Traversing Tricky Terrain on a Trail Horse

Learn how to safely maneuver through water and other uncertain situations to avoid stress for both horse and rider.

Photo by Carien Schippers

Sometimes, the best thing to do is go out and learn on the job. Any horse, especially a young one, can quickly become bored working in a small area, so some trainers take a green horse out after only a few rides “inside.” When you take your horse outside the corral, do all you can to ensure those rides are successful. A good experience will set the stage for future training, making it easier; a bad one will make future lessons more challenging. As with earlier lessons, the horse will encounter many new things during these first few rides outdoors — a first big rock to pass by; a first hill to climb; or a first stream to cross. How you help your horse get through these experiences will determine whether it learns to relax about the outside world or develops phobias that are difficult to resolve.

Water Crossings

Your horse must learn to traverse water if you ride across country or on backcountry roads and trails. With an inexperienced horse, groundwork with water crossing is helpful. If you’ve already led your horse through puddles or little streams, it won’t be so fearful of these obstacles when you start riding. You can cross bigger streams, and it will learn to handle them well, especially if you’re riding with other horses that it can see cross calmly. Your horse will probably follow, perhaps with a bit of urging.

Getting Acquainted with Water

If there’s a nearby shallow stream for practice sessions, take some time to acquaint your horse gradually with crossing so its first experience won’t be out on the trail, when getting across a stream or other body of water is essential. Taking the time to convince your horse that it’s their idea will make future crossings easier; it won’t associate water with struggle and confrontation, as it would had it been forced to cross. Lessons for water crossing will be more pleasant for both of you if you’ve already ridden your horse enough to have it be responsive to your signals and direction.

Photo by Carien Schippers

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