Water fences often provide a challenge on a cross-country course. Ponies can’t tell how deep water is by looking at it, so they need to trust you that it’s safe.
Back to basics
If your pony’s never seen water before or is nervous going through it, practise walking through small puddles out on hacks. He’ll soon get used to the feeling of getting his feet wet, and you can gradually build up to bigger puddles, or shallow streams if you know they’re safe to cross.
Start slowly – walk through the water to give him time to look at it and work out it’s safe. Once he’s happily walking through without stopping, practise in trot, then canter.
When he’s used to water at home, he’ll be more likely to stay happy and relaxed when he meets a water fence on a cross-country course.
Make sure you know how deep the water is before you ride through it and that the approach and exit, as well as the surface below the water, isn’t too boggy or stoney.
Getting a lead from a more experienced friend is a great way to encourage a reluctant pony to go through water. Seeing his friend go through safely will give your pony more confidence to step into the water and follow him.
Ride with confidence
When you’re approaching a water jump, look up and ahead to the other side. Don’t look down or your pony might have a look, too! Wrap your legs around his sides to keep him moving forwards.
If you think he might stop or hesitate, approach at a slower pace to give him time to look and work out what you’re asking – there’s nothing wrong with coming back to walk or trot to give him confidence.
Hold your pony’s mane, neck strap or martingale to stay balanced if he takes a big leap into the water.
Make the drop
More challenging cross-country courses might ask you to ride a drop fence into water. It’s a good idea to practise these types of fences before you come across them at a competition.
Build it up gradually, starting with approaching the drop fence in walk. Look up and ahead, sit tall and don’t forget to slip your reins as you drop down into the water.
When you’re confident, you can practise dropping into water in trot and then canter, but remember to keep your pony in a bouncy, collected showjumping canter so you both stay balanced – don’t rush into it!
Slipping your reins
This is a really useful skill to have when you’re jumping to make sure you don’t catch your pony in his mouth if you get behind the movement.
To slip your reins, open your fingers slightly to allow the reins to slide through them – this will keep you in a secure position and stops you being pulled forwards out of balance. When you’ve landed, collect your reins back up as if you’re shortening them.