As many of you know, I constantly tout groundwork as part of most solutions to training problems. I believe that it is hands-down the most important part of training, as well as bonding with your horse. There are plenty of good reasons to do groundwork, including teaching manners and building trust, but depending on your experience level you may not know where to start. Here are some helpful (beginner’s) tips on starting groundwork with your horse:
-Start slow. Groundwork happens every time you interact with your horse on the ground, so start with the easy stuff. Walk with your horse, stop, turn away and towards yourself, reverse. Try it in a random order with as many variations as possible, and be sure to try it in different areas as well (not just in the arena or round pen). Once your horse is responsive to all of these cues you can move on to something more difficult.
-Obstacles. Adding obstacles to your groundwork can help your horse be more attentive and responsive. This is also good for teaching them to pick up their feet if you’re using something like poles. Try using cones and poles to set yourself a groundwork obstacle course; use this to evaluate the responsiveness of your horse and to practice.
-Desensitization. After some practice, I like to increase the difficulty of my obstacles, adding things like scary tarps or poles with plastic bags. Any type of desensitization will help you out down the road. The more your horse gets used to scary things, the less scared they’ll be.
-Lungeing. It seems like a lot of people feel that lungeing is about wearing your horse out or expending energy to make them easier to ride, but it should be more about ensuring that your horse is paying attention and responding to your aids. It’s so much more than just making your horse go in circles. Start slow with this, too, as lungeing can create bad habits as opposed to good ones if you don’t know what you’re doing. The best way to learn this is under the supervision of your trainer!
Even small interactions with your horse are training moments. Use these small moments to your advantage, taking the time to correct your horse when they don’t respond to aids. With time, patience, and some guidance, you can end up with a very well-behaved horse, which is a boon to any owner, trainer, barn manager, groom, or really anyone else who interacts with your horse. It also makes time at the barn a lot easier and more fun!