First let’s get one thing clear right off the bat. Horses aren’t afraid of water. Yeah, we’ve heard it before. ” My horse is afraid of water. ” Probably not. We can’t say there isn’t a horse that’s afraid of water, but we haven’t seen many. Horses, like people, don’t arrive in this world with hydrophobia. Of course, we assume you aren’t crossing someplace too dangerous to go or full of quicksand.
Usually the problem is a leadership issue and the horse wants to establish an area of superiority. It doesn’t mean it is not a real problem, just not one truly related to the water. Some of you are thinking, I don’t care about the psychology, I just want to ride across the creek. We understand. But, to solve the problem, you have to first understand it.
Horses are herd animals and always testing to see if they can move up a notch in the pecking order. You may be the next notch. The way to find out is to test something. Testing something new gives the horse a perceived reason to act differently. After all you will certainly understand being a little wary of something new, right?
So what can you do? We recall a mare with the ” fear ” of water. She hated to get her feet wet and danced around every puddle in the trail. Small creeks were jumped in a single bound, feet dry on the other side. Well as luck would have it, the following Spring after we bought her in January was probably the wettest year in the previous 50 years. It rained constantly and the pasture was one giant pond. You could ride in the water or not ride. I remember laughing over and over for about two weeks as the little mare tried not to get her feet wet every evening when I went to ride. Finally she figured out that her feet got wet no matter how hard she tried and just accepted it.
This year in Oklahoma we are having a drought. The creeks are dry and teaching the same horse would have to take a different approach. So what would we do. First, we would try a couple of long, long rides over a three-day weekend. Preferably one without water to cross until the end of day three and the rides taking 7 or 8 hours each day. Then at the end of day three, we would head straight for the creek and not give the horse a chance to think about. Yep, splash right on in. We might put a horse not bothered by the water directly in front to have the follow the leader benefit. Generally after three days of good riding, it’s not a problem.
If it didn’t work, we would work on other leadership exercises to reinforce who it in charge and try again. Personally I like circles. You go right three turns, then left three turns. Do it several times at a fast walk or trot in tight circles so the horse has to work while he is doing it. Then head him towards the water and kick him as you get there. If he refuses to go, put him back in the circles and try again. You have to develop the understanding that you decide where you go and not him.
Still having trouble, we would try something that you don’t want to do without the expertise and good help. We would tie off on a stout horse and lead him into the water and make him stand there. He would learn to stand there. If you don’t have those tools, consider digging a hole in front of the feed box or his water. Create the situation where he has to walk into the water and the mud to drink or eat. Sounds mean! What if he doesn’t eat? Welcome to mother nature’s training methods. Learn or don’t eat. Are you getting the picture?
We don’t believe in cruelty, but you have to figure out a way for the horse to understand who ( hopefully you ) is going to be the dominant partner. Him or you? Besides, we have never seen a horse that would starve to avoid getting wet. Once he is getting his feet wet, put a halter and lead rope on as he crosses. Pretty soon you’ll be swimming him across small oceans. If you continue to have problems, you are welcome to call us for other possible solutions.