Hi trail riders! I'm seeking your wisdom on training a horse to cross water.
We have a 9-year-old Appaloosa mare that we bought last year as a trail horse for my DH. We love her. She's a good horse but pretty green. We basically started her when we bought her, and I had my dressage trainer spend a couple of months with her last fall. She's always been awesome on the trails, steady and brave even when all alone. However, she is Very Stubborn when she decides to set her mind against something. I had a few incidents with her when she didn't want to go a certain way (for no discernible reason) and it was always a long process to convince her to go that way. Her forward button is not well installed.
Now, last year I had no trouble with her going through muddy areas, but we never encountered any actual standing water. She had the winter off but for the occasional snowy ride. Fast forward to yesterday, we're out trail riding. I'm in the lead on my horse, and DH is behind on the mare, Robin. We get to a spot where the trail is covered by water, pretty deep and wide (1-2 feet deep and probably 10-12 feet across). My horse charges through, no problem. Robin won't do it. We work on it for maybe 20 minutes, my horse getting more & more riled up because he doesn't know what the holdup is. We try leaving, so she'll have to cross in order to follow, that doesn't work (she doesn't mind being alone). I have my horse cross back and forth a couple of times... no dice. The bottom is getting muddied up at this point and my horse is beside himself, so we decide to bail and head home. DH wants to keep working on it, so he goes around a different way to where she will have to cross the same water, but headed toward home. He even got off and tried leading her across. Finally it was getting dark so he gave up and went a different way home, but had to cross some mud (which she has crossed plenty of times before). She refused to cross it. But there's no other way home. Finally he gets her into it and halts to praise & pet her--and she flips out, scrambles, and falls in the mud. He stayed on and she was not hurt, so they rode home, but he is devastated and worried that he's traumatized her and that it will be all the harder to get her into water the next time. He's worried that he's hurt his relationship with her, also, and that she now won't trust him.
Thoughts on this situation, and what we could try differently next time? Any words of comfort for DH? We are thinking we will hand-walk her out to the Pond of Doom with a bucket of grain/treats and bribe her. She's extremely food motivated, and also really smart.
My horse is usually pretty unflappable re: stuff we encounter on the trail, including water. The place where I used to board had a trail that crossed a teeny tiny creek, maybe 5' across, ankle-deep on a "high-water" day-- in the summer it uaully dried up to nothing. A couple winters ago, we went for a ride in deep snow and crossed that creek; the snow was so deep, the creek was completely snowed over.
Horse must have put a foot into the water through the snow when we started crossing the creek, and he had a FIT-- backed up and wouldn't go near it again. I tried every trick I knew and eventually ended up having to back him across it, which he did. But then coming home, he refused to cross it again-- and he was onto my little "back up" trick and planted the brakes. I eventually had to dismount and actually cover his eyes with my sweatshirt to get him across it (it was the ONLY way home).
He was wonky with water for close to a year after that incident... I just made it a point to start taking him through every bit of standing water we could find-- puddles everywhere of every shape and size, in the arena, the parking lot, the pastures, you name it.
Took a while, but eventually he got over himself and now he'll go through pretty much without giving it a second glance. Now, he thinks playing in the creek behind our barn is the coolest thing since sliced bread; he splashes like a little kid if I let him. (I don't let him for very long, for fear he'll try to roll... luckily that hasn't happened yet!)
*friend of bar.ka
"Evidently, I am an unrepentant b*tch, possible trouble maker, and all around super villian"
Before heading out on a trail with water again, I would be making puddles everywhere I could - the driveway, the pasture, the lawn... I would not try to cross that kind of water on the trail again until the horse was walking through stuff at home.
I had a QH mare that never did walk through water... frontwards, anyway. Every water crossing we came to, we had to turn around, back through, then turn around on the other side. It made no sense (I worked with her for two years...) but as long as she wasn't looking at it she was OK. I know that sounds weird, but if your horse backs up well, maybe try that to get her feet wet and then she might realize she's OK in there.
Ooooh, good idea. She does back well, just from a voice command. (DH taught her that himself, he was so proud...) Like I said, she is a smartypants, so I have a feeling that once she learns water = not dead, she will be fine... It's just getting her to learn that in the first place.
Got this strategy from Simbalism, an amazing horse whisperer. I put on my high muck boots and filled my barn coat pockets w/ peppermints. We headed out, me on the ground and worked closer and closer to the creek, to where my gelding was willing to get his feet wet. Each move toward the desired behavior got a peppermint and/or a pat. We entered and exited from a bunch of different places and went to a variety of settings to practice. It took several sessions, but now he will cross most wet stuff w/o a problem. It takes time and exposure. You can't rush it or get exasperated. Hang in there, she sounds like she is worth it!
Well, we have followed closely behind balkers and sometimes knowing our horses are behind them has made them keep going.
I have also spanked the horse ahead of me to get him through. Not smart if it is a kicker, but sometimes a well placed whack works wonders if delivered by surprise. They are so used to moving forward, when you spank them they will pop forward automatically to find themselves in the water! It is easy from there.
This is all done with good riders who can read a horse's mind and body language of course....
Back her through ~ let her stand half way a few times... "pony" her across
a few times even after she seems to "get it" to make it easier when a different problem presents... she will accept the lead right on through the next obstacle...
Beau's mom, thanks for doing the explanation. It does work the best towards getting the horse to get over their water aversion. The first horse I did this with was my app gelding(who had been a breeding stallion until age 7-talk about opinionated) the second was my flighty chestnut Tb mare who is now the best been there done that horse. Make sure you have a long lead line in case the horse decides it's going to jump, so you don't get too close to horse.
You got a lot of good advice. Just take all the time it requires and don't be afraid to stop a lesson if she hasn't entered the water. If you can leave each training session on a calm and positive note you have won. Hopefully with time and not pushing she will enter the water. I too have an appaloosa mare so I know........
Because she doesn't trust in what you are asking her to do. We establish more trust by overcoming these situations. Get in the water with her and have a good time. Forget all the other crap. She has to trust that you are not leading her to a sure and very wet death.
All this leg banging, shouting, whipping etc will just serve to re-enforce her distrust.
I would try very hard not to anticipate a problem - don't assume that the falling down will stick in her mind as a reason to never enter water again. My girls had a trailer accident last fall and both loaded fine afterwards, but I had my son load them, because I was so traumatized and worried, I knew they'd pick up on my feelings. They were fine.
Can you ride in a group of 5-6 horses. One going across might not encourage her, but if the HERD goes across, and she sees it's fine, it may work.
I do think trust and a well developed "Yes ma'am" helps a lot, but my two who are brave and reliably forward have each had times they have refused. Sometimes, it's just being a butthead, and you push it. Once, I could not push my mare through, and after six years of maybe 2-3 refusals in thousands of trail miles, I just decided to trust her judgment. I did work her hard, just to be sure she didn't decide refusing was an easy option.
Tell your husband that he rocks for sticking with it, and for his level of concern. That's wonderful!
Pa-eternally laboring in the infinite creative and sustentative work of the universe
The one true statement about Apps is: you cannot *make* them do anything. They will crawl for you, fight for you, even die for you, but, its all on their terms.
Someone suggested making puddles around the farm. She needs to trust water isnt going to hurt her. Its summer, give baths where you wil end up with her standing in a big puddle of water.
Her forward needs work too, I would guess she doesnt hand-jog with you either --- some agility work both astride and on hand. Play stop /start with you at her shoulder, Im sure you can think of other games ...make a shelf, 3 buckets/carrots, apples, grain --, you'll find what is her favorite . All with a water element involved.
You can adapt a lot of dog training reward techniques to horses.
Time and patience.