How to teach your horse to go through water

Teaching your horse to enter water can take time, but it’s completely possible.

I’ve had a few horses with water problems. Sure, they’ll drink it, but ask them to get their feet wet and things get difficult. I used to ride a horse that wouldn’t even walk through a puddle without a fight and another that would stop at every water obstacle on a cross country course. It was very frustrating!

So,  what’s worked for me?

  • Start by teaching your horse to trust your direction. Ask them to walk over poles or cross a tarp. Make every learning experience a positive one so that when you get to a more difficult obstacle, your horse has confidence that he or she can trust you.
  • Patience. If our horse has a problem with water, don’t start a training session when you have limited time. Your horse knows when you’re in a hurry.
  • Start small. If your horse doesn’t like water, there’s nothing wrong with starting with a puddle. I once spent more than a half an hour coaxing a horse to walk through a puddle in the outdoor arena. It was a huge success when he stood in it and realized it wouldn’t swallow him up.
  • Praise. Every time your horse makes the smallest step forward into water, reward him. Don’t push for big successes, be content when you’ve made a positive step.
  • Use a buddy. It’s often easier to follow than lead.
  • Let your horse sniff the water. It’s one of the ways that horses assess how deep it is.
  • Walk through it with them. When I have a horse who doesn’t like water, it’s time to break out my rubber boots and lead them through it. Once they go through it, give them lots of praise and then rinse and repeat until it’s old hat.
  • Patience. Getting angry can make your horse associate water with being punished. Praise and treats goes a lot further.

Zelda wasn’t a big fan of water when I got her. The first time we went on a hunter pace with a lot of water crossings I thought I’d have a real problem. The first stream we crossed, she jumped it like it was Beechers Brook. Thank goodness for my neck strap! Twelve miles and several streams later, she was walking through the water like she’d done it all her life. Fatigue is a really good teacher. And did I mention patience?