Apr 122019

By Patty Wilber

Shameless self-promotion:

I am excited to announce that I will be giving a clinic called Practical Trail June 22 and 23 at the Trout Stalker Ranch in Chama, NM!  We will work on horsemanship skills, play in the horse playground, and apply that to actual trails!   Here is the link if you want to register.  Only $300 for the all inclusive weekend!

Slots are limited.  We have a cap of 12 riders and it is filling up fast!


Introductory Water Crossing

Penny was the mentor horse.  She was a polite and confidence boosting mentor, and did not bring out her Boss Mare persona!

I got to be the leader for our 18 rider, 20 equine and one hiker Back Country Horsemen training ride starting at the Golden Open Space and continuing to a stretch of live water in the San Pedro Creek Canyon on BLM land.

Running water in NM is a bit of a scarce commodity, so even though this is a small bit, it is still exciting. We had four horses  that wanted some practice (well their riders wanted them to have practice), so we sent most of the group on to see a small pond and kept the four, along with me on Penny and Jim on Cometa, at the practice spot.

This water was shallow, there was no step down into it, and it was not especially muddy, so it was an ideal spot for Water Crossing 101. 

  • First. The riders asked their horses to cross by following Penny and Cometa.  Two of the four in our “needs practice” group, hesitated then went across at their rider’s request.  They came back and then I had them walk up and down the creek bed until they were comfortable.  Bruce’s beautiful Arabian picked his feet up extra high for a good 50 yards before he got used to the feel of the water on his legs and Ginny’s Fresian seemed to take it all in stride right away!

          Two of our four declined to cross. “not right now,” they said.  “our hooves might get muddy.”  

  • Second.  The two “no thanks” horses were reluctant but not flighty or panicky. To incentivize them, Penny and I, working with one at a time, ponied them. One of the ponied horses held back very briefly and came along, following Penny’s confident lead. The other one was slightly more hesitant, so we ponied around a bit and soon, almost without her noticing, she was in water.

This ponied horse is Regina. We wanted to go slow enough so that she stepped in and did not jump. It worked!

  • Third. We ponied back and forth a few times and then walked up and down the water way. This allows equines to get lots of wet steps and really become accustomed to the feel of water on their legs.  It helps change their thought process from “ok ok ok i gotta get in and across!” to “water!  hm.  i don’t mind water after all!”
  • Fourth. We ponied with the rider up, as a passenger. Over and back and along the length. This can give the rider confidence that the horse can do it and the horse confidence that the rider can do it, as well!

Pat and Regina, done with over and back and on to up and down the creek.

  • Fifth.  No more ponying, just following. This allowed the learning horse to continue to take advantage of Penny’s “we got this” attitude. Nobody needed much time at step five!

  • Sixth. All on their own! Over and back. Over and back.  And then there were a few moments of hesitation by both horses which led to a little hesitation by the riders.  But, knowing the horses could do this (having just done it while being ponied) allowed the riders to ask a little more confidently. The horses took the cue and crossed! Attitude and intent are integral to successful horse and rider teamwork!

Sandy and Cap.

Cap says: “water! i love water!…now that you got me in.” He loved it so much he started to think about laying right down in it and having a bath!

This was introductory water crossing, so it is to be expected that when these horses first encounter a more difficult water crossing (difficult being all relative–our Pecos Wilderness water crossings are not deep or lengthy), they may need support. 

Both were so willing and level-headed, however, that closely following a mentor horse is likely to do the trick, and if not, they could very easily be ponied again. 

With just a little more water under their hooves, these two horse and rider teams will be NM water-broke!


I was able to read the 1972 article ” DRUGS, PERFORMANCE AND RESPONSES TO EXERCISE IN THE RACEHORSE 2. Observations on Amphetamine, Promazine and Thiamine G. A. STEWART, M.V.Sc. Three horses were used in the trials. Injection of 0.5mg/kg 3 of thiamine 30-60 minutes before galloping resulted in calmer horses on the way to the track in 3 of 7 gallops. It was not clear if the response was seen in one animal three times or in all three animals, once each. There was no effect of thiamine on heart rate, respiration or speed, whereas promazine slowed things down and amphetamines increased the rates.

  3 Responses to “Introductory Water Crossing”

  1. Heh. I ran into Duncan’s first water crossing–he was very green in all ways–with someone who, asked to help, splashed through ahead of me and walked right on! He danced around there for a moment and then took a tremendous LEAP over a huge area of ponded water, for which I was totally unprepared (as if anyone could be, with a Lippie engine behind it). Hit him in the mouth, of course. Not something he ever forgot when it came to water. (And not someone I ever trail rode with again!)

  2. I love that step-by-step way of dealing with water while out riding. We won’t be trying anything with water for another six months at least, until her hoof no longer has a big ol’ hole in the sole, but I sure do like your approach.

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