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Groundwork With Horses
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Why perform groundwork?

Groundwork is about working with a horse on the ground. You can perform exercises with your horse on the ground in preparation for riding. If you can teach something to a horse on the ground first, it makes it easier to teach to them under saddle. That is because teaching the concept to the horse, like side passing when pressure is applied to the side of the horse, will make it easier under saddle because the horse will already know the concept of what you are wanting.

What can you teach the horse with groundwork?

Anything really. If you ever see a performance with the owner on the ground working with the horse, that is groundwork. Clinton Anderson does a great performance with both a halter and lead rope on the horse, and then at liberty (where there is nothing on the horse, no halter and lead rope.) His performance includes him side passing, backing in circles, backing serpentines, laying the horse down, and a crowd favorite where he has the horse, without a halter on, circle around him until he tells the horse to stop.

I teach all my horses groundwork. How to yield the hindquarters, yield the forequarters, different methods of backing up, how to go over logs, through water. If I have the chance I’ll take my horse into a new place with groundwork, that way if the horse spooks or reacts badly then I’m not in harm’s way of getting thrown off.

What can you get can out of doing groundwork?

Doing groundwork with your horse can accomplish a lot of things. Top horseman Clinton Anderson always does groundwork for at least 1 week before getting on a horse that is new. It doesn’t matter if the horse has been ridden, how long, or anything. Doing groundwork with a horse gets the horses respect. It does that because you are moving the horse’s feet, forwards, backwards, left and right. Horses do that to each other to gain respect.

If you have gained the horses respect, things will go a lot smoother when you introduce the saddle or even get on for the first time. In my training career I have never had a horse buck with the saddle when I saddled them for the first time, or got on them for the first time. It is because I gain the horses respect before I ever even get on them and have built trust with them.

When I do groundwork

I do groundwork every time before I get on my horses. How much depends on how far along in their training they are. When I first start a horse and am teaching a lot of groundwork I will do more. But after they know a lot of the groundwork and I am no longer really teaching them new exercises I will just move their feet to see what kind of mood they are in. I’ll also move their feet forwards, backwards, left and right and then get on them. Doing ground before I get on also gets them in the right frame of mind, it lets them know they are going to work and to get prepared for it.

One of my favorite times with a horse I am starting is after about 2 weeks. They know enough that I can really start taking them out of the round pen. I can have fun with them and start introducing them to the outside world. Getting them use to going through things, like water and in between trees, over logs, tarps, bridges, etc. I can really start having fun and playing with the horse more, instead of just having to work them in the round pen.


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