One Step at a Time Through a Water Obstacle
by Marilyn Pineda
Navigating a body of water—even if it’s only a puddle— very often results in the classic “I don’t want to” response from horses that have not yet developed confidence in their trail training. While it’s possible for your horse to follow a more willing and confident leader, hooking up to someone else’s rump to get the task accomplished results in the loss of an excellent opportunity for developing a new level of trust with your horse. Admittedly, it’s not always possible or convenient to take time to school our horse when riding out with friends. This is why I encourage you to bring your horse to a trail training facility such as ours here at Fire Mountain Trail Course to work on water crossings and other confidence building challenges.
Long term benefits are gained by working on water challenges from the ground. This is simply because the horse will need to draw on his own courage as you ask him to move forward to face a fear. To begin, lead your horse toward the water and allow him to show you where his comfort zone is – you will know he is concerned when he stops moving forward! Stop at that point and allow him to relax, but keep him facing his fear. Refrain from asking him to get closer to something he is not yet ready to do. When he seems relaxed, ask him verbally and with body language for one step forward. Be ready to ask him to stop as soon as he takes that step. Timing is everything here! The maximum benefit to this type of exercise is achieved if you are able to communicate that he will be asked to stop after moving forward. This is where a verbal command can come in very handy and will assure him he won’t have to do more than just one step (which is not so bad). After he takes a step, allow a moment of relaxation before asking for another. Repeat this process, offering the reward of release each time he takes a step forward.
HORSE TRAINING TIPS: Allow plenty of time to work on trail challenges, regardless of the type. Nothing is more detrimental to you and your horse’s experience than blowing a learning opportunity because you are pressed for time and become frustrated and/or angry. Take the time it takes! Also, the pre-requisite for any confidence building exercise is having the verbal command step in your trail training “tool bag.” You’ll find it very handy in teaching your horse to move one step at a time.
It is important that you keep asking calmly and gently for movement until the horse actually takes a step. Asking for a step and then waiting to see if he will do it is NOT effective. Be sure to keep your energy at a calm level; avoid creating any kind of drama. If the horse backs away, calmly continue asking him to move forward until he is near the point of where you began. Give him time to relax, then repeat the request for forward motion, one step at a time.
Don’t expect too much on the first try. The horse may or may not be ready to cross that water challenge on his own during your first session, but you will have given him a start. You can come back to the water at any time. The good news is that it will be easier the next time and you are helping the horse raise his confidence each time because you are not scaring him. Whether it is on the same day, or on a future day, you will be that much further along in your journey to Riding Well Grounded.
Published November 2014 Issue
The Northwest Horse Source is an independently owned and operated print and online magazine for horse owners and enthusiasts of all breeds and disciplines in the Pacific Northwest. Our contemporary editorial columns are predominantly written by experts in the region, covering the care, training, keeping and enjoyment of horses, with an eye to the specific concerns in our region.