Won't walk through water...what to do? UPDATE - Success!
I took my boy for his first cross country school at the enf of March. He was spooky at everything, as expected, but the big problem was water. I didn't know that pirhanas live in tiny streams, but Monty assure me they do. With a lead in, he would walk through the water, but left on his own he dithered on one side until he realized I wasn't giving in, then leapt over it.
On a hack last week, I found a tiny puddle of water on the side of the path and thought I'd do some water training. Nothing doing! It was as much as I could do to get Monty to walk through a bit of mud, let alone water. Too much pressing on my part resulted in bucking and spinning.
This horse is a showjumper and has been taught to solve problems by jumping over them...it seems to be his natural tendency as well. I'm not sure if he is really afraid of water or if he just doesn't understand what I'm asking him to do, but it isn't any better if I dismount and try to lead him through.
As my eventing ambitions are simply to school from time to time, I'm not concerned about jumping into water. I do, though, need my horse to walk through it. What happens if I'm out hacking and water is covering the entire path?
Any hints for how to work this out?
Last edited by CrazyDog; Jul. 20, 2008 at 05:56 AM.
is there any way you can create a puddle at home? somewhere he HAS to go through? like his dinner is on the other side. or maybe leave his waterer on with a drip so it stays wet around it, he'll have to step in the water to get a drink. just some thoughts.
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Endo has a video on YouTube: The Water Trap. I watched this and thought, hmm, just about exactly what I did with my gelding when he was skeered of water. Basically, you aim the horse at the water, take your time, dont let him turn around, keep encouraging, dont get angry or frustrated, continue to use the leg aids the horse knows to go forward, and be prepared to take as long as it takes until he goes in. Dont rely on another horse. You wont always have another horse. Dont get off and lead him, either, that's just you substituting for another horse.
On Endo's video, he gets the horse through the water in roughly 9 minutes. When I got my gelding going through water it took maybe 10-15 minutes. I had let him get away with NOT going thru a couple of times, which probably reinforced that it was OK to not go in. He does water, swampy places, mud etc just fine now.
ETA, I would set this up so that the water is between him and his dinner after a nice long ride on a nice scorching hot day to minimize the bucking and spinning. Endo sez let him go backwards if necessary, to prevent a rear/buck, but NOT to turn around. I've had both my horses at spooky, swampy, "uncrossable" places that miraculously became easy crossings when approached from the opposite bank, with home and dinner on the other side. After you do this a couple of times, the horse realizes the water is no big deal. You DO have to make sure its a good place to cross, of course, gravely bottom if its a creek. I wouldnt rely on faked puddles, blue tarps, or any such arena substitutes. Use a real creek. You might want to use a western or other very secure saddle with something to grab if he lurches in or out unexpectedly....I NEVER grab leather, but the other day in a really hellacious swampy place when my Swamp Mare was going down for the third time (well, her back legs were sinking and she was taking her sweet time moving forward, got me a little worried) and I booted her good I found myself clinging to the saddle horn and cursing her looseish girth until she popped out onto drier ground....
My rescue Arab was a stream-jumper when I first got him. A little different from your situation, because if the water was too wide to jump, he would willingly walk through it. However, if it was remotely jumpable, he'd try to jump it.
I solved the problem in a few weeks... as we came up to a stream that I knew he was going to jump, I could feel him gather himself, and I'd give him a big half halt. Usually at that point, he would halt in front of the water. I'd ask him very softly to move forward... if I felt him gather up for a jump again, another big half halt. Repeat as necessary, until he finally gave up and walked through. The first couple of times we did this, it probably took about 10 minutes. Then he started getting it more quickly, and after a few weeks the problem disappeared.
Like jeano said, just be persistent and consistent, and stay calm. Don't give up, but don't make a big scene about it. Once he figures out he doesn't have any other choices, he'll probably go through.
I have a horse that hated water....instead of trying to force him forward...for which he would back up...it took the opposite approach, turned him away from it and asked him to back up. He was in the water before he knew it and I asked him to stay there until he was settled, and bored. I then walked him out and walked him in. Had to do this a few times over the course of a week until he went right in. But I made it a point there after to make sure he walked through any puddle I could find. If he did not want to go forward immediately we repeated the process of backing into it. I should have thought better about this because he LOVES to roll around in mud and water as a result!!!
The first time Hektor saw a simple little water jump, he would not even touch it for at least 20 minutes. Even with leads. I spent a summer looking for every nice puddle I could fine. I was lucky in that it was a rainy summer and I found a HUGE puddle to play in at a park near my house. Once I got him in, I just let him stand there. I let him paw and play (without rolling of course.) Then we walked around, then we trotted around, then we cantered in it, and eventually I set up a jump by it. I did this as often as possible all summer.
It just takes practice. Keep it fun.
The truth is rarely pure, and never simple. Oscar Wilde
I agree with PaintedUp... Perhaps you can create a situation where your guy has no choice but to go through water. My horse was a bit naughty when it came to water, too until his turnout was a swamp during the rainy season in FL and he had to choice but to "get over it", especially if he wanted to come in for dinner. Now he goes through water like a champ - no hesitation, no drama.
I see you live in Scotland. Fairly marshy there? Maybe put him in a swampy turnout until he gets over his water phobia. Hopefully it won't take too long for your guy because all that water is hard on their feet. Not to mention scratches... Good luck!
"If ever I did not have a horse or dog in my keeping, I should feel I had lost touch with the earth." ~Beryl Markham
My previous horse had a huge water issue- we even got Eliminated there at our 3rd HT . I found the best way to get him over it was to 'flood' him with water related things to do. Walk in a puddle, cross a shallow stream 500 times, walk, trot and finally canter along the edge of a pond, go XC schooling a lot and hang out in the water jump, etc.
First off, take a deep breath and expect to spend at least an hour. Take your time and go slowly. Even though your horse is trained, this is still a new skill for him to learn.
First off, set yourself up for success by choosing a wide puddle (too wide to jump) with a good, firm bottom. Next, pick one spot on the edge of the water, about three feet long. Focus on that one spot. Keep him facing it at all times and don't let him go around it. This is where you will cross.
Ask for forward motion slowly, one step at a time. When you feel him take one step, or even so much as lean towards the water, stop asking. The timing is important, here. When you ask for forward, you can't quit asking until you GET forward (you might have to increase the intensity of your aids if he tunes out). At the same time, you must be sensitive enough to reward the slightest effort.
Once you get a forward step, pause and let him look. Let him put his head down and investigate the water, as long as he's quiet. The more fearful he is, the longer you can wait. After an appropriate amount of time (your judgement call), ask again for one step forward.
Every horse will, at some point, have a minor meltdown when they realize how close they are to the water, and they'll try to turn around, back up, act out, or whatever. Don't get upset. Simply get the horse back to where he was as quickly as possible. If he's six feet from the water and backs up to ten feet, don't let him rest until he's at six feet again. Don't dither around at ten feet or you won't get anything accomplished.
Generally, when horses buck and rear at water crossings, it's because the rider keeps asking for too much forward motion without recognizing the small efforts the horse is making. The horse gets overwhelmed. If this happens, correct the buck or rear, then get back to your spot as quickly as possible.
If you feel him gathering himself to jump, ask for a step to the side. Keep asking him to step back and forth, always staying within your chosen spot, until you feel his foot move a little bit forward. Then rest, and ask again for one forward step. Make it clear to him that you only want one small effort, not a huge leap. If you get a huge leap, turn him around instantly and start again, asking for smaller increments.
Once they realize you're only asking for one step forward, most horses will enter the puddle slowly, one hoof at a time. Once this happens, you've succeeded. They'll usually go the rest of the way through without incident. Some of them get a little rushy to get out -- just calmly turn around and go back across. Repeat the whole process until it's a non-issue, then move on to the next puddle. Gradually build to larger and scarier puddles, moving water, etc.
After some practice, you'll notice that it takes less and less time to get your horse into water. Instead of an hour, soon it will only take seconds. This is because you are SENSITIZING your horse to forward (as opposed to desensitizing him to water). He's learning that when you ask for forward, you mean it -- and you are constantly reinforcing obedience to the aids.
Keep practicing (get that horse into every puddle you can find), and eventually your horse will walk into water without hesitation. You will sense when it's appropriate to push your horse for a bigger effort, and then you can work up to entering the water at faster gaits.
Also, you can practice with other obstacles if you don't have water readily available.
Can you lay down a tarp and have your horse walk accross it?
Can you control his feet 1 at a time - 1 foot on, one foot off, 2 feet on, 2 feet off, 3, etc...?
Can you fold up the tarp to a couple of feet wide and have him walk over calmly (not jump) while retaining control of each foot?
Can you do it over a piece of plywood, a bridge, etc...?
This will help your horse listen to you for instructions, make him more confident over all the spooky stuff out there, give you better control of his feet...
oh, backing in is another good idea! i forgot about that. we did this when we took the horses to ride on the beach and they wouldn't walk in with the waves comming in. so we backed them in. it worked better and i think it helps beacause they are not seeing the water before they are in it. especially when the waves can REALLY mess up your balance!! after a few times backing in all 4 of the horses were mostly ok with walking in. (though all these horses were fine with water before this, just not this in and out moving water!!). good luck and keep us posted!
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Great suggestions, you guys. Thanks so much. I probably have my work cut out for me this summer but hacking out is half the fun of having a horse in Scotland and I can't be dependent on having a brave buddy with me all the time.
I'll scout around for appropriate puddles this weekend and pack a lunch for my first try armed with all your tools. I'll also work on developing a rein-back so that backing into the water is an option.
I think that once I crack this, he'll be good for life. He is generally sensible but VERY spooky of new things. Once he's over the object (jump, bin, sign, etc.) he very rarely spooks at that thing again.
I especially appreciate the advice about how to keep him from jumping over the water. The stream he jumped over was probably ten feet wide and he cleared it from a standstill. A nice pond on a cross country course might be my best bet. I don't think I'll work up to jumping into or out of water. I do still want Monty to realize that water on hacks is for walking through but that water on a jumping course is for jumping over!
Whatever you do, don't school water that has tadpoles in it. I thought I'd never get my horse back into the water hazard while schooling when he put his head down to drink and the water MOVED away from him. I've also never had a horse move faster backwards before.