Groundwork is an essential tool that every equestrian can benefit from using to develop the bond and relationship with their horse. At this present time, in Scotland anyway, the British Horse Society recommend that you don’t ride your horse because if you are to have an accident and require medical attention, this would put unnecessary pressure on the National Health Service as they try their best to deal with the Coronavirus. That doesn’t mean you can’t still work with your horse through groundwork or liberty exercises though!
Arguably, everyone will argue what the ‘best’ approach is but for me, I like to use these as I feel the horse learns some necessary skills. You also don’t need much in the way of equipment, all you need is:
- A flat area to work in
- A halter and long leadrope
- [optional] A whip of some kind [I like to use a cut down lunge whip as a carrot stick type]
The best exercises according to my experience are:
I feel it is so important that your horse or pony can respond softly and in a flexible way to light pressure. Ideally we want our equines to be light and responsive to our aids and the best way you can start to gain this is to do it on the ground before you even get in the saddle. This could be things like:
– Back up
– Hindquarter Yields
– Leg Yields
– Turn on the Haunches (much less sophisticated form obviously)
All of these movements can be achieved in similar ways. Start with a light touch and lightly increase the pressure on the horse until they move away. Be specific- the chest is a good area for back up, the flank is a good area for hindquarter yield etc. As you work on it your cues will get lighter to the point where you only have to suggest to your horse and he will move.
This sounds simple, its something you do every day, but is your horse flexible and comfortable with different leading positions? I like Bo to be comfortable wherever I am, whether that be leading out in front or at his shoulder. This is easy to practice. You can even test if your horse is paying attention; lead from the front and just walk, your horse should follow, then stop. Ideally, I like my horse to stop behind me without bumping into me, if he does bump into me, I immediately ask for a step or two of back up and then stand there for a second before walking off again. It won’t take too long for him to understand. Once he gets it, not only will you have your horses’ attention but he will respect your space too.
I don’t personally like lunging too much but I do think it is a necessary thing a horse should know as vets like to use this to check soundness and it also offers an opportunity to get your horse listening to you.
It doesn’t have to be the case that you bore both yourself and your horse with countless, pointless circles. Teach your horse to change direction or to do walk- canter transitions (or any combination you like) or stand in the middle and pass the lead rope between your hands and see if your horse can maintain the gait while you stay in the exact same position… there’s lots of things you can do, get creative!
If you want to try something quite different, you can always try your hand at a bit of liberty work. Make sure you are working in a secure area and just start small, such as walking with your horse or asking him to do things he already knows. This will build your confidence and his before you start trying anything new. Liberty is my favourite, I always find it so rewarding and I love truly giving Bo the opportunity to take part or not. If they’re not feeling it, respect that, liberty work can’t be forced and it comes with both time and listening to your horse.