I recently bought a horse that is petrified of puddles.How can I remedy his fears without making him more afraid? I want to trail ride him and we have to cross a lot of small streams. I don’t want to get out there and have a bad situation develop.
Shari from Connecticut
Luckily, this is one of those fears that can be overcome by using a progressive ground training and riding program. Here’s what I do.
First, I make sure I can lead the horse over suspicious, but safe, obstacles on the ground such as a sturdy wooden bridge, a rubber mat placed in the middle of a grassy area, various sizes of plastic or canvas, even an old horse blanket or coat. Be sure you are careful as to what you choose for your obstacles. You want your horse to learn to trust your judgment so you don’t want to choose something that he would fall through or get his legs tangled up in. You want the horse to approach the obstacle with his body straight, take a look at it as he approaches and then walk straight across it without veering his hind legs off to one side as he crosses. The goal is to have all four feet on an obstacle at once with the horse walking calmly forward.
Horses CANNOT see things directly below their heads so as you approach an obstacle, let the horse start lowering his head (and remember this when you are riding) so he can get his eyes down to where they can do him some good. Since the partnership with your horse should be based on mutual trust, you need to trust him by “giving him his head” somewhat and he needs to trust you that you will never ask him to do something dangerous.
Once you can negotiate obstacles in-hand, then begin riding the horse across these obstacles as part of his at-home training. But don’t just work on obstacles over and over and over. Instead, ride a little, come to the obstacle and work it, then take a spin around the pasture or arena and come back later. This will be more like trail conditions where you ride a while and then encounter a stream.
If you live in a place that has rain (lucky you!) then you will have puddles to practice in for the next stage. I start with the largest puddle I can find – it is easier to get a horse to walk THROUGH a large puddle – when puddles are small, they want to step over or around them or HOP! You will use the same technique as with the obstacles. Start by leading the horse across puddles. Let him take his time to inspect – be sure to let him put his head down so he can look at the puddle. Step into the puddle yourself to show him it is safe, then ask him to walk forward with you. If he veers, balks or rushes, go back to one of the previous obstacles and work on one step at a time, proper position, moving forward at an even pace and calmness. The return to the puddles. Like before, once you feel the horse is very calm about crossing puddles in-hand, then begin riding him over them. If you use this type of progressive training to build your horse’s confidence in you and in unusual things, he will trust your judgment when you come to a new stream on the trail that needs crossing.