How to Teach Your Horse to Jump Water
By Nikki Alvin-Smith
Cross-country riding necessarily involves jumping into water and hopefully out of it the other side. However, for a showjumper that you expect to train to advanced levels, you want the horse to respect water and even fear it a little bit. This article focuses on the showjumper who you hope will jump the water from behind the tape and clear it like an Olympic long jump athlete who seeks to beat out his competition’s footprints.
A water jump is a special type of fence and your training success requires a different technique than a vertical or spread fence. Definitely riding at it faster will not make the jump a success, the horse will just land flat in the middle of it and learn nothing.
There is no easy way to know if your jumper horse is going to be one who plows through the water like a mad equine on water skis or stops sharp at his own reflection. Here is a method to train for the hopeful best result, a horse that is confident enough to tackle the water jump and will jump high enough to clear it.
As with any horse training you must begin by building confidence so that your horse won’t stop, and will stay in front of your leg up to, and over the fence.
The ground rail is of paramount importance when jumping a ditch of any type, as the horse needs a take-off point. Be certain that your horse is easily jumping a variety of fences without a ditch before adding this feature.
Start with a wide ditch, about 12 feet side to side. Make it 3 or 4 feet long and 2 ½ to 3 feet deep. Put some wings on either side of the fence, a ground pole in front of it and give your horse a lead over it the first few times with a experienced lead horse that will provide confidence for your horse.
Ditch fences are often more intimidating to the rider than to the horse. Horses can quite easily jump a large span from a standstill. Begin with the horse at a trot and allow your horse to take a good look at the ditch and then encourage him to jump it with your leg aids and a tap of the whip if necessary. On no account frighten him over it. Allow him time to make his decision, keep the reins open and allow the horse to keep his neck long but keep his head toward the fence.
For the rider it is important not to look down into the ditch. As the rider you should look well past the jump and this will also keep your body in the right position to jump the fence. Sit slightly upright on approach and let the horse judge the stride and don’t shorten up the reins. The horse must be able to use his neck to jump the ditch.
Ride this obstacle at trot and canter until your horse is confident about jumping it and does not cat jump, hesitate or balk at the fence. You can then add a rail over the ditch (making it technically a coffin fence). This will encourage your horse to jump higher and bascule over the fence. Once this is mastered you can move on to the water jump.
Note: In the event your horse is the type that is simply not confident over the ditch fence, start with a smaller ditch size and work up to the larger size.
The Water Jump
The Liverpool water jump is a shallow tray that may be placed under a vertical rail fence or to make life harder the Liverpool tray may be placed in front of the fence. If the tray is placed behind the jump then the fence will be even harder as there is no ground line for the fence. For the purposes of this article we are talking about training for the big water fences of 12 or 15 feet length.
As with any jump training add size incrementally to the fence, not all at once. The initial water jump should be just five or six feet long including the take off point and lip at the exit. You can purchase a rubber base for the water jump and place it in a hole and then pad it out well. The exit should have a perceptible lip. Ensure that the tape for both take-off and landing point is clearly visible.
The key to clearing a wide span of water as far as jumping is concerned is to ensure that the horse doesn’t just run fast and jump flat, but that he jumps with enough height to clear the distance. For this reason the addition of a small brush on the take-off line and a pole placed to span the center of the water area is a great idea as the horse will necessarily jump higher and take the jump more seriously.
Save Big Distances For Competition
There is no real benefit to practicing over 12 to 15 feet long water jumps at home. While it is important that your horse knows how to clear a water jump and takes it seriously, at home the maximum length you need to practice is 8-10 feet.
A Word About Safety
As with any type of mounted work it is imperative that the rider wear an ASTM certified helmet and proper riding gear. The horse should also be protected with appropriate leg boots.
About the author: Nikki Alvin-Smith is a professional freelance writer and content creator, who works with a variety of publications and manufacturers worldwide. She is an international Grand Prix dressage trainer/clinician who has competed in Europe at the Grand Prix level earning scores of over 72%. Together with her husband Paul, who is also a Grand Prix rider, they operate Willowview Hill Farm, a private horse breeding/training farm in Stamford, NY. Please visit her website at https:/www.NikkiAlvinSmithStudio.com to learn more.