Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Basics: Groundwork Principles part 1

Ahhhh, my all-time favorite trust and respect building activity: Groundwork. It is definitely an essential training tool as it provides safety on the ground for both horse and rider during the beginning training period. But groundwork is much more than just a simple training tool. It can build the foundations to a happy and healthy relationship with the horse through building trust and respect between horse and rider (before the rider ever sits in the saddle). Let me explain....

Horses are herd animals and as herd animals, have a pecking order. They are mentally wired to look up to the leader.  Every horse below the leader (or leaders), will look to the leader to find out how to react in a given situation.  It is the leader's job to be on the lookout for and signal to the "herd" what is dangerous and what is safe.  The herd has faith in its leaders, and follow blindly.  As such, the rider/ owner/ horse participant/ etc. needs to be the leader.

Being a leader also means having a zero tolerance policy (towards the horse invading your personal space or disobeying requests previously learned) as the horse will always be testing and challenging the pecking order. The horse will test you in small ways just to see how far they can push the envelope with you. This is why you always need to be "on your toes" and ready for anything when it comes to horses.

Understanding these dynamics can be advantageous when training and building or keeping trust with the horse. But how can this be done, you ask.... Well, it all comes down to demonstrating your dominance through tone of voice, body language and confidence. But it's not just what you portray, as to what you do. The horse has to trust you and respect your boundaries.

Accomplishing trust and respect can be truly easy with work and time (if done correctly). Horses are not humans (obviously) and will not 'get' something immediately. They need repetition and a lot of it.  Going over the lesson again and again to thoroughly ingrain it in the horse's mind. Meaning you have to repeat the lesson at least 50 times. You want the horse to understand the cue immediately once the cue is given.

While being repetitive is great, the lesson won't be fully understood unless it is consistent and clear. If someone is constantly teaching the horse the same concept but changing the way they are teaching it, the horse is obviously going to be confused. The horse will not know what is being asked and how to accomplish the task at hand. However, if this same person is constantly teaching the horse the same concept in the same way and form that he or she did the last time the lesson was taught, the horse will learn more efficiently and come to bond with the person.

These are the principles to a good working relationship with your horse on the ground. Make sure to come back next time for some groundwork exercises and how to perform them.


  1. What are the key cues you teach your horse on the ground, before mounting up? Which groundwork lesson is your favorite?

    1. You can teach your horse a lot on the ground....
      ~I'll go over a few next Thursday...hehehe