Groundwork is an important part of the training process. It is an essential component in having a “broke” horse. Groundwork can help to establish good basic manners that our horses need for us to be safe. Groundwork can be to exercise your horse or to teach a specific lesson. Horses young and old will benefit as well as green horses or horses with issues. It is with a solid foundation that our horses learn to trust us. Without trust, we will never have a partnership with our horse.
Groundwork that creates good ground manners does not need to be done in a round pen. Manners can be taught just as effectively with a halter and lead rope. Things like space boundaries, and good leading habits are important for horses to learn. A round pen can be a useful tool when working horses without a halter.
Groundwork in the young horse is very important. At an early age horses can learn to accept us as the leader of their herd. They can learn to respond to different forms of pressure whether it is from leading, picking up their feet or putting them in a trailer. Pressure does not have to mean physical contact. Pressure can come from other horses, equipment, trailers etc . The better a young horse responds to pressure the safer it will be.
Groundwork is just as effective with older horses. We can do groundwork with an older horse to keep them keen. Sometimes when we are working, showing, or enjoying a trail ride we let our horses get away with ignoring a cue. Through groundwork we can remind them of what we still expect from them.
Groundwork is the key to preparing a horse to be saddled and ridden. Though groundwork takes time it should encourage a willing attitude so the horse can accept a saddle and rider. In a willing partnership, most horses never feel threatened enough to feel the need to buck.
Groundwork is the basis of fixing behavior problems. Many behavior issues stem from a lack of respect and trust. Which is best established from the ground. If your horse does not respect you on the ground, it will not respect you on its back.
How much groundwork is necessary? The amount of groundwork will depend entirely on the horse. How fast the horse learns, the number of issues that need worked out and previous training all play a role in
the amount of groundwork that should be done. Horses will get bored if we spend too much time on the ground doing the same exercises. Adding more difficult exercises to your routine will help keep your horse interested.
Groundwork as valuable as it is, is not the only training that we should do. Saddle work is the only way to teach a horse to be a safe mount. Groundwork before you ride is a good way to build on your foundation and tune your horse under saddle.
When doing groundwork think about how it should translate to work under saddle. Many of the concepts that we teach when we ride can be taught or at least introduced on the ground. We can teach our horse to move forward, stop and backup. We can disengage their hindquarters or do a turn on the haunches. We need these basic maneuvers first in order to get consistent results with more difficult responses are cued.
There are many good trainers with different methods designed to make our horses more respectful and more responsive. Round pen work, leading, lunging and ground driving are all valuable when done correctly. Good horsemanship is simply that. Natural or otherwise we should not overlook the benefits of doing groundwork. At the end of the day we are all after the same thing: a safe reliable horse that is willing to do what we ask.
© 2003 Will Clinging