Trail Riding: Teaching Water Crossing

Editor's Note: This is Chapter 16 of Happy Trails: Your Complete Guide to Fun and Safe Trail Riding by veteran author and horseman Les Sellnow. The book is available from

Remember that abuse is never the answer. The proper approach is firm, unrelenting but gentle pressure until the horse decides he at least has to try crossing the troublesome obstacle to regain a comfort zone. In the case of a small stream, the horse may rush across the first time or even attempt to leap it. That's okay, as long as he crosses. Then, it becomes a matter of repetition--back and forth across the steam until the horse becomes desensitized, relaxes, and walks through on his own, without another horse in front.

With some horses, particularly those raised on rangeland, refusal to cross water never occurs because the horse has grown up crossing streams and rough country. With others, especially those bred and raised in a stable, crossing a river for the first time can be terrifying. The rider must at this point elicit the necessary response without traumatizing the horse. Harsh whipping and spurring definitely are not the answer.

One word of caution, though, when carrying out this type of training. Never, never dismount and stand in front of your horse and attempt to pull him toward you. Seeing you standing in the middle of the river might inspire the horse to think that where you are is safe. The horse is apt to cross the scary spot with a leap that will land him right in your lap. It is the same for crossing logs and other challenging spots. Never be in front of your horse.

About the Author

Les Sellnow

Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at or by calling 800/582-5604.

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