#SundaySchool: How can I improve my horse’s confidence with water trays?

  • Former event rider and current working hunter specialist Louise Lyons provides some advice on how to teach a horse to jump a water tray with confidence...

    Louise Lyons is a former Irish international event rider, who represented her country at the Pratoni European Championships in 2007 and the Beijing Olympics in 2008. She is based at the Bluegate Stud in Kilmanagh, Ireland. In 2018, Louise won champion working hunter horse at Dublin and Royal International (RIHS), and was second at Horse of the Year Show.

    The problem

    This is a common problem as water trays can be rider frighteners. The rider may be subconsciously holding their horse back, either due to nerves or because they are not strong enough to give the horse confidence; therefore the horse learns that he can stop or run out. Uneducated and young horses, or horses who have had a fright over bigger water trays, can also be problematic.

    Teach your horse to jump a water tray

    1. Take the influence of the rider away and lunge or lead your horse over a small water tray, using a lead horse if necessary. Seeing your horse popping the obstacle will give you confidence and, similarly, it will reassure him through not having the rider hanging on to the reins. I like to loose-jump young horses over water trays to give them confidence.

    2. Get back on with a neck strap, and ensure you have a correct lower-leg position. Sit with your upper body slightly behind the vertical, as being in front of the movement makes it easier for your horse to stop. Approach the water tray in trot. Do not allow your horse to rush, but keep him straight and in front of your leg. Remember to praise him, especially if he’s nervous.

    3. Practise over lots of small water trays varying in colour and design, then gradually increase the degree of difficulty and approach in a bouncy, balanced canter.

    Continued below…

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    Things to consider…

    • Turn your arena into a playground with lots of small, spooky jumps to help your horse become accustomed to jumping different fences.
    • Remember that horses progress at different rates. You want a careful horse, and it may take time to add courage to the mix.
    • Avoid tin trays as the sound of poles on metal can be frightening.
    • Try to see a good stride into a water tray to build your horse’s confidence. Avoid panicking and chasing your horse to a big fence.
    • If you’re jumping a water tray with a false ground line (where the water tray is set behind the front rail of an oxer or an upright), or which is set behind a front rail, imagine a good ground line in front of the fence and take off with extra room.

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