angle-left Groundwork: Less is More

Groundwork: Less is More

It's possible to take a good horse-training technique and run it into the ground.

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By Curt Pate from Training Your Horse for a Better Relationship

When horse training or simply warming up a finished horse, keep groundwork to a minimum. Do what it takes to be safe, but don't overdo it. In colt starting, for example, the young horse needs to be comfortable with his handler on the ground before the handler steps into the stirrups.

Too much repetitive training can dull a horse, which begs the question: Why are we breeding horses with all this athletic ability and all this try, if we take it out of them with our training?

Intentional Groundwork

Longeing is a great example. In classical methods used by the Spanish Riding School: 

  • Two people were used to longe a horse. 

  • One used the whip to maintain momentum, and the other concentrated only on handling the longe line.

  • The horse wore side reins or whatever was required to keep it straight – not leaning in on the inside shoulder or going crooked. 

Everyone involved was focused, and it was quite an undertaking.

Monotonous Groundwork

Compare that classical method to some of the scenes you'll see at today's shows:

  • Handlers are talking on cell phones.  

  • They can be seen passing the longe lines behind their backs as the horses go in mindless circles.

  • Horses begin dropping shoulders and fighting to stay in balance on a small circle.

This mindless approach will inevitably lead to bad habits in your horse: 

  • A horse often learns to escape through his shoulders in groundwork. 

  • In cases where he's bent around, say to the right, he'll escape through his left shoulder. 

  • And when we're ground driving a horse, we often find ourselves pulling on him because he's going too fast. That pulling encourages him to lean into the bridle and be heavy on his forehand.

The point is not to do away with groundwork or that it takes two people per horse to be effective. In whatever exercise our horses partake in, we all could serve to take each action a little more seriously. 

If the horse is going to do it, make sure it is done correctly – don’t undo things that you want him to do while you’re on his back. 

Want to learn more? Horseman Curt Pate outlines his top 10 training tips: spook proofing, catching a horse, calming a nervous horse, proper flexion, ground work, appropriate tack and much more in the FREE e-book, Training Your Horse for a Better Relationship.