WILL RAWLIN – Introducing a horse to Cross Country water

V.I.P Vinnie 2012 – first leap into water    V.I.P Vinnie – Burnham Market Advance 2018

Courtesy Ultimate Images

There are many ways of introducing event horses to water and everyone has their own routine as to what works best for them and their horses. The following format is how I start all  my youngsters. Before taking them to the cross country field I always try to encourage them to walk through puddles on hacks and if they are not very keen make sure we hack with someone else who has a horse that likes puddles, therefore teaching the young ones that they are ok to go in.  It is the reflection off the puddles that makes them wary.  Depending on the horse’s confidence and ability will depend how quickly you can progress.  Only you will know.

I always make sure I have the following with me when I first take them out to work in water:

  • A friend on the ground with wellington boots
  • Another horse and rider that I know for certain is confident in water
  • Open shallow clean water – not smelly
  • Change of clothes – just incase!!!

First and foremost make sure you know that the footing in the water is looked after  – the last thing you want is for the horse to trip and have a dunking through no fault of their own.  This could set you back and you would be starting from a negative from there on.

Trot and pop a few easy cross country fences first  – just enough to give them a happy time, the odd log for example before moving onto the water.  Make sure they are listening to you.

When you move to the water, start with a walk in and out of the water first, preferably with another horse so they know that it is ok. Do it enough times for them to be relaxed about it and can do this on their own. Once you are happy with this then stay in the water and walk round.  Make sure you keep a contact but keep everything relaxed.

      The Partner – first step into water       Ballycoog Breaker Boy walking through water

              Courtesy of Polskey Photography

If your horse is reluctant to go in then let it follow the other horse – keeping a safe distance but close enough. Do not let the horse turn around or go backwards, if it plants then move it’s shoulders and front feet, even if it is sideways.  Any movement forward should be praised with the voice and if possible a pat – keeping hold of the reins – it is essential to try and keep them moving however small.

If the horse will not follow another horse or there is not one available then ask the friend/trainer who is with you to walk in beside the horse and if necessary lead them .  This friend MUST be confident with the horse and of a calm relaxed nature as this will transfer through to their voice as they guide them in.  NEVER get cross or enter an argument with the horse as you will set the process back.


Once your horse has walked in and out and around a few times – do the same process in trot –  watch out for the splashes. If the horse is very confident you could canter straight through in and out – don’t let the stride get too big as the water can cause them to be unbalanced. These processes could be achieved in one or more training sessions depending on the horse. ALWAYS make sure you finish with a walk through as that will be the memory they take into your next session.

If possible repeat the same process within the week and then if they are relaxed and you feel they are ready you can then start to building on this: Never make the sessions too long and always finish on a good confident experience.

You could jump a fence before the water, making sure it is a few strides away and then go through water – a pole on the floor with barriers either side just before and just after the water are a good way to start if available.

Then you could progress to:

Popping out over a small step

Popping down a small step

Don’t let the jumps get big – just a pop will be fine otherwise as you start jumping into water in the future if they jump too big you could be in trouble!!

Then over months/years you will increase the complexity of water jumps until you get to jumping in, then jumping over something in the middle then jumping out all in the same combination.

As you progress up the levels of eventing make sure you know what to expect on the cross country track.  Always train your horse to the correct level before you move up so that neither you nor your horse has any nasty surprises.

Most importantly Enjoy.

You can follow my journey via my website www.willrawlin.com, @willrawlin on Instagram, @WBREventing on twitter and @willrawlingeventing on Facebook. I  look forward to telling you  more  throughout the season as I chase my goals,  and keep you up to date on the rollercoaster  as a professional event rider.

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