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Starting your own colt
Colt Starting Quiz
Problem Horses, part 1
Fear Problems, part 2
Bad Actors, part 3
The Cold Backed Horse
Want to Compete?
Bit Basics
Going Places
Common Sense, Horse Sense
Horsemen's Christmas
Rainy Day Training
Try Something Different!
Green Broke
Resolution Time
Going in Circles
Hot Enough for Ya?
Pleasure or Equitation?
Return to Work Carefully
Saving your "Good Stuff"
Holding Western Reins
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Cold Weather Warm Up
Expect the Unexpected, 1
Expect the Unexpected, 2
Bad Attitude
Horse of a Better Color?
Power of Exercise
Importance of the Herd
Bath Time
Even Up
Choosing a Martingale
A Good Night's Sleep
Alternative Therapies, Part One
Alternative Therapies, Part Two
Get the Most out of a Clinic
Blanket or No Blanket?
Does Practice Make Perfect?
A Change of Pace
The Power of Observation
On Line Horse Trading
The Right Horse at the Right Time
Putting On A Show
Weather Or Not
A Lifetime of Stall Cleaning

Water Obstacles

Now that we’ve had some rain, the creeks and gullies have some water in them, and all our young horses that were ridden all dry summer long are faced with crossing water for the first times. Horses that were raised in pastures with streams and hills are usually more familiar with the process of crossing the water, but even then it can be tricky with a rider on their backs. How the rider introduces his mount to water can make a lot of difference in the long term. Some patience in the beginning can keep the horse’s perception of creek crossings calm and controlled instead of immediately stressful.

Ideally, our horses should walk calmly through or step calmly over the water, rather than jumping. A horse that is rushed, forced or spanked over the water will likely try to jump and this can become the way that the horse learns to handle all water obstacles. First, be sure that your horse understands the basic cues for walking forward. If you cannot send your colt forward at a walk with your legs, and keep him straight between the legs, he needs more of this basic training before introducing nearly any obstacle. Try introducing the colt to walking forward over poles on the ground until you have all the “wobbles” out.

Out on the trail, try to pick an easy crossing with low banks for your colt’s first water experience. Have another rider on a steady experienced horse lead the way slowly through the creek. Let your colt watch the other horse, and if possible bring the colt right to the water’s edge. Keeping him pointed straight into the crossing with your reins and legs, gently ask for a step forward until he is near the water. I let my horses sniff, drink or look at the water for as long as they want. Here is where the patience plays in. Most young horses will snort, and perhaps try to turn away from the water. Keep directing his head in the direction you want to go but don’t get into a battle with the colt if at all possible. As the colt checks out the water he may actually touch it with his nose, or paw at it with a hoof. Reward any movement forward even if it is very small. If the horse turns away, backs up or goes sideways, correct him with your hands and legs. Generally once the colt decides that he will not be allowed to leave the water, he will start looking across and at the lead horse who can be on the other side, or waiting in the stream (depending on how wide it is).

As the colt relaxes with being near the water, start asking for that walk forward again. If the walk-forward cue is well ingrained, the colt will probably in his hooves into the water. Again reward every move forward no matter how tiny. Once the colt has his front feet in the water, many riders tend to hurry. I prefer to wait again, letting the horse paw or drink before asking him to go forward a bit further, and finally on across. If you can get your colt to be curious about crossing the water instead of fearful, he will have a positive experience and will remember it the next time you approach a stream crossing.

Even for older horses, I let them take their times going across the streams. I’m not in a race, and I have seen too many accidents when the horse panicked and tried to jump, or spun and tried to climb a bank that was too steep. I’d rather take it slowly and let my colt gain the confidence he needs to deal with more difficult crossings that we might come across in the future.

Doris Eraldi of Eraldi Training in Potter Valley, specializes in training for all around horsemanship. She can be contacted at 707-743-1337, or by e-mail, or read her blog at Horseman's Diary

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