Open water jumps are a real challenge for horse and rider, but with the right preparation even horses that are scared can learn how to clear the big blue water.
The length of most water jumps – up to 4 metres – is barely longer than a horse’s natural stride when travelling at 350-400m per minute.
Regular showjumps require more physical effort to jump, but that shimmering water can blot so many otherwise perfect rounds.
Tim Stockdale believes too many horses experience their first open water jump in the ring.
“I often hear riders at the Foxhunter second rounds saying, ‘My horse has never seen one of these before, I don’t know if he’ll jump it’,” says Tim. “That has to be the worst preparation.”
Tim’s method of practising water jumps is gradual and consistent, working up from a plastic tray to a 12ft (3.6m) solid water jump with boards – “a real horror” – after practising over a flimsier version alongside. He says marker poles at three strides from the water are vital.
“This encourages the horse to stay level on the approach and helps the rider meet the fence right,” he says. “You need to sell this kind of jump to a horse. They inevitably back off and marker poles help horse and rider to attack the fence with panache.
“If you are half a stride wrong, you add six feet [1.8m] to the length, which will cost you at top level.”
But Tim adds that the fear factor can be used to your advantage. One of his best water jumpers, Parcival, was initially terrified of water.
“A good water jumper should be scared of it because they need a bit of fright to jump it with respect,” he says.
“They will only jump it if they have confidence, which means you have both the respect and the boldness if you go about the training in the right way.
“If I have a five-year-old that is not scared, I wouldn’t expect him to be a good water jumper in the future.
“With 10 raw horses, the one that’s genuinely frightened at the start will be the best if you train it right. It’s about nurturing that lack of confidence [with progressive training] .”
Read this feature in full in Horse & Hound magazine (5 July, 2012)
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