Water palaver…

By Jenny Richardson, BHSAI

Jenny Richardson of castle leslie

Cross country riding is an exciting equestrian discipline to compete in, and it is great for developing trust between horse and rider – naturally, it is also great fun. Water jumps are arguably the most difficult jumps to master on a cross country course, and these fences are always the ones that cause the most time faults at the lower levels, largely due to a lack of preparation or experience on the competitor’s part.


What makes XC water jumps so difficult?

  1. The shimmering appearance can easily confuse horse and rider.
  2. If you haven’t got the right waterproof footwear, it can be tricky to walk the distances before jumping.
  3. Some horses are wary of water – it is natural for them, if they can’t judge the depth.
  4. There’s usually a further element, such as drop or step into the water, to contend with.
  5. Especially difficult water obstacles may have a second element – eg. a drop fence into a second jump, or a bank to jump out of – if the rider’s reins have been slipped, eg lengthened, it is often easy for the horse to run out.

Here are my top tips for negotiating water jumps:

Exaggerate your safety position by sitting up, elevating your shoulders and making sure your weight is down into your heels – this will help you to keep your balance.

Sit deeply in the saddle. If you tip your weight forward, you may end up a little wet if your horse refuses, and you are tipped out of the ‘front door’.

Always approach from a positive, forward stride. If you do not have enough momentum, the landing may not be secure. If you are hesitant, your horse will be too.

london 2012 mary kingTry to look at the middle of the obstacle, ride positively to your take off point, sit up, look ahead and steer out.

Don’t make your stride into the fence too fast. This can cause the horse to back off the fence or stumble once they hit the water. Small obstacles can be approached from trot.

Slipping (lengthening) the reins may help if you are jumping down into the water, to aid the horse’s balance. Don’t slip them so far that you can’t steer though if you do have to ride through the fence with longer reins, à la” Mary King, keep your reins wide and your elbows back.

Practice collecting your reins quickly, so if you need to slip them, you can quickly regain control.

Remember, your horse will only jump the obstacle if they have the confidence to do so, and have trust in the rider.


What if your horse is wary of XC water fences?

polly tuckerYou need to spend time at an XC facility introducing water obstacles slowly and sensitively, ideally when the horse is young. (Also, take the time to get the horse used to water wherever possible at your yard, for example walking through wet areas around the water tap. Always ask him to be lead or ridden through puddles!)

On an XC course, introduce the obstacle by walking into the shallow end, rather than jumping in, and walk around in the water before quietly leaving via the shallow end again.


Eventually, you can trot through and introduce jumping in and out. Repetition works!

(Eventer Polly Tucker is pictured directly above – event rider Mary King is pictured in the top photo).

The videos below will give you some idea of what’s in store at my place of work, Castle Leslie Estate, which offers a fabulous three day ‘Horse Sport’ riding trip, within which you can practise riding in water!

Castle Leslie Estate   Castle Leslie Estate

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