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CavessonGroundwork is a very important training component of straightness training.

If a young horse is prepared for his life with humans due to the basic training for a three-year old, you can start with ground work. But also for an older but uneducated horse or a stiff senior horse, groundwork is a good thing to start with in straightness training.

With groundwork exercises, the horse learns to respond to the aids. This prepares the horse for longeing, work in hand and riding. Groundwork is done using a cavesson and a longe line.

The line is attached to the middle ring of the cavesson. In this way, the young horse is easy to control, without harming/disturbing the mouth.

This video shows you a quick overview the basic and advanced exercises:

Basic Exercises

Groundwork consists of the following exercises:

1. Leading

Leading a horse

The horse needs to follow you as its leader. You walk in front of the horse, slightly to the side (so you can keep an eye on your horse). The horse follows you based on respect and trust. When the horse tries to pass you or stops, you should change directions immediately. When your horse is pushy and gets into your personal space, you can create space by using the end of your rope as a tail and move it from side to side.



 2. Stop

Stopping a horse


When you stop, the horse should make the same movement and stop as well. In the end, you should be able to do this exercise with your back turned towards the horse. If your horse does not stop immediately it is recommended to first stop while facing the horse while keeping 2 or 3 meters (7 to 10 feet) distance between you. Then make yourself bigger and if necessary lift your arms.



3. Back up

Horse back up

Put some pressure on the nose and chest of the horse and ask it to step backwards. If the horse moves away from the pressure, release and reward your horse. The goal is to be able to give pressure without even touching the horse so that it moves backwards, away from your energy. This exercise is good for your hierarchy: a horse lower in hierarchy moves away from you or horses higher in rank.




4. Forward down

Forward down

In nature, a higher position of head and neck is linked to mental excitement while a forward down tendency is visible in relaxed horses. In this position (with the head down), the horse cannot make adrenaline. Ask the horse to move away from a slight pressure behind the ears. If the horse lowers the head you remove the pressure and reward your horse.




5. Stelling

Horse bending headStelling is a Dutch word, used to describe the bending of the head to the left or right in relation to the spine. The lower jaw of the horse should move underneath the extensions of the atlas vertebra, the first vertebra in the neck of the horse. A proper stelling creates therefore a bigger space behind the lower jaw.

You can ask stelling bit by bit, while the horse should remain standing. If the horse takes the stelling and relaxes, you release pressure as well. You can then see that the stelling continues to work throughout the rest of the neck and in a bending of the spine, making the inner hip come forward..

6. Bending

Bending horse

Every horse has from nature a supple and a less supple side, because the muscles are uneven in length. To develop the horse symmetrically, you should ask the horse to walk circles to both left and right. You ask the horse to take some stelling, which makes the muscles on the outside lengthen and the muscles on the inside relax. At the same time, you ask the horse to bring his head forward down, to relax the back muscles and tighten the abdominal muscles.




7. Stepping under

Horse stepping under

Because of the horse’s natural asymmetry, the horse prefers using one hind leg to push, and the other hind leg to carry. When the horse takes a proper bending to both sides, it will also start using its inside hind leg as the carrying hind leg. In this way, both hind legs develop similar carrying capacity. This is how the horse learns to step under his point of weight, which is important for supporting the rider.

The horse has now learned to walk in a forward down tendency, bend itself to the left and right and to step under its point of weight. This is when the longeing work can start.


Or you can teach the horse the more advanced exercises in groundwork:

Advanced Groundwork

Advanced groundwork consists of the following straightness training exercises:

  • Shoulder-in
  • Haunches-in
  • Renvers
  • Half pass
  • Pirouette
  • Piaffe
  • Levade
  • Terre a terre

You can teach your horse all lateral movements in hand from the ground with a cavesson and a longe line.

The goal of groundwerk is to prepare the horse for trouble-free riding and to improve balance, suppleness, coordination and strength.

Shoulder-in and Haunches-in:

Groundwork Quarter-in

Half pass in walk and trot:

Groundwork Groundwork

Collection in trot and collected renvers-turn in trot:

Groundwork Groundwork

Pirouette in walk and in canter:

Groundwork Groundwork

Click HERE for the video of a quick overview of ALL 5 training components and exercises >>

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6 thoughts on “Groundwork

Comment author said

By Allison Burton on 5 June 2013 at 16:07

This article is really excellent! Although I have done a lot of groundwork of various kinds and for various purposes I have never seen it expressed in this way which is helpful and eaasy to understand!


Comment author said

By Jo Miller on 10 August 2013 at 13:13

Fantastic website, great information and wonderful holistic view of training and life.


Comment author said

By Ingrida on 7 February 2015 at 13:48

Thank you for free articles and ebook! I am very very gratefull!


Comment author said

By dawn on 11 March 2015 at 15:15

I can not tell you how much I appreciate your site, ability and that you share your knowledge.

I located your page “Ground Work” perfect place for me to begin. I am currently working on ground manner basics (leading, head down, pick up feet, standing, trailer loading etc.) and have introduced arena obstacle for calmness and patience. Looking forward to learning and schooling in streightness training and advancing in long line training with my coming 2 yr. old Andalusian Tito. Not to be in any hurry but, excited to be under saddle one day.
QUESTION: Can you reccomend your step by step outline on your stages in starting a 2 yr. old.


Comment author said

By Michelle on 14 August 2015 at 15:07

Hoi Marijke, ik volg je op Facebook en kijk graag op je site. Ik probeer mijn paard ook te trainen naar jouw richtlijnen. Ik wilde alleen vragen wat je idee is over hoe vaak en hoe lang per keer je het beste kan trainen. De aandachtsspanne van mijn paard is niet zo groot en het wordt soms al snel wat ‘rommelig’. Ik vraag me daarom af of ik op deze manier wel verschil maak of ga maken. Wellicht moeten wij toch een tandje bij zetten, maar wil natuurlijk ook niks overvragen. Dus ik hoor graag wat je denkt!

Groet, Michelle


Comment author said

By Judit Cooke on 2 November 2016 at 19:23

This article is very practical and the photo illustrations are immensely helpful. Thank you!


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