View Full Version : Ditches!

Jun. 21, 2011, 10:40 PM
Was just reading another thread, and it got me curious about something.

Let me preface this by saying I do not regularly ride with a trainer. I have had ONE XC lesson with an excellent trainer. The rest of the time, I have muddled (and will continue to muddle!) on my own.

What is your technique for jumping ditches? Does your horse look at them? Want to stop? I know most ditchy 'horses' are actually ditchy 'riders'.:winkgrin: I haven't necessarily figured out if it's more me, more my boy, or BOTH of us, but my experience over wider ditches isn't really good.

I'm a little nervous because I'm going recognized BN at Poplar in September, and will not be schooling the course first. My only experience with a ditch is at Calimar Farm; I would say the ditch is maybe 3 1/2' wide? First time I jumped it with no lead (he jumped it first try with a lead behind another horse), he actually fell in it. Trainer was having me WALK into it, and he would just get to the edge and stop, then eventually finally started launching over it. We went over it about 7 times, but it NEVER felt good.

Already worrying a little about September; is it better just to gallop on up to it and be ready with the stick behind the leg, in the back seat? Or better to trot up and let him think about it? Had one stop at Chatt Hills last year, and would LOVE to go double clear this year, so hoping to conquer this ditchy issue before it happens!

Help me out here all you xc gurus!:yes: TIA.

Jun. 21, 2011, 11:06 PM
If it helps, I did my first ditch at a competition a few weeks ago.

I came down to a good spanking trot, gave a half halt or two, kept my reins short, kept my leg on, and looked at the next fence. We boinged it and went over clear.

Jun. 21, 2011, 11:14 PM
While it may not help for the actual competition since you won't be able to school before hand and don't have a say in the way the course is put together (wouldn't that be nice though? ;) )...

I just recently schooled my greenbean over ditches for the first time two weeks ago. My mom got the course maintenance people to drag a very welcoming, forward N log over in front of the BN ditch (about 2-3 strides out). We schooled the log by itself first going away from the ditch and then turned and took the log to ditch combo - never even showed the ditch to my boy. He got his forward going over the log, therefore making the ditch just an after thought. It worked fabulously!

Is there any way you can simulate something like a ditch at home to school before the event? Even just some landscaping timbers with a black tarp underneath?

Jun. 21, 2011, 11:16 PM
I think the BN at Poplar is usually the faux ditch- your horse could trot right through it like two trot poles if you wanted. :)

You'll come down a little hill- I'd trot, spank behind the leg, look ahead and kick like hell. :)

Jun. 21, 2011, 11:25 PM
Can you make the illusion of a ditch and practice over that? It may give him a little more confidence.

Get a black tarp or something similar, put a pole in front of and behind it and then set up a square oxer over it or something. I've schooled over stuff like that and it helped. Worth a try maybe.

Jun. 21, 2011, 11:28 PM
When in doubt, I like a good forward trot to ditches. The big thing is to look up, not into the ditch--or that's where you'll end up :)

Jun. 21, 2011, 11:40 PM
The BN ditch at Poplar isn't bad. Here's a pic of me and my horse over it last May.

http://s718.photobucket.com/albums/ww183/ohear001/?action=view&current=28396_809835576125_27402659_44960216_63757 96_n.jpg

There's no depth to it at all, it's just two poles on the ground. Like you, I don't ride regularly with a trainer. Ditches and down banks were the hardest things for me to figure out. I thought I needed to make my horse walk ditches to get used to them, but that was just terrible. It made him more concerned about ditches actually. Now I just canter up to them, give a little tap/cluck, try really hard not to look down (my bad habit) and we go right over :)

pony grandma
Jun. 22, 2011, 12:24 AM
To practice schooling make the faux ditch and put a cross pole fence a couple of strides in front of it, that way, as said, the ditch is a hiccup after the first jump effort. It is way easier for the rider this way also - the same is always done for water, setting a cross pole before the water entry. It establishes the hey! heads up we're jumping/going forward idea. Then look up and beyond - do not look down at the ditch! And sit back and keep your leg on. Do not lean forward until your horse has left the ground.

It's really easy peasy. Don't make a big deal/it won't be a big deal.

Jun. 22, 2011, 02:09 AM
From the picture ohear001 posted looks like you'll be fine :)

In general, like others mentioned, you might consider schooling over self-built "ditches". Any sort of jump that has low height and is wide and dark. If your horse is used to that sort of thing and getting a confident ride from you, things should go fine when you're out there competing!

My horse can be a little ditchy, but not at all bad compared to some. A couple weeks ago was his first ditch I think he might have jumped in years... He jumped the little BN four inch trench with a small log like it was a 3'3 oxer.

(Then again, this is the same horse that was leaping down prelim down-banks into water and popping over Intermediate questions, but WOULD NOT go down an 8 inch down bank into the SAME WATER COMPLEX until my trainer finally got him to go in- and he lept through the air like Pegasus, landing almost on the other side of the water complex.)

Jun. 22, 2011, 08:45 AM
First, one minor rant- why do you plan on continuing to muddle through with the xc riding? If you don't understand how to answer a basic question of xc (how to ride a ditch properly), maybe muddling through isn't the safest, most efficient, or cost effective strategy, and getting some regular lessons would be worth your time and money. This is always a pet peeve of mine- I never understand why event riders are so freaking independent sometimes, especially when they NEED some education.

OK. Rant over.

I agree with others on building a faux ditch...a tarp and two rails is great, especially for early schooling, but we've devised ways to get our horses who see this set up ALL. THE. TIME. to actually ride it like a ditch- splash some water on the tarp and/or place a rail diagonally across the two poles. May not want to START there, but since we almost always have something like this set up in the ring, it is a nice way to school ditchy horses/riders and get a true ditchy ride. I will say some horses are far too smart for this school, though, I've only run across really one horse, but have heard of others (my old guy, Neigh, was very ditchy when we first started eventing, and he would jump this set up all day long and still go nowhere near a real ditch for a long time!).

As for riding one on course, especially if you are unsure...STRONG trot or a marching, forward canter, shoulders up, eyes looking out where you plan on going after the ditch, leg on, and ride until you are on the other side. On course, it is about survival and getting around, so until you get a chance to really school the question and get both of you confident and happy, ride like crazy and don't give up. Get left if you have to, go to your whip, steer like your life depends on it, but just don't give up. Most of the time, if you ride that committed, the horse will get over it and on you will go, but the key is to NOT give up and to NOT try and "jump" it with YOUR shoulders (key to anything scary, really).

But, I would suggest trying to get a couple of good xc lessons in before this event so you and your horse can get good and solid and confident about this under supervision. There is a little bit of an art to teaching horses about ditches and it is easy to frighten them (and/or their rider!) if done wrong. You have a couple of months...find a good coach that can give you some good, solid xc lessons. It shouldn't matter that you won't school this particular ditch...once your horse is comfortable with ditches in general, you should be able to go to any xc course in the country and jump them with confidence on the first try. :yes:

Jun. 22, 2011, 09:35 AM
Hey guys...this is somewhat related...I have looked in vain for my scan of an article Lucinda Green wrote many years ago called, "Ditches in a Day". Does anyone have it, and can scan and post? Or is it alive somewhere on the net?
This is a very interesting article and might help here.

Jun. 22, 2011, 11:40 AM
If it helps, I did my first ditch at a competition a few weeks ago.

I came down to a good spanking trot, gave a half halt or two, kept my reins short, kept my leg on, and looked at the next fence. We boinged it and went over clear.

I do something different...Longer reins. The key to jumping ditches and other scary jump is NOT TO JUMP AHEAD. I personally find if I have short reins and the horse puts its head down to take a peek...I get pull a little forward and we stop. There is no way in hell you can keep a horse's head up if they want to take a look.

So strong trot...look past the ditch....slightly longer rein (but still connected) and if they want to peak down, keep the contact but let the reins slip...Keep your leg ON and shoulders back....and then go with them once they jump so you don't punish them for jumping!

But agree with the others...you need to school this question (but not the ditch in competition) so you know how to ride it. They are often easier on course because hopefully by the time you get there...your horse is having a good time and you both are thinking forward thoughts!

Jun. 22, 2011, 11:54 AM
I believe I know the article you're thinking of but it was written by another British lady rider - can't quite remember who, but I think one of her well-known horses in the 70s was a pinto. Maybe Lorna (Sutherland) Clarke (her horse was Popadom).

I have it somewhere...

Jun. 22, 2011, 12:22 PM
I agree 100% with yb's rant. Get some help from a good eye on the ground.

I think it is very important for a horse to be able to walk/trot slowly over a small ditch. They need to understand the question and be able to answer it without being run at it. I find if you take the time to teach them how to do ditches, banks, and water slowly at the beginning, they have much less trouble later on in their careers because they understand, rather than running and jumping with their eyes closed.

And also with bfne's advice on the longer rein. You are much less likely to get a "launch" jump when going over a ditch, jumping down a bank, or into water if you let your reins out a little. That way the horse can look down if they need to take a peek and assess the question while you can stay sitting up, looking ahead, with your leg on!

Jun. 22, 2011, 12:41 PM
On greener horses, I prefer trot, though will let them canter the last few strides if they are offering. I go in short rein, but as I sit down and a tiny bit back 3-5 steps away from the ditch, I let the reins slip a bit and apply both leg and seat "go on aids" while thinking very hard about keeping both my eyes (which I'm pretty good about) and my shoulders (which I am terrible about) up up up. If horse is know to be ditchy, just before I sit down, I apply a smack behind the leg. I will also lunge a horse over lots of ditches including some bigger than I will be riding over in the early stages of their xc training.

I will agree with the get thee to a trainer idea, why muddle when you can make some real forward progress instead

Meanwhile, here are some links:

Lucinda green clinics including ditches:


Jun. 22, 2011, 05:42 PM
I've jumped tarps and things at home and I didn't find the experience similar to jumping a ditch. My horse doesn't care about tarps and once she found out she could step on it the exercise was over.

Jun. 22, 2011, 06:15 PM
Do you have any irrigation ditches? Farmers get cranky if you use them as water hazards, but when they're dry, they're pretty easy to go over and horses (and riders) used to them.

I'm taking about the 2' wide, 8" deep ones, not the serious canals.

Jun. 22, 2011, 08:07 PM
I've always been taught to TEACH horses about ditches, is to go slow!
(and to start with a small ditch, around 2 feet wide is fine)

I usually walk parallel to the ditch along the edge of the ditch, in BOTH directions on the SAME side --> this way the horse can have a look at it with each eye. (Its really important to do this on the same side of the ditch because if you just walk the opposite direction on the other side of the ditch, the horse is looking at with the same eye).

After this, have a marching walk up to the ditch, keep your eyes up and heels down, allow the reins to slip (grap mane), and keep your body vertical. Most of the time the horse will just step over it, but if they don't you will be a position where you don't grab the horse in the mouth when they do jump it.

I do this several times until they are comfortable with it. This way you have no chance of riding it "backwards" (which usually happens if you come in hesitantly from the trot or canter)

If you are not comfortable to do this at first, then lunge the horse over the ditch. Make sure they can do it at the walk before you attempt it in the saddle.

Jun. 22, 2011, 08:41 PM
I agree with walking ditches for introduction. I want them looking at it, assessing it, and jumping carefully. It's crucial that they understand it, rather than throw themselves over blindly. I've found that the horses who are pushed over it at trot/canter and allowed to get over excited/anxious, are never reliable over ditches. That mentality also transfers to other questions that they are nervous about. A BNT taught me that horses should be backing off and assessing each jump, not 'running and jumping.' This factor has completely changed how I've worked with horses and the difference is amazing.

Walking it 7 times was obviously not enough, if he was leaping it. Was he lifting his head, tense, and were you having to fight with him to keep him from speeding up? He doesn't understand it yet - do it again and again, until he is relaxed and stepping over easily. I have my students halt their greenies when they get bullish towards the ditch, then walk a few steps relaxed, halt if bullish, repeat. A groundline on either side's edge is helpful to some, or use Jimmy Wofford's way of introducing ditches: two groundlines (one pole across to show the horse not to step inbetween), just in the stadium ring. Back and forth until it's no big deal. Take three poles out to a ditch, use groundline on either side and a pole across. The horse will recognize the exercise and the depth of the ditch won't matter.

Ditto on getting a regular trainer and sticking with it. I'll never understand the mentality that one has money to compete, but not to take lessons. IMO, lessons should be priority over competing!

Jun. 22, 2011, 10:32 PM
I appreciate every bit of advice and info.

My horse jumped the ditch perfectly cantering in with a lead. I did it one time, patted him, got off, and ended there.http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v729/Dakotawyatt/7-10-10-19.jpg

This is a good pic of how big it is:http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v729/Dakotawyatt/tikiditch1.jpg

I went back several weeks later and took a lesson with the event trainer. He won't even walk this ditch:http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v729/Dakotawyatt/tikiditch2.jpg

This one didn't bother me. I am NOT scared of it. My horse has gone over it probably 20 times, and EVERY SINGLE TIME will stutter a bit at it. The big one, the trainer had me walk up to it, said horse would NOT fall in and to kick him over, and he fell in. I didn't feel like walking was working for me OR for him, and we never got a good jump over it. He went over, YES, but it never felt good.

I don't know how I really felt about the lesson all in all. I got a couple of good pearls, I really LIKED the trainer, but I didn't feel like the ditch work was working for us.

I have since been back to the farm, and jumped the ditch again a few times, and I've let him "see it" first, then trotted in; he gets to the edge, stops the first time, I use the crop, then we come back to it and over he goes ... hugely, lol!:yes:

All of the other BN/N questions, we're pretty golden on. Up banks, down banks, cabin type jumps, huge coops, water, etc. He's confidant as can be. But I think I set him off on the ditches because I know I haven't successfully come up to the "big" ditch, first try, and flown over.

I read an article in a UK eventing magazine that I recently purchased, and one of the big name eventing trainers "across the pond" mentioned she does NOT like to come slow to ditches, that she prefers to canter in strongly. Which is why I posed the question.

I take dressage lessons here and there, and jumping lessons here and there when I can, but there are NO eventing trainers in my area. The one I took a lesson from is based down south (where all the OTHER eventing trainers are!), and was doing a clinic up close to me. I'm not AVERSE to taking lessons, I just don't want to have to trailer 3 hours away to take one!

Ohear001, I DO think it looks like I'll be FINE! For some reason, I was under the impression the PP BN ditch was like the big one I posted above. XC trainer wasn't sure about the size of it. We should be able to hop over that fine. Thanks so much for the pic; it is very helpful!

I will read all the articles posted! I'm thinking if this outing is successful, our next event will be Novice. I've done a few jumper schooling shows at 3' to get comfortable with height; it's amazing how a measly little 6" from 2'6-3' can make your mouth go dry, lol. Thank goodness a successful xc schooling at mostly Novice/some training fences, and a hunter pace with massive coops has helped to make the 3' stadium fences look "small".;) And if anyone has recommendations for event trainers around the Cartersville area, I'll look into them!:winkgrin: Thanks again for all the words of advice!:D

Jun. 22, 2011, 10:52 PM
Elisa Wallace is in the Jasper area and last I heard was building an XC course on her farm...dont know if thats true or completed or not.

UCF also has a small XC course that includes a ditch...its close to PW.

I know Amber uses Mary Bess, but she still has to trailer over to Calimar, Ashland, or Poplar, etc in order for a XC school. Might also be worth it to have her ride your horse, like I was going to do in the spring...that way she gets a feel of him and can maybe offer more input.

Jun. 22, 2011, 11:46 PM
There are quite a few Event instructors in the Newnan area.

Check out these sites:
http://gdcta.org (http://gdcta.org/) GA Dressage & Combined Training Assoc.
http://www.usea3.org/ - Area III web site.
Consider joining the Area III Adult Riders

Also there are several excellent instructors in AL, Jim Graham is in North Alabama

Another one suggesting you find a good eventing instructor and work with him/her. Good Luck!

Jun. 23, 2011, 01:06 AM
Ditch: 2 jump poles and a bag or two of mulch spread between the poles. If you don't have jump poles pick up a few landscape timbers. Probably all of it around $20 bucks.

The tarp is ok, but my youngster generally finds them monster scary, going to give them nightmares scary even though he doesn't have a problem with ditches. I'm not sure "tarp" translates to "ditch." At least not for him. :wink:

Remember too that in a schooled horse a ditch is just a canter stride. A canter stride is about 12 feet so the difference in a 2 foot, 3 foot, 4 foot ditch is more in your head than his.

In schooling I walk my youngster up to them. Long reins, low wide hands and I'm not trying to get my body at any point "in jumping position." Sit up and let the horse jump out from under you and land in your feet not your butt. With a questionable horse I'd rather see a rider get left behind and slip the reins than to tip forward into a jumping position poise.

Number one most important thing with a young or ditchy horse: look beyond the ditch at the line you want to take! Do not look in it, at the front of it, at the back of it. Never even allow your eye to focus on it! It's a stride not a jump. (This eye/focus thing is really powerful stuff beyond just ditches!)

Interesting excise in Lucinda Green clinic last week. After we'd all jumped over a ditch back and forth a few times she made us walk up to the ditch and jump it without ever changing the walk rhythm. Takes a lot more control and focus than you might think!

Jun. 23, 2011, 08:30 AM
I just wanted to add that the method I talked about in my first post is my "how to get over the ditch on xc at a competition when horse is not terribly confirmed with ditches just yet" method.

Introducing and schooling them is completely different. I WALK them (like others have mentioned), back and forth until it seems to be no big deal, then move on the trotting, then cantering. While I have jumped some big ditches from the walk, we usually only walk the smaller ditches schooling, then move on to trotting and cantering bigger ones. That being said, I'd probably have walked to ditch in question. I introduce ALL xc questions slowly (walk into water, walk up and down banks, walk over ditches, walk over logs on the ground). I want the horse to learn that they can do all this stuff slowly and not think that the only way they can survive it is to fly at it...same applies to new riders. :yes: You have to build the confidence before you can add any speed.

Jun. 23, 2011, 09:49 PM
There are quite a few Event instructors in the Newnan area.

Like I said, down south, about 3 hours away, lol!:winkgrin:

I like the mulch idea; there's a small indention in the pasture where I do trot sets, and while the BO won't be keen on digging out a ditch there, I'm sure putting in some landscape timbers and a few bags of mulch wouldn't be out of the question! Great idea, thanks:yes: