Groundwork 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:
Groundwork consists of the following exercises:
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.
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
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
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.
Stelling 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..
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
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 consists of the following straightness training exercises:
- Half pass
- 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:
Half pass in walk and trot:
Collection in trot and collected renvers-turn in trot:
Pirouette in walk and in canter:
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