by Jenny Richardson BHSAI

You are certain to encounter a water complex, even at Novice level, once you begin cross country riding and competition. Practise over different types of water obstacles and jumps is essential, and should be part of standard equine and rider education.

Splashing about

Kitty King. Photo by Wow Saddles (

Water complexes will vary from simple ‘splashes’ with level ground, both in and out, right up to deeper water that may include jumps or steps in and out. You could also be asked to actually jump an obstacle placed in water as part of the task. Usually water would be numbered as a jump, and flags used for you to pass between, both going into and out of the water, incurring elimination for error of course if avoided. A slight hesitation may be allowed, and must be followed by immediately going forward so as not to be penalised for a refusal; a step or more backwards anywhere in the complex will cause you faults.

When introducing a young or inexperienced horse to water, it is best to hire somewhere with facilities for easy lessons on level ground with shallow water. An older more experienced horse is invaluable plus an instructor, either mounted or on the ground. The youngster will often be happy to follow his companion and the exercise can be repeated as much as necessary. Much as horses do not have a fear of actual water, their natural fear is being unable to see their footings, and trust must be formed between horse and rider so that he will eventually never question directions.

Allowing time

It is important to allow plenty of time, allowing the horse to sniff, drink and splash in the water to acclimatise himself, but do beware of him deciding it would be a good idea to roll! If you think this is about to happen, get his head up and kick on, to keep him moving. Once your horse is happy to walk in and out with no hesitation, you then may ask him to be lead horse, or go in side by side. After walking in, trot out and eventually trot in and canter out, until it is all second nature.

Steeper gradients are the next stage, then deeper water with a jump out. Before long you should be able to mix and match all aspects of a simple water complex with a companion until you then graduate on to completing the task alone. Different courses are essential until he has no fear of new venues.


If you are intending to spend plenty of time in and out of water, it is a good idea to place plastic sticky tape around your horse’s protective leg boots to avoid possibly losing them. It does come in many bright colours so can compliment your own cross country colours.

To begin with when approaching water as part of a course, slow your horse to a trot or walk depending on confidence levels, keeping rein and leg contact throughout, look forward (never be tempted to look down into the water), and ride straight and confidently ahead. Your horse will naturally slow down due to the water pressure so could take up a fair bit of leg contact. He may take extravagant strides but should not unseat you in any way. More experienced horse and rider combinations should be able to slow from extended to collected canter at the approach of the water complex, maintaining canter throughout.
Jumping into water is seen as one of the most advanced forms of cross country riding, but if taken step by step and introduced sympathetically with very easy questions, ideally using small drops into the water before actual jumps, once the relationship of trust is firmly established, you will have gained a valuable skill.

Jenny Richardson BHSAI is Equestrian Centre Business Manager at Ireland’s Castle Leslie Estate, a venue that offers luxurious equestrian riding holidays and training breaks in the heart of Ireland. The team welcomes riders of all abilities and age groups and offers expert tuition, gentle hacks and exhilarating cross-country rides over an extensive XC course. Visit

Author: The Editor

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