Let your horse stop and settle. If he is a curious horse, watch that he doesn’t take the slicker in his mouth and possible pull it and the pole to the ground. That could cause him to spook and would certainly set him back. Relax and let him stand there for a minute or two. Then slowly reach for the slicker and slowly lay it over the front of your saddle. Again, you must read your horse to know how much to ask for on this first day. If he is calm and accepting, rub the slicker up and down his neck. Then hold the slicker steady as he absorbs this new piece of equipment laying over him. Lift the slicker up and put it over your shoulder, first from the front and then over your back. Stop, relax, and let him absorb this. Hang the slicker back on the pole and slowly walk off.

On the next day, repeat these steps. If your horse has accepted them calmly, lay the slicker over the top of his rump. When he accepts that, slide it back and forth. Be sure to lay the slicker on both his left and right sides. You never know from which side of the obstacle you will be asked to approach. Prepare your horse for either side now. Leave nothing to chance. Stop on a good note. Don’t overdo it on these first few days.

Be prepared if your horse spooks or bolts when you first introduce the slicker. Don't sacrifice your safety. Your horse will learn, given enough time.

Be prepared if your horse spooks or bolts when you first introduce the slicker. Don’t sacrifice your safety. Your horse will learn, given enough time.

Once your horse accepts the slicker, lay it over her forehand, in front of the saddle.

Once your horse accepts the slicker, lay it over her forehand, in front of the saddle.

Then place it over her back. You may also be asked to put a raincoat on and take it off.

Then place it over her back. You may also be asked to put a raincoat on and take it off.

On the following day, if all has gone well and your horse easily stands without moving when you drop the reins, put the slicker on. You might be asked to do this in class and it is best to practice at home. If your horse doesn’t stand when you drop the reins, then that is something that you need to work on with your horse.

If your horse is skittish at any point with the slicker, stop at that point, let him relax so he understands that a slicker is nothing to get upset over. Then quit for the day. On the following day, add a little more, rewarding the horse for good behavior. If he wouldn’t let you get close to the slicker or if he panics once you pick it up, go back to your ground work. Rub the slicker over and around him until he accepts it. Then try again.

Some horses will accept the slicker in a few days, while others will take longer. Don’t try to rush your horse. You can hang the slicker in front of his stall so that he has the opportunity to see it. Each time you go by the horse’s stall, take the slicker in and lay it over his back. Move it up and down, back and forth, as he will allow. Please remember, if your horse is excessively nervous, do not jeopardize your safety in any way. Start with a towel if you have to. If you can hang it over or by his feed, you can still remain safely outside of the stall as your horse gains confidence. Don’t enter the stall with a horse that is clearly frightened by a particular object. Hanging objects that a horse is somewhat nervous about around his stall can help him to overcome his fear on his time, with little risk to you.

POLISH YOUR APPROACH

Once your horse accepts the slicker, you can begin to polish your approach to it. The pattern may ask you to put it on or just lay it over your horse. Walk your horse in a straight line (unless the pattern directs you differently) to the slicker. If your horse is not close enough to the slicker to make it easy for you to reach it without leaning out of your saddle, sidepass until you are in position. Practice this at home. Your horse may not want to get close to the slicker. Teach him that he must put you in position so that you don’t have to lean over to get it. Leaning over not only looks bad, it is unsafe. Practice getting in the correct position both from the left and right sides, moving forward and backwards as needed, and side passing both left and right.

Make your horse stop and stand. Pick up the object. In the case of a slicker or raincoat, take it off the pole and put it on or lay it over the saddle. Some judges will ask that you only pick up the slicker and lay it over the horse, rather than putting it on all the way. This saves time in a class. If you are asked to pick the slicker up on your right side, lay it over the front of your horse and down his right side. The drape it down his left side, swing it to the back of the horse and return it to the pole. Your goal is to show your horse’s acceptance of the slicker swinging over his body. He should stand completely still.

If you know that your horse doesn’t like the slicker on his rump, simply omit that from your demonstration. If he only lets you drape the slicker over his left side and no the right side, omit the right side until such a time as he has learned to accept the slicker there. Show off your horse’s good points and minimize his bad. Even if every other entrant in the class swings the slicker over the horse’s rump and you know that your horse doesn’t like it there, don’t do it. Never ask for something that you are not entirely sure that you will get. The time for chances is at home, not in the show pen. Your horse may grow to accept the slicker as he ages or becomes more well trained. For now, however, it’s better to omit that particular part of the exercise. Show your horse to his best advantage. There’s always another show, another pattern, a different judge, another day. A finished trail horse takes a long time to “make.” Go home and continue to practice in a safe and controlled manner.

Excerpted from Laurie Truskauskas’ book Training for Trail Horse Classes.