Top tips for tackling water jumps – by trainer Jenny Richardson, BHSAI

We loved Will Rawlins’ article in 2018 about introducing a horse to XC water, and hope this piece follows on nicely, once the horse has gained a little more exposure to water complexes (or environments), and you’re ready to move more quickly through the water, or attempt a XC course with a water complex.

Few of us can realistically practice water jumps at home, which is why these fences may cause concern, as we tend to only see the fences at a XC course, or on competition day.

The challenges of water.

Water combinations do seem to cause the most time faults at the lower levels, and in some cases at the higher levels too, depending on what type of obstacle the rider is jumping over as they exit the water complex.

But do they present an increased risk of falling? The answer seems to be no. Charles Barnett’s famous eventing audit indicated that water obstacles did not represent the highest risks of falling (corner fences were the highest for horse falls in his audit, at FEI events). Of all the types of water obstacles, fences jumping INTO water were associated with a higher proportion of horse falls, meaning that care as we approach the complex, in terms of rhythm, speed and balance, are key. The report also found LESS likelihood of serious athlete injury at fences related to water, when compared to other fences; (which should put our minds at rest if water is a personal bug-bear for us!)

Horses can be spooked by water if they’re not used to it. So let’s look at why water is scary to some horses:

Some horses are just wary of water – it makes sense, as they can’t judge the depth and are trusting their rider. If they don’t see water as a youngster, it becomes an unusual experience. This is why it’s great practice to ride through puddles, and undertake beach rides.

The rider may be afraid, and transmits this to the horse.

There’s usually a further element, such as a step out of the water, to contend with, which aids confusion.

The shimmering appearance of a water complex can be confusing, especially if the base of the obstacle can’t be seen.

Especially difficult water obstacles may have a second element – eg. a drop fence into a second jump, or a bank to jump out of.

Step by step.

It is a good idea to take your horse to a XC facility, so you can introduce water obstacles slowly and sensitively, ideally when the horse is young. Take your instructor with you to help boost confidence; or at the very least, an accomplished friend.

On a XC practice course, introduce the water obstacle by walking into the shallow end, rather than jumping in, and walk around in the water before quietly leaving via the shallow end again. Eventually, you can trot through and introduce jumping in and out with more momentum. It is a good idea to take it slowly, until confidence is high for both horse and rider!

A positive stride.

Always approach water from a positive, forward stride, even if you are walking in. If you do not have enough momentum, the landing may not be secure. If you are hesitant, your horse will be too. Smile as you tackle the obstacle, as this will help you relax!

Slipping (lengthening) the reins will help if you are jumping down into the water, to aid the horse’s balance. Generally, the bigger the drop down into the water, the more you will have to slip the reins – keep your reins wide and your elbows back. Practice collecting your reins quickly when hacking or training.

Going slowly.

When you are approaching the water jump, go slowly – there’s no need to rush. Usually the shallow end is just a smooth entry on a slope, or has a low jump – either way your horse can come from walk or trot. Emphasise your safety position by sitting up, elevating your shoulders and making sure your weight is anchored into your heels – this will help you to keep your balance. Keep your leg on, as the first time he sees the water complex, your horse may be mistrusting of the obstacle.

Perfect your position.

Sit deeply in the saddle. It is better to be sitting backwards and get left behind a little, than be too far forward – especially as the latter may cause the horse to trip.

Jenny Richardson is Equestrian Centre Business Manager at Ireland’s Castle Leslie Estate, which offers luxurious equestrian riding holidays and training breaks, set in 1k acres, deep in the heart of Ireland. The venue offers Horse Sport riding breaks with a choice of 27 horses, utilising their extensive cross country course. Visit

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