Is your horse pushy with you? Are they spooked by their own shadow? Does your horse become irritated when you ask for a gait transition? Do you feel like you aren’t in charge of the situation? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time to take your horse back to the basics of groundwork to fix this behavior.
What is groundwork?
Groundwork is exactly what it sounds like – working your horse from the ground. Groundwork exercises are the foundation of what makes a trained and well-behaved horse. It also helps build respect and a bond between horse and rider. This training is usually done in a round pen or corral. It can be done on a lunge line, but the best results come from free lunging because, without a lunge line, the horse must make their own decision of how to react to what is asked.
How does groundwork help with behavior modification?
Once you establish the respect between you and your horse on the ground, behavior modification can come easy. Take a horse that does not respect space for instance. Simple ground exercises with a long lead rope can teach a pushy horse that it is not ok to run their shoulder into you.
Have a spooky horse? Use a tarp to help them realize that the tarp is not a fire breathing dragon. For the horse who’s gait you can’t control, use groundwork and the round pen perimeter to learn how to gain control of the horse’s movement. Be sure that the trot, canter, and direction is your idea. This teaches the horse that you are calling the shots.
Where to start
All you need for groundwork is a horse and a circular enclosure – preferably a corral or round pen. Begin by taking off the halter and sending your horse to the fence of the round pen. Ask for a trot or canter, and remember that whatever gait you choose needs to be your idea, not the horse's.
Keep the pressure at the rear of the horse with your body movement. Ask the horse to go in the opposite direction by applying the pressure to the front and ask for the horse to stop by backing away and taking the pressure off the horse. The goal of this game is for the horse to face you when asking them to stop.
Why does groundwork work?
Groundwork works because it helps establish respect and a bond between a horse and a rider. These horses must make decisions to follow you or not. Quickly, a little bit of pressure goes a long way and the right decisions become easy and the wrong decisions are hard and result in being sent out to the perimeter of the round pen again.
Use groundwork for behavior modification or to build respect and a stronger bond between you and your horse. Going back to the foundations is very important.
Do you use groundwork with your horse? What are your favorite exercises?
About The Author
Dani Buckley is a small-town resident in Montana. She is a veterinary technician manager and mom of eight four-legged kids – 5 dogs, 1 cat, and 2 horses. When she moved back home to Montana, her horses and her dogs moved with her (Carbon and Milo). The pack grew by three when she moved in with her boyfriend, Cody. Altogether there is a German Shepard (Lupay), a Border Collie (Missy), a Blue Heeler (Taz) and her two adorable mutts.
Horse Courses by Elaine Heney
- Listening to the Horse - The Documentary by Elaine Heney & Grey Pony Films
- Shoulder In & Out Training for better balance, bend & topline development with your horse
- Over 110+ Polework Exercises & Challenges to Download
- Dancing at Liberty & Creating Connection with Your Horse (11 lessons) - Grey Pony Films
Her horses are her free time passion – Squaw and Tulsa. Dani has owned Squaw for 17 years and this mare has made 2 trips across the country with Dani! Squaw is a retired rodeo and cow horse. Her other mare, Tulsa, is an upcoming ranch horse. The girls have an unmatched personality and bond with Dani. She has been around horses her entire life and rodeoed throughout highschool and beyond. Now, she enjoys riding on the ranch, working cattle and trail riding.