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Dealing with a horse with SERIOUS ditch issues...

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  • Dealing with a horse with SERIOUS ditch issues...

    So, I own a horse who is pretty ditchy. The highest he's gone is Novice, but has the potential to go up to Intermediate most likely. The only problem is he has a SERIOUS fear of ditches. My trainer and I have managed over the past three years to get him pretty confident over the friendly ditches in the Novice levels, but I took him Training for the first time at the end of last year, and he stopped dead at this big ditch. I took him out after the event was over and even tried hand-walking him around the ditch, and he wasn't very happy about it. My trainer and I kind of let it go for the rest of the winter, but now that the season in Area VII is starting up again, it's an issue we're thinking about again.

    My trainer took him XC schooling today (May 31, 2013), and he was apparently fantastic up until she took him to this big, Training sized ditch. My horse has NEVER been one to buck or rear. He always just shoots backwards if he really doesn't want to go, so when my trainer made my horse not go backwards like he always wants to, he freaked out, reared straight up in the air, dumped my trainer, and ran off. She got him back, tried calming him down and walking him by it, but he was still petrified to the point of his whole body shaking. My trainer is still a little overwhelmed about it and thinks that this is an issue that can't be fixed. I, trying to be optimistic, think that this is a serious phobia, but that it can be handled with some time.

    I just want to see what other people think of this situation. I have never met a horse who is bold over absolutely everything, but completely freezes when it comes to a ditch. My horse is extremely sensitive and tends to be on the anxious side as well, so that's always been a factor when I ride. Has anyone else had this big of a problem with a horse and ditches? Even just a problem with ditches in general? I really don't want to see him stuck at Novice for the rest of his career just because of this ditch issue, and I know he's pretty bored of Novice as well....

    PLEASE HELP!!

  • #2
    Two thoughts. If you have a horse who is afraid of ditches, can you ride him with another horse who isn't? That often works with foxhunters--and their riders as well.

    Can you find some genuine ditches that are big enough that he can actually go down into the ditch and back up until he realizes that what is essentially a hole in the ground won't eat him?


    Originally posted by cnye View Post
    So, I own a horse who is pretty ditchy. The highest he's gone is Novice, but has the potential to go up to Intermediate most likely. The only problem is he has a SERIOUS fear of ditches. My trainer and I have managed over the past three years to get him pretty confident over the friendly ditches in the Novice levels, but I took him Training for the first time at the end of last year, and he stopped dead at this big ditch. I took him out after the event was over and even tried hand-walking him around the ditch, and he wasn't very happy about it. My trainer and I kind of let it go for the rest of the winter, but now that the season in Area VII is starting up again, it's an issue we're thinking about again.

    My trainer took him XC schooling today (May 31, 2013), and he was apparently fantastic up until she took him to this big, Training sized ditch. My horse has NEVER been one to buck or rear. He always just shoots backwards if he really doesn't want to go, so when my trainer made my horse not go backwards like he always wants to, he freaked out, reared straight up in the air, dumped my trainer, and ran off. She got him back, tried calming him down and walking him by it, but he was still petrified to the point of his whole body shaking. My trainer is still a little overwhelmed about it and thinks that this is an issue that can't be fixed. I, trying to be optimistic, think that this is a serious phobia, but that it can be handled with some time.

    I just want to see what other people think of this situation. I have never met a horse who is bold over absolutely everything, but completely freezes when it comes to a ditch. My horse is extremely sensitive and tends to be on the anxious side as well, so that's always been a factor when I ride. Has anyone else had this big of a problem with a horse and ditches? Even just a problem with ditches in general? I really don't want to see him stuck at Novice for the rest of his career just because of this ditch issue, and I know he's pretty bored of Novice as well....

    PLEASE HELP!!
    "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
    Thread killer Extraordinaire

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    • #3
      I owned this horse. The cure for her was making a temporary move to a former sod farm. There were enormous ditches criss crossing the fields. Many of them were filled with water. They became a part of her daily existence. She had to cross them in turn out and we jumped them every time she worked... Going to do dressage? We still jumped ditches going to and from the ring. Eventually (quickly) she got where she just didn't care.

      Now I realize finding that sort of set up is not really practical but maybe you could build several schooling ditches and make them part of his daily life. See if you can find somewhere full of big natural ditches to ride with a steady friend! We also had a ditch that was in an alleyway to a pasture. Again, horses had to jump it to get in and out. Once a horse understands what is really expected at a ditch they become a non issue. You'd just be really surprised how many horses don't understand ditches (in spite of having been chased over lots of little ditches.)
      The rebel in the grey shirt

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      • #4
        Just out of curiosity, what color is your horse? Does he have any or a lot of white on his face?

        Comment


        • #5
          At the ICP Symposium with DOC this year, he had an interesting way of schooling ditches: always start with a pole over it. The ditch was set up with standards on each end, and a very low pole across it (mini-trakehner, 12" high). His reasoning was that the pole gave the horses something to go up and OVER, not just across, and kept their focus up out of the scary horse-eating pit. He said this is an excellent way to start young horses, so that they never become "ditchy." (First he had all horses calmly circle the ditch, evaluating which ones were snorty/spooky and had an issue with it.)

          While you obviously can't create a small trakehner at every ditch you encounter, it could help your horse learn to Get Over It as a jump, and not see it as a snake pit.

          In my own experience, I tend to take ditchy horses on "wilderness trail rides" on acreage next door, looking for small natural ditches and gaps in the ground to cross. Take buddies with you and follow them, like a casual fox hunt. Like JWB said, make it a part of everyday life and an ordinary way to get from point A to point B.

          Sometimes though, it can't be cured and the horse just isn't happy. Then you have a show jumper.
          “A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.”
          ? Albert Einstein

          ~AJ~

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          • #6
            Sort of similar to EventerAJ - an impromptu solution with my horse when he would not even consider going over the ditch (although without the degree of histrionics your horse is exhibiting) was to fill the ditch with the decorative straw bales from a nearby jump. And then remove them one by one until the horse is comfortable going over the empty ditch.


            Since he is so bold about everything else, and the problem escalates with bigger ditches, is it possible he has some sort of vision issue?
            "Why would anybody come here if they had a pony? Who leaves a country packed with ponies to come to a non-pony country? It doesn't make sense!"

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            • #7
              Yes, I'd have his vision checked out. The shadows/depth may be a problem for him.

              If that checks out, he'd be one I'd try some clicker type work with to build a good association with them, since he's so fearful and has a bit of mental baggage now as well. In the mean time, don't send him up to anything that you aren't 110% sure he'll cross confidently. Can you send him over small liverpools? Can you send him over tarps flanked with poles? Will he jump trakehners?
              As Peter, Paul, and Mary say, a dragon lives forever.

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              • #8
                Not sure if this will work with your horse, but... maybe go back to the baby ditches... the barely a ditch ditches.. and walk your horse through it. WALK.. no trotting, no cantering.. just walking. My horse isn't really ditchy and my trainer STILL TO THIS DAY makes us walk in and out of every single baby ditch every single time. At first he would get animated and jump.. and now, he just sighs, and walks right through them. Then we walk through the bigger ones.. then the bigger ones... then trot.

                Maybe by slowing it down.. and allowing him to think, he can realize it won't eat him. And by doing it on the smaller ditches first, you'll build y'alls confidence back up. Sometimes I think we trot and canter them over it and never give them time to realize what it is so that as it gets bigger, they get worried. By walking them through the baby ditch they realize..oh, it's just a little hole in the ground. Then it becomes a little bigger hole in the ground... and then an even bigger hole that is still no big deal.

                I definitely think you need to address it though. And I like what the above poster said.. back off the big stuff for a bit and build his confidence back up. Then maybe try some of the other ideas over the bigger ditches.

                And I apologize if he's fine walking through the smaller stuff. I think it read as he's fine to jump the little ones but is still a little weirded out but I couldn't tell if he's walked them... or just cantered over them. Good luck!!

                Once you conquer your ditch fear.. it'll become a trakenher fear.. then a ditch and wall fear.. ha!! Those damn holes in the ground!!!

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by FLeckenAwesome View Post
                  Not sure if this will work with your horse, but... maybe go back to the baby ditches... the barely a ditch ditches.. and walk your horse through it. WALK.. no trotting, no cantering.. just walking. My horse isn't really ditchy and my trainer STILL TO THIS DAY makes us walk in and out of every single baby ditch every single time. At first he would get animated and jump.. and now, he just sighs, and walks right through them. Then we walk through the bigger ones.. then the bigger ones... then trot.

                  Maybe by slowing it down.. and allowing him to think, he can realize it won't eat him. And by doing it on the smaller ditches first, you'll build y'alls confidence back up. Sometimes I think we trot and canter them over it and never give them time to realize what it is so that as it gets bigger, they get worried. By walking them through the baby ditch they realize..oh, it's just a little hole in the ground. Then it becomes a little bigger hole in the ground... and then an even bigger hole that is still no big deal.

                  I definitely think you need to address it though. And I like what the above poster said.. back off the big stuff for a bit and build his confidence back up. Then maybe try some of the other ideas over the bigger ditches.

                  And I apologize if he's fine walking through the smaller stuff. I think it read as he's fine to jump the little ones but is still a little weirded out but I couldn't tell if he's walked them... or just cantered over them. Good luck!!

                  Once you conquer your ditch fear.. it'll become a trakenher fear.. then a ditch and wall fear.. ha!! Those damn holes in the ground!!!
                  This, getting a lead, and repeating over and over and over, daily if possible. It needs to be extremely dull, business as usual before you try asking for it on course again.

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                  • Original Poster

                    #10
                    Originally posted by runnyjump View Post
                    Just out of curiosity, what color is your horse? Does he have any or a lot of white on his face?
                    He's a solid bay with the most pathetic excuses for facial markings. He has maybe 6 white hairs where the typical star would be and another 6 white hairs where a snip would be.

                    Comment

                    • Original Poster

                      #11
                      Originally posted by Scaramouch View Post
                      Sort of similar to EventerAJ - an impromptu solution with my horse when he would not even consider going over the ditch (although without the degree of histrionics your horse is exhibiting) was to fill the ditch with the decorative straw bales from a nearby jump. And then remove them one by one until the horse is comfortable going over the empty ditch.


                      Since he is so bold about everything else, and the problem escalates with bigger ditches, is it possible he has some sort of vision issue?
                      He does have a minor cloud in his eye that is (at least from what we've been told...) from an injury he had a really long time ago before I had him. When I vetted him a few years ago, the vet checked it out and said that it was in a place that wouldn't effect his line of sight. I don't know if he's still paranoid from this supposed eye injury or what, but that could definitely be some of the reasoning why he's so resistant...

                      Comment

                      • Original Poster

                        #12
                        Originally posted by CrowneDragon View Post
                        Yes, I'd have his vision checked out. The shadows/depth may be a problem for him.

                        If that checks out, he'd be one I'd try some clicker type work with to build a good association with them, since he's so fearful and has a bit of mental baggage now as well. In the mean time, don't send him up to anything that you aren't 110% sure he'll cross confidently. Can you send him over small liverpools? Can you send him over tarps flanked with poles? Will he jump trakehners?
                        It would have been a while ago, but I think I've taken him over some liverpools before. Last year after an event where I eliminated at the ditch, we went out to school it, and he did eventually get over it no problem. He was feeling really good, so we ended up taking him over some trakehners, and he was great. I went Novice at that event, and we ended up schooling the Training/Prelim one with no problems at all.

                        Comment

                        • Original Poster

                          #13
                          That's what I was thinking actually. He hasn't walked through the smaller ditches as much, mainly because the ditches around where I am don't exactly have that availability, but we've done it before..... just not very much

                          It is true though, curse those damn holes in the ground!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            FleckenAwesome has great advice.

                            The way to conquer ditches is to walk them. When the horse walks over them calmly he understands them.

                            If you can find a half ditch (shallow, only reveted ~sp?~ on one side) start there. Have lots of time and bring a lead horse. You may want to start on the ground and be prepared to stand in it for a while lol. Good luck, I wouldn't classify this guy as hopeless yet, but you need to go back to square one and reintroduce them to him.
                            Unrepentant carb eater

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                            • #15
                              I was in a clinic with Clark Montgomery last fall. The other rider in my group said her mare had serious ditch issues so she wanted to work on that in her lesson. Clark's method was the same as FleckenAwesome and Judysmom---he wanted her to walk the horse over the ditch--back and forth until she was completely relaxed about it. The rider couldn't get the horse near the ditch, and then just got into a battle, so Clark got on. He made the horse stand facing the ditch. When the horse moved forward in any small way, it got a pat. If the horse tried to go backwards, he would put his leg on and make it clear that going away from the ditch was NOT an option. It took a long time, but the horse finally looked into the ditch and . . . . went over. Then he went back and forth, numerous times, at the walk, over the ditch. What was the best part of this training was that the horse was relaxed and realized *what* she was going over. I have seen trainers that "scare" a horse over the ditch. The horse is more scared of the beating than the ditch. But that doesn't mean they understand ditches. This method really seemed to make the horse realize that it was just a "hole in the ground" by the end of the session. If I had a ditchy horse--I would try this method!

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Tarps/Liverpool?

                                I also have a ditchy horse. Luckily (I guess?) my horse has the same reaction to tarps/liverpool as ditches. So I spent this winter placing ditch-sized tarps ("riveted" with big, fat rails on either side) all over the indoor arena. I worked him in hand and undersaddle, walked him over the "ditches" as described by the other posters, then slow trot, then incorporating them into a course. I brought those tarps out dang near every ride. The folks at the hunter barn where I board were very patient with me. My gelding improved dramatically. This horse gets confident and casual over ditches that he knows, so the portable "ditches" were really nice. That being said, I suspect that the ditch/tarp/liverpool will always be a bit of an issue for my horse. However, I think the key is the walking and trotting so that the horse gets comfortable. Stuffing a horse at a ditch does not promote trust (not saying you're doing this, just saying).

                                We went for our first XC school of the season today (hey, it's been a cold, wet spring up here!) and my guy was a rockstar at the ditches (and everywhere else too!). Walked the novice/training ditch. Slow trot to the Prelim/Int ditch. Totally casual. Good Pony!! 2013 Season Goal = Training.

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Years ago a BNR said they did ditches in one day. Start in the morning with an indention in the ground and once ok, move a slightly larger, then larger until the horse is jumping prelim+ ditches. Of course there was a steady eddy in the group to lead and "comfort" the ones learning. But it was a one day, start small and end big.
                                  Biggest problem is locating the grounds or digging the ditches yourself.

                                  Good luck, a friend and her horse had a major problem with ditches. It got so intrenched that the horse would stop even with another, stronger rider.

                                  Another option is to take a season to fox hunt. As another poster noted many horses find comfort in large numbers.
                                  "Never do anything that you have to explain twice to the paramedics."
                                  Courtesy my cousin Tim

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                                  • #18
                                    I had a horse that was very scared of ditches. I found a ditch in a field behind the barn- it was a water overflow catch for the pasture and it cut through the field. One part of it was super shallow (no water just a dip in the ground) and we could walk through it. So every time I would ride I would cool down or warm out up with a walk through it. After the ride I would lead him across a bigger section (I would jump across first with my horse wearing his halter and lead and wait until he would follow) he learned to do all of it from a walk and to leap across no big deal. By the end of summer we could jump ditches no problem no hesitation.

                                    The best is to have a ditch going into the turnout so the horse has to go across to go into the barn or out. Sadly we boarders can't have the luxury of digging one:O lol when I have my own property there will definitely be a ditch cutting their pastures in half lol I hate ditchy horses!

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by Banditbear View Post
                                      The best is to have a ditch going into the turnout so the horse has to go across to go into the barn or out. Sadly we boarders can't have the luxury of digging one:O lol when I have my own property there will definitely be a ditch cutting their pastures in half lol I hate ditchy horses!
                                      Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I told my BO that I wanted to dig a ditch and she was out in the field helping me! I also supplied the materials for a bank and she provided the manual labor. Some BO's are more accommodating than others though.
                                      The rebel in the grey shirt

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        Has anyone been watching the mustang training that Elisa Wallace is doing with her totally unbroken wild horses? That's training. Familiarization, then expectation. Very interesting and very talented.

                                        I do not believe that horses are "ditchy". I think there are spooky and looky horses, and they are going to suspect anything under their feet anyhow, ditches included, but they can be taught to jump them and respect the rider's aids.

                                        I think they associate things with a fight and don't want any part of the expected punishment, but most horses will go over and through all sorts of things once they find they are not harmful.

                                        I also know many upper level horses are a bit spooked of ditches but jump them well.
                                        Proud & Permanent Student Of The Long Road
                                        Read me: EN (http://eventingnation.com/author/annemarch/) and HJU (http://horsejunkiesunited.com/author/holly-covey/)

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