Favorite/Go-To Groundwork Exercises
Someone recently wrote in to me on my Instagram asking what my top ten favorite groundwork exercises are. This was incredibly difficult to come up with! To be honest, I didn’t think this request would actually be as difficult as it turned out to be. Scott and myself are advocates of groundwork for all horses and for a multitude of purposes. So, having to decide on ten was rough. As it turns out, I cannot pick ten because it really just depends on the horse and situation. Alas, I digress. Here are my, “go to” exercises.
1. The Leading Exercise.
This exercise is a staple here at AH. It starts on day one and never stops. The leading exercise helps to establish boundaries, reminds the horse to look to us for guidance, allows horses to process their surroundings safely and teaches ground tying. It has SO many purposes. It is taught on the ground and can even be used while under saddle with another horse! We love this exercise while on the trail!
Here’s the trick though; lunging for their mind and using my energy. NOT FOR TIRING THEM OUT.
When lunging using the techniques from here at AH, we don’t need much room and we generally (99.9% of the time) don’t canter when we are checking the horse’s mind or trying to help them look to us. I actually hate when I see people lunging to wear or tire a horse out. It isn’t teaching them anything worthwhile nor helping them to process anything. We don’t spend much time working our horses on small circles, including round pens. Groundwork should be serving specific purposes: the mind or the body. To which we can break it down even more: connection, teaching something new, establishing consistency of something intended to move under saddle, liberty/tricks.
3. Desensitizing to items that may be scary or are scary.
I actually cringed when I typed the last sentence. I think this is one of those exercises that is often times over used, over done and taken to unnecessarily extreme measures. For us, we don’t just, “desensitize” and move on. We focus on helping horses bring out their natural curiosity and help them to build more confidence. We don’t throw things on them and force them to, “take it.” We don’t make them stand still while we do do ridiculous things. We have two main methods of (ugh, that word again) “desensitizing” that we go between depending on the horse and the situation. Along with densensitizng, I’ll add that we also help horses learn to, “turn and face” or, “face your fears.” This helps them look at and process a situation that might be scary or startled them before they simply react.
4. In-hand work.
This can take you down so many paths and has an extraordinary amount of purpose! I decided to lump a lot of things into this category. Bridle work, head down, lateral movements, etc. I feel these are necessary for all horses. It is necessary for us to help horses stay healthy by moving biomechanically correct. Furthermore, it is always better to help horses learn new things on the ground versus under saddle to start. Helping horses find relaxation in contact is KEY to progressing with most training. Lastly, included in this category will be backing. Yes, teaching a horse to back. Do you have any idea how many horses come to us and have no idea how to back on the ground or under saddle? Please help your horse understand how to back.
5. Liberty and tricks.
Most horses really enjoy building connections and a bond. They enjoy using their brains and bodies. Horses are playful and willing. Liberty and tricks are an excellent way to work on your connection and communication with your horse! I also suggest using liberty and trick training as a time to focus on YOU learning and practicing R+ training if you haven’t already! It will challenge you to try and understand a new way of thinking and communicating and you might even find that your horse responds better to this form of communication and could take it into more aspects of your training!
I am going to leave you with these top five groundwork exercises that I use frequently and seem to be my go-to’s! As always, if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask! If you want to see these exercises in use, join our Leadership Club!