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From the Ground up

Updated: Sep 22, 2019

Just how important is ground work, really? Of course like anything else it all depends! What kind of ground work and what kind of horse will give you the answer! But for the sake of having an opinion, When it comes to progressing and moving forward with your horse , I believe that ground work is equally as important as riding!

For me, the golden rule of ground work is allowing the horse freedom and exploration in movement, and this can be done in many ways!

But what if you are teaching your horse to collect or "work correctly"? What if the horse needs to build topline and accept the bit? Or what if said horse needs to learn boundaries and respect on the ground? How would this be achieved without putting the horse into the desired frame or position, without being assertive and clearly letting the horse know that it needs to submit to what you are asking? Through self exploration! All that we do with our horses should be fun, educational and wonderful for both horse and human. Now I am not suggesting that nothing should be done with the bit, as understanding the bit and responding to it correctly is very important for the horse to understand, but that is something completely different than correct movement of the body and these two things should be seen as two different entities that when ready can be combined. And in no way am I saying that I believe it to be ok for a horse to invade space and not understand that I too do not want to be hurt in any way. There are alternative ways to teach this to the horse without using excessive force to put them in their place.

The power of suggestion is a very powerful thing and our horses can sense subtle changes in our bodies that will in turn directly effect what they do with theirs. This applies to working at liberty, or on a line with a halter and bridle, every atom of our body and energy is noticed by the horse and considered and so ground work can be looked at more so as a dance than anything else.

What we do with our horses is an exchange of energy from one being to another, and so in ground work there should be a constant state fluidity, an ebb and flow, a give and take between two creatures with a mutual understanding of this very thing. And so through this energetic flow and suggestion from one creature to the next, we can create something beautiful. Both horse and human can participate willingly and equally in this dance.

Mojave in his second liberty session, offering collection and lovely self carraige in the form of a beautiful extended trot simply through me suggesting and moving freely through my own body

But how? How do we participate in ground work with our horses in this way when we never have before? What if the horse has never been worked with in this way or seems unsafe? The best way to start is to not even think of what you are doing as training or something that has to be done. When I introduce ground work and liberty to a horse I do it in their own environment where they can choose to participate if the want to and can leave if they want to. I always want my horse to have the option to have an opinion of what we are doing. Unless a horse is extremely dangerous, I have found that starting at liberty is actually safer than having a horse who is unsure at the other end of a rope.!

There are a few tools that I cannot live without when it comes to ground work.! For sessions at liberty, a firm stick with an attached rope about the same length of the stick, or a long lunge whip. Never are these tools to be used to hit the horse , punish or enforce what you are wanting, but to be used to provide more clarity in pointing to a more specific area of the horse's body or an actual space that you wan to bring attention to. At most I will use the whip or stick to gently tap the horse with softness and accuracy. these tools can also be used to suggest a change in gait , direction or cross over in lateral work. Always think of them more so as an extension of yourself and not just a tool. If I am working in hand with a horse who is a bit further along, I will use a lunging cavesson or soft rope halter with either a 12ft or 25ft line. It is important that the rope is not too lightweight or stiff, so that it is able to portray the most subtle cue to the horse and not impede their natural movement or choice in movement.

Lastly, one of my favorite tools that I use on the ground as well as under saddle are my Rhythm Beads from Ride With Rhythm. Rhythm beads? I am glad you asked! I refer to ground work as a dance, most dances are performed to a beat, rhythm beads provide that beat! As a trainer, I love being able to hear how my horse is moving, especially when I am not looking directly at them and cannot determine what exactly is going on. It brings ground work to a whole other level and helps to quickly unite both horse and human. You see, for some horses it may be difficult in the beginning to open up and allow for this energetic flow with a person, so the rhythm beads take up that space. The unsure horse can focus on the beads and sound of their own movement, while the person is not putting their energy and focus directly onto the horse, but instead is focused on the sound of the beads. Remember, groundwork should not be seen as stressful or daunting to either horse or human, but just another form of physical and spiritual connection.

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