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Step 6: "It's Bath Time!"

Water and Bathing

Back to Step 5: Controlling Speed and Gaits    Next to Step 7: Trailering

Editor's note: This article is part of a multi-lesson training series.

If you have a horse with a serious aversion to water, it isn't something you should avoid dealing with. At some point in your horse's life, you may have to cold-hose a swollen leg. If he's jumping around fearful of the water, he'll only make his injury worse. And since horses can smell water up to 5 miles away, it's probably best that you get him used to being around it and not just drinking it.

Basically, your horse could be afraid of four things related to water and you need to tackle them one at a time. He may be afraid of that snake-like looking hose, the sound of the spraying water coming out of the hose, the feeling of the water on his skin, or the mere sight of the water as it flows, moves, and reflects the sunlight. Since most of us use an ordinary garden hose with which to spray our horses, you should use the same type to train your horse.

Start with a short garden hose about 25 feet long and not attached to any water source to begin desensitizing your horse to the hose itself. Work in a safe, enclosed area like a round pen with your horse on a 14 foot lead rope so he has less of a chance to get away from you, but can still move his feet. Lay the hose on the ground and let him walk over it. Rub it all over his body until he stands completely still while you do this. Act like you're spraying him by pointing it all over his body and making spray like noises — you may look a little strange to your neighbors, but it's a good way of desensitizing your horse!

Once your horse will stand quietly for all of this, you can actually start working with water. Turn the water on low and have the open end of the hose completely free of any resistance, such as a spraying device or even your finger. You want the water to flow quietly and smoothly. Stand at your horse's shoulder holding the lead rope in such a way that you could send his hip over immediately if you needed to do so, or to lunge him in small circles. It's likely that your horse will want to move his feet to get away from the running water. You need to take charge of where those feet go. Channel that energy into small circles around you to maintain control. Allow him to move his feet, but do not take away the water. Keep the water as close as you first had it before he started trying to get away from it. At some point, he'll begin to slow and then stop to look at it, even if it's just for one, short, scared second. When he stops his feet, immediately remove the water by either shutting it off or moving it away from him enough that he no longer feels threatened by it. Then, let him rest.

Repeat this process over and over again. Each time, you'll be able to get the water closer to your horse before he feels the need to move away from it. Eventually, he'll stand still and tolerate water all over his body, but you need to remember to take it slowly, do it in stages, and never restrain your horse's feet from moving forward or he may panic and truly associate fear with water — that would make things worse instead of better.

Keep in mind that what you're really doing here is setting up your horse to feel FEAR, but also teaching him how to handle it. By standing in a safe position near your horse while you hold him, in addition to being able to set up a quick "hip-over" move if necessary, will help keep you safe. Some horses will almost want to jump into your lap when they're afraid. To discourage such behavior, send his hip over. As you do this, it's important to keep out of his way by staying at a 90 degree point about 4 - 6 feet away from his shoulder.

Essentially, what you're teaching your horse is that if he keeps his feet still, the danger will pass. This lesson encourages him to use his brain and think about what is happening rather than just instinctively bolting away from anything scary. The desensitizing process I've described can be used with any scary object, not just water. The more scary the objects you do this with, the more your horse will stop bolting and start thinking, even when he encounters something new and scary on the trail or in his paddock.

This is a very important lesson for him to learn that will help keep you and others safer.

Back to Step 5: Controlling Speed and Gaits    Next to Step 7: Trailering

Jennifer Goddard has been training horses of various breeds for over 20 years using her natural horsemanship methods. She has also ridden and shown in multiple disciplines and is owner of Levaland Farm, a 30 stall horse farm in Massachusetts. Jennifer has a degree in Finance and Entrepreneurial Studies from Babson College, and is also President of Equine Business Solutions, a business specializing in the starting and running of equine businesses.

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