Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Basics: Groundwork part 2

Not too long ago, I talked about what groundwork is and how it can benefit the bond between horse and rider.  Today, I will be talking about a few of the groundwork exercises that the rider can do, on the ground, with the horse.

Just as a recap:
  • Groundwork exercises between horse and rider promote trust and respect
  • Groundwork helps build a bond between horse and rider
  • When using groundwork, the person must be mindful of tone of voice, body language and their confidence.
  • Groundwork needs repetition and must be consistent and clear
When executing groundwork, you can either work with the horse in hand on a lead rope, on a lunge line in a circle, or without using horse gear in a round pen. I like working the horse in hand on the lead rope in some desensitizing work or in the round pen.

Just as a note, with any horse activity, safety comes first! Make sure that you are wearing proper footwear (aka no open toed shoes), and proper clothing (preferably long pants and a shirt). Combining horses and individuals in activities can be inherently dangerous. Participants in activities assume the risk of being injured. If you feel you are not qualified to work with the horse, have an equine professional (preferably an instructor) with you during any horse activities.

The first thing that I usually work on with horse's is creating respect. If the horse doesn't respect you, they will walk all over you, and that animal is 3x plus your size. Do not think you can man handle it. As the leader of the herd (even if that herd is just the two of you), you need to come across as that leader.  With that being said, the horse needs to have some ground manners.

Allows every body part to be touched:

Your horse should let you touch every part of his body. Often ears, muzzle, sheath or udder, between legs, and chest are sensitive spots that many horses object to having handled. But these areas need to be cleaned, or dressed if they are injured. Teaching your horse to have these areas groomed and touched is essential.

Every chance you can get, be friendly to him, rub his body, scratch the itchy spots, and love on him like crazy. This tells the horse that you are a pleasure to be around and that you can trust him. If you are rubbing him, and run into any area that he objects, back off of that area for a bit and then go back to it slowly. Once accepting all areas to be rubbed down by you, being bringing in other items, like ropes, saddle pads, bridles, saddles, (scary) bags, boxes, etc. Whatever you are able to rub on him without hurting him is great.

Walking quietly in hand:

Taking the lead rope in hand, walk with your horse. The horse should be paying attention to you and quietly walking beside you with the head relaxed. You should not be pulling on the horse and the horse should not be walking you.

What to do if the horse is in freak out mode:

Teach him to give to pressure. As I stated above, the horse should be walking WITH you, paying attention TO you, and should be relaxed with his head down. You can do this with just a halter and lead rope. Teach him to give to pressure at the poll (the top of the head). This might take some time depending on the responsiveness of the horse, but hey, patience is a virtue and nothing can be done overnight.

Standing beside your horse, in a quiet location, place your hand about 2 inches from the snap on the lead rope. Apply pressure downwards on the lead rope, toward the ground. Make sure the pressure is straight down and not forward or back, or else the horse could become confused. Make sure to hold the same amount of pressure on the lead until the horse responds by lowering his head (even if it is just a fraction). If the horse raises his head while you have placed pressure downwards, do not release the pressure, but keep it steady until he complies. Once the horse correctly complies, release the pressure and rub his neck. Wait about 5 seconds after, and then ask him again. Repeat this exercise until he lowers his head within 1 second of you asking him. Continue to repeat the exercise until you know you have drilled it into him.

Once it becomes almost second nature to him when you ask with the pressure on the halter, repeat the exercise in a less quiet place, such as one with distractions. Continue to teach him, progressing with more and more distractions, until the horse responds correctly 100% of the time to the cue.

Once you teach him to give to pressure at the poll, you can teach him to give to pressure on other parts of his body, such as the shoulder, barrel, hip, legs, etc. Make it a point to practice giving to the pressure everyday.

What to do if the horse is pulling you:

So, there you are, walking along to wherever you are going, your horse starts to get excited. He knows where you are heading and starts to pull you. I want you to stop moving and get the horse's attention back on you. I like to do this by having the horse back up. Watch his ears for a response. Usually just a few steps will do. Move forward again only when you are ready and you know his attention is back on you. If he does it again, you back him up again. However many times it takes you, do it until he understands that you are the leader and you will direct him, not the other way around.

Just remember:
Patience is a virtue!!!

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