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This horse is unsure of stepping onto something he is not familiar with....

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...once in the saddle the horse is happy and confident to complete the task without hesitation!

The Importance of Ground Training

There are two distinct extremes when it comes to a persons attitude to getting a horse to do something:

  • THE STICK ATTITUDE – used by people who beat and intimidate a horse to make him do something

  • THE CARROT ATTITUDE – used by people to try to persuade the horse with tip-bits and pleads to be good – how many times have you heard people say “good boy, good boy” as they’re being dragged out to the field on the end of the rope – the horse is definitely NOT being a good boy and has no respect for the owner. The owner on the other hand is hoping that the horse will be a good boy at some point!

My attitude is to be consistent, firm but gentle - to do things for the horse and with the horse not to the horse
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I am in no way saying that your horse should act as a zombie or not show his personality – but he should be safe to handle, work with and ride – this of course only comes from a mutual understanding and respect between you and your horse.
You may not think that your horse is a “problem horse” but that he can be “cheeky” or “at it” from time to time. Remember though that consistency is key here and that if he gets away with something trivial it could open the gates to bigger problems in the future.
A well mannered horse is a pleasure to own and work with. Working with an ill mannered horse becomes a chore and can be dangerous.
 

Good basic managers are essential. You should be able to:

  • work around him in the stable safely while he stands still and does not attempt to bite or kick you
  • lead your horse without him pulling away or walking all over you
  • enter his stable without having to push him out of the way or stop him barging out over the top of you
  • tie him up without him pulling back or beaking free
  • touch him all over his body - there should be no "no-go" areas. This is especially important if you have to administer drugs or treat wounds etc
  • load him calmly and quickly – if your horse has problems in this area DON’T wait until an emergency arises and you NEED to load him
  • tack up, fit bandages, rugs etc without any problems
  • clip him without sedation or stress
  • pick up his feet easily and allow a farrier to work with him without any problems
  • ride him on a hack on roads or bridleways etc and be able to deal with any hazards you meet safely and calmly.
The value of groundwork, in-hand or on long-lines, is a fantastic training tool and is an excellent way of resolving both handling and ridden problems.
 

It is essential to establish a good relationship with your horse on the ground.  You can introduce new exercises and tasks in-hand before trying them under saddle.  This helps to smooth the way to success and is an ideal way of teaching horses without the worry or burden of a rider on their back. 


Working a horse from the ground also gives you the opportunity to observe his way of going.  Is he using himself efficiently or is he finding something difficult?

 

Effective and consistent groundwork will produce a more confident, supple, co-ordinated horse that understands the handler’s requests and can perform the required movements easily.  Once you have achieved this safely on the ground these skills can then be transferred  to your ridden work.

 

Groundwork can be used:

  • as a teaching tool to help start young horses
  • as a teaching tool to help horses learn to carry themselves without the burden of a rider
  • to create a safer horse to be around and handle
  • as an aid in the rehabilitation of horses that have become sour
  • help solve a high percentage of ridden problems
  • to build confidence in a horse frightened by life's experiences
  • to rebuild a bond between you and your horse if you have lost your confidence or are just starting out
  • to maintain fitness and suppleness in your horse if you are unable, perhaps through an injury to yourself, or unwilling to ride
  • to bring a horse back into work after an injury or time off
  • to keep a retired horse supple and maintain your bond with them, therefore keeping them happy and interested in life