How to introduce your horse to ditches with minimal drama


How to introduce your horse to ditches with minimal drama

If you want a horse to be an eventer it has to be comfortable jumping ditches. There are ditches on almost every cross-country course and they only get more abundant as you move up the levels. Teaching a horse how to jump a ditch can be a tricky task. However, if you are patient and use a logical training system you will have your horse jumping ditches confidently in no time. Follow these straightforward tips to introduce your horse to ditches:

1) Make sure your horse is in front of your leg and comfortable jumping small fences. Don’t point a horse at a ditch before it is comfortable jumping small courses of show jumps and logs first. Otherwise, you will just be setting yourself up for failure. You also want to make sure your horse is in front of your leg, meaning when you give the aids to go forward your horse does so immediately. If your horse has any hesitations about the ditch you need it to respect your leg aids if you are ever going to jump that ditch.

2) Find a small, shallow ditch, two show jump poles, and a human helper. Start with a ditch that is around 2′ wide and definitely no wider than 3′. Ideally, you also want the ditch to be shallow in case your horse gets confused and drops a leg into it, you don’t want to traumatize the poor animal.

You also are going to want to get two show jumping poles and bring them to the ditch. Set them up a short distance off one end of the ditch, parallel to the ditch and touching each other. You’ll find out what they are for soon.

3) Walk your horse around the ditch before you point it directly at it. Once your horse is thoroughly warmed up and has even jumped a few jumps now it is time to make the big ditch introduction. What you are going to do is walk your horse alongside the ditch both ways a few times so it can see the ditch without being faced directly at it and asked to jump. Repeat walking back and forth alongside the ditch, getting closer and closer each time and keep doing this until your horse feels comfortable about it. Some casual Joes don’t care at all about this and you won’t need to spend much time on this but there are nervous Nellies who will require a bit more patience.



4) Time to jump that ditch. Now that your horse is warmed up and has had a sneak peek of the ditch it is time to work your way towards actually jumping it. What you’re going to do is start out by trotting or cantering the show jump poles that are piled together at the end of the ditch. You’re going to do this several times. Then cue your helper to start dragging each pole towards the ditch and moving them apart until they are the same width as the ditch. Eventually, you are going to have one rail on either side of the ditch. Keep jumping the poles as they get closer to the ditch and eventually you will find yourself jumping the actual ditch. Now it is time to remove the show jump poles and just jump the ditch. Expect your horse to notice the poles removal and make sure you are ready with your leg and prepared for a possible slight overjump. This exercise works like a charm and horses hardly notice that the ditch is there.

5) Remember that the second time jumping the ditch will be harder. A lot of riders make the mistake of thinking that because their horse JUST jumped the ditch it will be fine the next time. This is incorrect thinking because a lot of horses get startled as they jump the ditch, hence why the leap over it by a mile. Then the second time around they are not so keen to jump it again. So knowing this, make sure you are sitting in a slightly defensive seat and ready to kick-kick-kick.

6) Repetition is key and you don’t need speed. The key to producing a horse that is comfortable jumping all kinds of ditches is plain repetition. Pop your horse over ditches on a regular basis and find all sorts of different ditches to tackle. You can even use the pole exercise on new ditches at first if you think your horse might be a bit suspicious of the different ditch. It is also important to remember that you don’t need speed to jump ditches. Your horse should be comfortable walking and trotting over ditches. This way when you jump into coffins on courses you won’t need to come flying into them like a nutter to clear the ditch. So get out there and start walking ditches!

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