Groundwork for horses involves performing exercises with a horse while you’re on the ground, leading the horse with a neck-rope or horse tack (cavesson) and a halter. Groundwork is an essential aspect of horse training. There are numerous groundwork exercises, and we’ve grouped them into five major categories.
1. Lead Exercises
As the name implies, these activities have to do with leading – from one point to another, using a rope and a halter. Here are some basic lead exercises:
Leading From a Lead Position
You’ll define your space while walking in front of your horse. That way, your horse will learn to respect your space. To excel at this task, develop leadership skills, as you’ll be determining the speed and path. However, in some situations, you may decide to define your personal space less precisely or comply with your horse’s speed or direction.
Leading From a Partner Position
You’ll walk close to the horse’s shoulder. Ultimately, the horse learns to stay close to you while trotting and walking, waiting and halting, walking backward, and turning to the right or left. This position involves driving and leading your horse simultaneously, which you’ll practice on the left and right side of your horse. In most cases, you can only do this after establishing yourself properly in the first position.
Other advanced lead exercises include leading with a neck ring and leading from the third position.
2. Bonding Exercises
Getting a new horse naturally demands that you bond with it. It signifies the beginning of a new and exciting relationship. Here are the primary ways of creating a bond with your horse:
Recognize Their Physical Cues
Observe your horse’s physical cues. Recognizing these cues will help you decipher when the horse is relaxed or stressed. Then, you’ll know what actions to take to help them feel less anxious or calm down.
For instance, if you notice the horse dancing around, snorting, or spooking, it may be as a result of anxiety. You can simply have them do exercises that involve using their entire body and thought process.
A horse tends to pick up on people’s emotions (especially those around them). They will mirror the built-up energy they sense in the atmosphere. When a situation makes you nervous, for instance, they’ll get nervous too. Master your emotions as an equestrian rider. Learn to remain cool, calm, and collected while you’re with your horse.
Grooming is an essential aspect of caring for your horse. This exercise will enable you, as its handler, to observe your horse’s well-being and any health concern that may arise. You should groom your horse before working it, and after working it, make sure to groom it again and get it properly cleaned up.
You’ll need items like a mane comb, grooming mitt, and a body brush for cleaning up in the direction of your horse’s hair growth. Soft-bristled brushes will help to remove dust and fine particles. Horses find this process soothing, and it enhances their shiny coat.
That said, you’ll want to be highly observant while grooming your horse to ensure that you’re not overdoing it. If your horse wiggles its tail aggressively or lays its ears backward, reduce your vigor while brushing.
3. Yield to Direct Pressure or Physical Aid
You’ll train your horse to comply with tender physical pressures to give them direction. Here are the basic exercises in this category:
Your horse lowers its head as it yields to a slight downward pressure applied behind its ears.
Nose to Flank
Your horse moves its nose towards the flank as it yields to a little pressure applied to the side of its head.
Backward on Nose
Your horse takes a step back as it yields to soft pressure on its nose.
Your horse takes a step forward as it yields to a slight forward pressure applied behind its ears.
Backward on Chest
Your horse takes a step back as it yields to soft pressure on its chest.
Your horse takes a step aside with forehand as it yields to a slight pressure applied on its shoulder.
Your horse takes a step aside with its hind leg, as it yields to soft pressure on its hindquarters.
Your horse bends its body (tightens its side muscles where it feels pressure) as it yields to mild pressure on its girth area.
Follow the Rope
Your horse brings its nose to flank and follows the rope surrounding its body, as it yields to a slight press on its halter.
Besides these nine basic yielding exercises, here are a few others you can practice:
- When you apply slight pressure to its tail, it steps forward.
- When you apply slight pressure to its leg, it lifts the leg.
- When you apply soft pressure to the corner of the horse’s mouth using a horse bit, it opens it.
- When you apply upward pressure under the horse’s belly, it responds by lifting its back.
4. Yield to Driving Aid (Indirect Pressure)
Here, you ask your horse to yield without touching it. You use your driving aids and energy such that your horse understands the direction you want it to go.
Here are the basic exercises that involve your horse yielding to driving aids:
- Move a step backward
- Move out of a personal space
- Move forward from a partner position
- Turn to the right and the left from a position (in movement or from a halt)
- Disengage the hindquarters (yield the hindquarters to the right or left, whether from a move or not).
- Leave in a circle (making the forehand go to the left or right while you’re standing in front)
An advanced exercise involves asking your horse to go sideways or perform a shoulder-out.
5. Circle Work
This training entails asking your horse to make circular movements around you. You’ll teach your horse through language to take the circular motion, slow down, change direction, halt, speed up, and gradually become used to each other.
You can use the circle work exercise to prepare a horse for lunging (get used to one another’s language during circling), to enable the horse to overcome challenges without you at its front, and to calm it when it gets nervous. You can also use the exercise to show a dominance-exhibiting horse that you have a higher rank (in control) and move sideways.
Importance of Groundwork for Horses
There are various reasons why you need groundwork:
- To correct dominance problems
- To learn how to display leadership attributes and give proper guidance to a dressage horse
- To keep a stable and robust bond with a horse acquired through liberty training
- To challenge your horse mentally and physically
- To help the horse overcome some fears
- To help the horse adapt to the human system, such as daily care, contact horse trailer, vet treatment, horse games, hoof trimming, and more
- To keep the horse balanced and fit emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically
- For fun and variety
Finally, teaching them various groundwork skills will enable them to learn much faster during horse boarding, as they’ll find it easy to cooperate.