Q: “Problems with water: Do you have any suggestions for a horse having problems with going into water? My horse jumps everything else confidently but will not go through water. We eventually get through but it’s disheartening. We’ve just done some local one-day events but hope to do a BE80(T) soon. We are going to hire a place a to practice. Is it better to walk through trot through, give him plenty of space or maybe a long run up?”
A: Horses need to learn that the water you are asking them to go through isn’t deep and won’t be a danger to them.
When a horse is reluctant to go into water, it is because he is acting upon his natural instincts — in the wild it might be very deep, and he might drown if he jumps in!
Patience in massive doses is the key to helping him overcome his fear. It may take a young horse several hours to go into the water but you have to take your time and allow him to build his confidence and trust in you.
Ask a friend to give you a lead so that he can see it’s not deep, and so that he can follow. As soon as you horse does step forward make sure you praise him, and let it be a bit of fun because you want him to associate water with good times and not something that is stressful for him.
I would definitely stay in walk, on a long rein, so that he can sniff the water and check it out. Keep it really relaxed, and when he is confident try trotting but stay very relaxed and patient.
Go to the same water regularly so that his confidence builds and he has fun splashing through making sure the water is very shallow so that he doesn’t get frightened. Go as often as you can, and once he his confident going in this water, take him to as many different places as you can. It will be expensive but he has to learn he isn’t going to drown and there’s nothing to be scared of and it will be worth it when he happily jumps into water while you are riding cross country.
Then across country he will trust you and happily go into water.
You must avoid confrontation because he’s just frightened and doesn’t understand, but he will come right and he will change, if you build his trust in you and take your time.
The worst thing you can do is to go at it really fast, because your horse will end up scared because he hasn’t had time to read the question. He’ll learn how to slam the brakes on and sorting out this problem will take even longer.