SCHOOLING THE WATER
If the time has come to get out and start competing with your horse, it’s important to remember the horse’s confidence and future progression should always come ahead of immediate competition success.
“Often, I’ve found with my horses that the first year or two of competition, I might be doing EvA80s and maybe some EA95s. I will always show them the water before going back to jump through the flags into the water jump. You are permitted to do that; you might end up incurring some time faults because you’re taking your time… but it’s really important that they have a good, happy experience doing it. I think it’s absolutely the way to go to show an inexperienced horse the water first,” says Rohan.
As Rohan explains, schooling the water on course is permitted without penalty (other than the time it takes), however, you must be careful not to present at all to any of the fences prior to schooling through.
“If you plan to school through the water before attempting the jump, you need to come on a line that’s not suggestive that you’re approaching the fence initially. You can go across the track that you will end up jumping into the water from, but you can’t come in and present to the fence, feel the horse back off and then abort mission and re-route. It must be clear that your plan is to school through the water and then present to the fence.” Rohan adds that it’s a bit different when there are combination fences involved, however they don’t tend to come in until the higher levels – and by then, you shouldn’t need to be schooling.
So how do you know when to take the plunge and jump in without schooling at a competition? Rohan says it all comes down to knowing your horse and feeling when they begin to tackle the water jump with absolutely no hesitation.
“We’re also really lucky these days in that lot of the courses we now have two water jumps,” he says. “I often go from maybe at the first water jump, showing the horse the water and then popping in… and then as the horses are getting more experienced, I might go straight into the second water without schooling. It often takes one or two years to have a horse that’s really confident and in front of your leg jumping into water.”
Despite the best intentions, we as riders can make mistakes – and horses don’t always go according to plan! So, when an issue does pop up at the water, how do you handle it? “If you’re in training, it’s easy. If your horse has a stop at the water, you can quietly just turn away and go back and do some other schooling and then come back to things.”
“However, if something goes wrong at a competition, you have to make a judgment call at that time. You might have to walk away that day… walk away from the fence and just walk through the water and retire and talk to the organisers about having a school at some stage. It’s really important that you never get too wound up with your horse in the heat of the moment when something goes wrong. You don’t want them to have a bad experience and have them get nervous at all. You’ve just got to go back and do some more schooling. Come back another day.”
“It’s important to understand that once you’ve schooled a water jump, usually the horse is really happy with that water jump, but you’ll take them to a different course and the young horses will find a different water jump a bit tough again,” warns Rohan.
In that training situation, it’s important to start back at a lower level. “Just walk them through and then trot them through, and go through the same process [as you did with initial water jump training] at the new water jump.”
Rohan says that with young or inexperienced horses, it’s also important to be mindful of the water jump following a break. “If you do a competition season and the horse is going really well and you’re really happy with everything and then you have a little break, you’ve got to be careful with the water. I think it’s important to go back and school water again before you head out for your next competition season.”
“It’s the sort of thing that will catch you out at that first event back, where the horse hasn’t seen the water for a while and then suddenly you could have a refusal or something. It’s really important for the young horse to go back a couple of steps to make sure they’re confident again.”