Ditches are a natural obstacle that are difficult to practice in an arena. Water trays are a helpful tool if you are in an arena, though, to get the horses used to something that looks like a hole in the ground.
Much like jumping water, horses have a natural adversity to jumping ditches as they don’t know what could be in them.
Ditches must be introduced in a slow way. Often people make the mistake of galloping to them flat out, meaning horses jump it without even looking at it. This means that as they progress up the grades, when the ditch gets bigger, the horse will suddenly realise it is there and scare itself. You would then have to go right back to the beginning and teach them from scratch.
Start with a small ditch at a slow pace – ideally trot but perhaps even walk. This gives them time to look into the ditch and get used to playing with his feet in front of it, before popping over it.
Build this up by jumping lots of different types of ditches, getting bigger as you go along, until your horse has no problem with them at all.
If you are jumping a big, open ditch, you need to ride forward to it, but gently set up and balance before you get there. You want the strongest push on the last stride before jumping a hefty ditch. Apply this approach if you are also jumping a trakehner or fence with a ditch in front of it.
Look out for more expert advice on cross-country riding from Yogi Breisner, brought to you in association with NAF, on the Horse & Hound website during the next few weeks.