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Absolute refusal to enter/cross water

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  • Absolute refusal to enter/cross water

    You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them...cross it??

    I'm almost at my wits end with my 8 year old arab gelding. We're doing great in our conditioning rides, except when water enters our path. He refuses to cross any form of pooled water, from puddles to flowing streams.

    I've tried: me on the ground leading him into it (with treats!), riding him into it, backing him up into it, following calm horses into it, ponying him in, and letting him graze around the edge. No luck! On a good day, I can get him to put a hoof in the water...then he just stares at me as if to say, "Are we done here?"

    What am I missing?

  • #2
    Can you feed him every day on the other side of a puddle so he has to cross it?

    All kidding aside, that is very annoying. I am blessed with a horse who loves water (we have issues getting OUT of water bodies) but for horses that were resistant, I've had good luck with the following:

    -reinstall FORWARD at all cost. Your horse MUST go forward when you ask him to. period. Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard, without losing patience or getting angry.

    - go on a trail ride with a seasoned buddy horse, where there is a stream or other body of water on the trail that goes BACK to the barn (or trailer). Resistant horse will eventually follow his buddy across, but be prepared to spend a looong time at the water.

    - use the "tap tap tap until Horse can't stand it anymore" method. Stop tapping (NOT whipping, just tapping) as soon as Horse moves a foot in the right direction. Praise, praise, rinse and repeat.

    - backing into it, or moving sideways into it, can be an option too. I've used that with a horse who would NOT go across a bridge (as in, backing, dead plant, rearing, etc). Since she was in "backing" mood, I backed her up to the middle of the bridge and turned her around. to walk to "safety". Then we crossed it normally towards buddy. And repeat.

    In any case, plan on spending a long time at it, and do NOT quit until you get what you want. Good luck!
    Ottbs - The finish line is only the beginning!


    • #3
      I'd choose a nice hot, humid day and bring the horse to a stream/puddle/lake/whatever. Bring a longe line and whip. Walk horse up to water matter of factly, as in "Of course we're going to cross this now, let's go".

      Horse refuses? Longe. Don't be angry or upset, just put him out on the longe at a forward trot or canter, whichever the horse uses more energy to perform. I know with Arabs it may take awhile to get them tired out a bit.

      After a few minutes of longing, take horse back to water. Refuse? Longe.

      Pretty much give the horse two options. You can cross the water, or you can work. And like I said, a hot humid day where the water will feel good once the horse gets over it will help.
      Tell a Gelding. Ask a Stallion. Discuss it with a Mare... Pray if it's a Pony!


      • #4
        blindfold and lead across if the footing is safe. back and forth, until eventually you take the blindfold off while he's in the middle of the water. worked with my filly.


        • Original Poster

          Thanks for all the great suggestions! Work has kept me away from the barn lately, so I haven't had the opportunity to try any out yet

          The idea of blindfolding him makes me shake my head; he's often smarter than me, so I could see that tactic backfiring. Anyone else done it?

          Also, has anyone had better luck with clear, running water, or muddy water? He seems to hate both equally, but I thought he'd for sure prefer the clear water.


          • #6
            I think muddy water would be easier. Clear water tends to reflect the sky and look like a portal to an alternate universe.

            Seriously. As I ride towards a puddle I often think "well no wonder he won't want to step in that. From here it looks like the sky on the other side of the earth."

            I grew up on a little Arab who was allergic to water his whole life. Being a persistent child, I got him into it but he made it clear that his desert ancestors were rolling over in their graves.


            • #7
              A very slick dressage trainer I know taught a horse to enter the water by walking along the bank, and gradually legyielding in.
              The Noodlehttp://tiny.cc/NGKmT&http://tiny.cc/gioSA
              Boy Wonderhttp://tiny.cc/G9290
              The Hana is nuts! NUTS!!http://tinyurl.com/SOCRAZY


              • #8
                What you are missing is ................

                riding in the rain, lots of riding in the rain.
                IN GOD WE TRUST
                OTTB's ready to show/event/jumpers. Track ponies for perfect trail partners.


                • #9
                  I've done the blindfold thing twice, and both times it worked. Blindfold him, then lead him in following another horse closely. Stand in the water, reach up and pull off the blindfold. Both times the horse acted all casual, like it was no big deal once they were in. We stood in the water for about 15 minutes, then crossed it several times.

                  The first time we had been trying for over 45 minutes and the mare wouldn't get in. Her owner took off her shirt and blindfolded her, and she walked in with barely a hesitation.


                  • #10
                    Round penning was the first step to getting my princess mare used to puddles. We did a lot of the usual kinds of round pen work in good weather. Then one day it rained. A big puddle formed in the round pen. Guess what, darling princess, we can still work in the round pen despite the puddle. Over the course of the next hour Maresie-poo found herself going through the same puddle over and over at a variety of gaits. Eventually she figured out that water doesn't burn like acid when you step into it.

                    Second step was getting maresie-poo more responsive to leg aids. I did a lot of work simply with walking in a certain place on the trail. Left side for a while, then move right, then middle, for no particular reason. Just do it because I said so. Or even just because I don't want to lose my kneecap to that tree you are hugging.

                    Then I combined the two. Yes, maresie-poo, we are walking on the left side of the trail, because I feel like it right now. Yes, there is a tiny puddle in our path. No, we are not going to move right to avoid the puddle. I feel like walking on the left side at this moment. You have gone through bigger puddles in the round pen, so you can just walk through this one. If princess mare cooperated, we just went on our way with no drama. If princess mare dodged, she got repeated leg aid exercises back and forth across the puddle. Eventually puddles became no big deal.

                    I haven't had a chance to do a whole lot of stream work with her yet. We have one seasonal stream across our trail. She initially encountered it when it was almost dry, so going through was no big deal. I suspect at this point she thinks of the stream as a kind of puddle. Sometimes she finds water there; sometimes not. She's gotten to where she's fine with it even when it's roaring after a heavy storm. Not sure how she'd react to an unfamiliar stream.


                    • #11
                      I had good luck with the blindfold method. But better luck with creating my own large mud puddle or finding a stream, it doesn't matter. What you have to do is work him on a short line near the edge round and round and reversing untl he gets a foot wet on the edge and gradually gets the foot into the water and then gets two feet in.

                      I started this in the round pen first getting him to approach and then walk on a blue tarp. Once he would do that then I poured water on the tarp and made him lunge thru that, and then I made bigger puddles until he would lunge thru those. Then I rode him thru that stuff. After that if he balked at the stream we repeated the same process.

                      Almost guaranteed to work.
                      There is no snooze button on a cat that wants breakfast.


                      • #12



                        IT WORKS EVERY TIME ~ I PROMISE ~
                        Zu Zu Bailey " IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE ! "


                        • #13
                          The blindfold method works even if the horse is smarter than you are. My filly is the smartest horse I've ever met. And about the most stubborn. BUT, she trusts me at least a little. So when I removed her sight, she trusted me enough to follow me forward a few steps.

                          I would never ever in a million years do this is the footing wasn't safe. I did it on firm sand. No risk of slipping or sinking. The puddle was very shallow.


                          • #14
                            i haad a horse who refused to cross water, tried everything. The thing that worked was I planned to take as long as it took and set aside the entire day for it. I was lucky that I could circle around on the trail so going out i could go the the road and coming back home headed on the trail at the creek crossing. So we had a short ride, got to the creek horse planted and we were there until 10 pm when she crossed the creek, I didn't get mad, I didn't get off excpet a few times to pee, I only required she face the creek, she threw a few fits and backed up a few times and reared a few times but as long as she was facing forward, she had a loose rein and when she threw a fit she got twirled around a bit. So we atrted at about 8 am and got across the creek at 10 pm. She just gave up. Never had a problem with water after that, if she tried to plant I said do you really want to do this again? This horse wound up liking the water enough we went swimming in the ocean a few times.I have to say during the process, I felt her try at leat about, 100 times to cross the creek, everytime I felt the try, I gave her her head and she really was very brave, I actually felt like a door opened and we gained a level of trust we didn't have before.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by sublimequine View Post
                              I'd choose a nice hot, humid day and bring the horse to a stream/puddle/lake/whatever. Bring a longe line and whip. Walk horse up to water matter of factly, as in "Of course we're going to cross this now, let's go".

                              Horse refuses? Longe. Don't be angry or upset, just put him out on the longe at a forward trot or canter, whichever the horse uses more energy to perform. I know with Arabs it may take awhile to get them tired out a bit.

                              After a few minutes of longing, take horse back to water. Refuse? Longe.

                              Pretty much give the horse two options. You can cross the water, or you can work. And like I said, a hot humid day where the water will feel good once the horse gets over it will help.

                              Awesome suggestion. A friend of mine used a similar technique to get her 17hh, 1400+ lb horse to trailer load. He used to be quiet stubborn about this, but eventually learned that resistance is futile...


                              • #16
                                My big horse was terrible about water when I first got him. It took 3 or 4 days in a row to get him to cross a small stream. On foot I followed another horse through it (making sure I walked in the water and was very careful to stay to the side because, of course, he hopped over it). After the 3rd or 4th day he walked through and soon was going through under saddle (I let him stand in it and splash). And now he loves to swim. It takes as long as it takes.
                                Groom to trainer: "Where's the glamour? You promised me glamour!"


                                • #17
                                  This may sound insane, but hear me out:

                                  Find a BIGGER river and cross it.

                                  My Arab used to lose his damn mind over crossing water. Ask him to cross a stream and the fight was on. He'd pull every dirty trick in the book to get away from the water. Rearing, spinning, that awesome Arab teleport spook thing, bolting attempts, you name it - he did it. Backing him into the water would work until his toes touched it, then he'd typically do a rear/launch/bolt combination and that was just delightful.

                                  We'd fight for up to 20 minutes about it until I'd finally lose my temper and basically just bully him into crossing because he was being so ridiculous. By "crossing", I mean a very melodramatic jump over it where we'd clear the offending water like it was 3ft high and 10ft wide.

                                  What finally got him over it? We were trail riding with his buddy and needed to cross a river. Bratface walked right in up to his chest like it was no big deal. Really dude? You can't cross a tiny stream a human can easily step over, but you'll walk into a river?

                                  From that day on, he was more or less fine with crossing water.


                                  • #18
                                    can you pasture him temporarily somewhere in a very wet field? where he has to cross a stream to get in and out of the gate, and the other horses wallow in a pond when it's hot?


                                    • #19
                                      I recently started a thread about this, too.

                                      Seasoned show horse now semi-retired, had never seen a trail before. Since I no longer campaign him, I thought he'd like to be a trail horse.

                                      He does. Except for water. But he's almost over it (pun intended!).

                                      Following buddy, ponying and backing didn't work. He WOULD cross if I dismounted and led him through. When he did finally attempt a cross he would jump- again, he's a retired jumper- jumped the damn water like he was in a 1.30 class.

                                      Anywho, what has finally seemed to do the trick is after several days of rain I took him out to our outdoor, which was basically unrideable because of all the puddles. Thought maybe having him in more familiar territory would be good. Spent the entire ride just trying to go through puddles. Eventually he seemed to get it, and even started playing in them.

                                      Next several times out on the trail he has actually crossed without jumping, with only a little bit of hesitation. HUGE improvement.

                                      Good luck!


                                      • #20
                                        The main problem with horses that don't want to cross is that they don't trust the footing-they don't know what to expect and they don't trust you enough to take your word for it. It's an somewhat understandable trust and obedience issue.

                                        So you can work on obedience tasks, putting him over other objects and being stricter with him and hope that some of that dominance spills over in the water crossing.

                                        And you can certainly desensitize him by letting him learn on his own time if you can find a place to keep him with water but IME they will still sometimes refuse under saddle and especially being led.

                                        We've borrowed horses that were terrible about water and in the worst case scenario they get dragged in by another rider and then up and down the creek and back and forth until they're tired enough to start thinking that water isn't so bad. I also agree that more water is better-they will try to figure out a way to avoid a smaller amount of water but the enormity of a river or lake seems to bypass the avoidance issue. That's a good time to practice the obedience and "go forward when told" aspect of the problem.
                                        “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey