Q: My horse hates water, even tiny puddles. If we encounter water on an outride, I have to find a way to go a long way around it, or sometimes even turn back. What can I do to make him more confident?
A: Many horses are wary of putting their feet into a puddle because they don’t know how deep it is. Some horses are naturally less confident with water, but you can still work with them to improve their confidence. Even horses at the top of the sport sometimes need reminding that the water monsters aren’t out to get them…
When starting, only focus on small bodies of water, like puddles. If your horse can get a little bouncy, it may be worth starting on the ground next to him to keep yourself safe and give him some additional confidence. Remember always to wear a hard hat and protective footwear if working on the ground with your horse. Reward your horse every time he shows some curiosity about the water by giving him a treat or scratches. If he ultimately walks through the puddle or puts a foot in it, reward him and end the session there.
Over time, work up to getting on his back and walking him through these puddles. You can still give treats from horseback as a reward or simply scratch him.
Next up, you need to start practising on slightly bigger bodies of water. We advise recruiting some friends for this part of the process, as your horse will be much happier to follow other horses into the water than to go in first or alone. Once in the water, allow your horse to play, splash and put his nose down.
NOTE: Never practice this in deep water or anywhere you are unsure about the footing; you want to avoid frightening your horse, especially if he is already nervous. The trick here is to go slowly and gradually increase the challenge. If you reward him for his efforts and do your best to make the process fun for him, you will find that his confidence will quickly improve.