Horsey Word(s) of the Week: Ground Work

 

Cyrus ground work

Cyrus learning to go, turn and stop at liberty – between 1-2 years old, long before his first ride.

 

Ground Work

Noun

something that is done at an early stage and that makes later work or progress possible

____

Ground work can be art work in itself. 

For most of us, ground work is a path to getting to know our horses better, without riding. There are unlimited types of ground work, starting from simple lunging to work without the rider to the “high school” movements of the classical variety. 

I used significant ground work techniques when my horses were too young to ride. From just getting them used to being handled, to developing communication, to in-hand work to introduce them to the bit, to ground driving, to trailering practice, to “round penning”, to walking over tarps and de-spooking – I did it all. Then before their first ride, I used lunging to get the horses moving well without a rider in the first place. We worked on developing gaits, conditioning and voice cues before I ever leaned over my horses’ backs for the first time.

But that’s not all I use ground work for. I’ve had people ask me to ride their horses for them even though they hadn’t ridden in months . Though I knew the horse had been ridden in the past, I used ground work to “meet” the horse and see what he knew and how he was going to respond.

I love ground work for the excited or nervous horse. I am always cognizant of my surroundings and try to maintain a high level of safety for both myself and the horse. So if there is a horse that seems out of sorts, I go right back to ground work to settle him while allowing him to move 

And finally, I have used ground work to develop myself as a rider. You can do so many things on your own two feet that replicate what you need to do on horseback, but you still have balance standing on the ground. In particular. I’ve explored and developed my hands and quality and feel of contact while working with the horse on the ground. 

Ground work is not only for beginner horses or riders. In fact, many of the “masters” use increasingly intricate ground work exercises to develop their horses mentally and physically throughout their education. Learning the higher level movements takes time and experience and the guidance of a good instructor. Just as with anything else, becoming effective at ground work takes dedication and repetition.

What have you used ground work for? How does it complement your riding life? Comment below.

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More Words of the Week:

Horses for Courses

Gallop 

 

The One Answer to Most Horse Riding Problems

There are a lot of problems that can occur when riding a horse. Although they all end up looking like different issues, if you think about it carefully, you might notice that there is one common denominator. Click on the image to see a mind map of behaviors that can be improved using one back-to-basics technique, in any discipline and riding style.

Please note: ALWAYS check with your vet and other professionals first to clear out any health or tack-related concerns. 

Riding_Problems (1)

Click on image to enlarge

All of these riding problems have many possible solutions and if one technique doesn’t work, it is your job as the rider to find out how to approach it from a different direction. However, there is one solution that will improve if not completely resolve the issue – whether it be straightness, slowness, speed, or any of the other problems listed above.

Forward

Not the running faster kind, but the kind that allows the horse to move into strong balance, While you need to encourage the horse to move on, first from your seat and legs, you also should help the horse develop his balance through half-halts so that you don’t inadvertently just push him down to his forehand.

With a combination of energy activation with your seat and legs, and well-timed half-halts, you can encourage (or allow, if your aids have been too tight) the horse to better stride underneath himself and use his own strength to balance.

A truly forward horse doesn’t rush. Rather, it feels like he has all the time in the world for his legs to come through for each stride. For the observer, it appears that the horse is in animated movement but it is supremely balanced and in control of his energy.

Just by virtue of moving with energy and impulsion, he straightens out. His legs stride straight ahead. His shoulders and back swing in rhythm with his animated steps. He stops drifting because he uses both sides of his body effectively. By moving “forward”, you can dramatically reduce or eliminate his balking, stopping and running backward.

He has no need to buck, rear or kick out simply because he is confidently moving ahead. The tension in his body dissipates and his ears soften. Because your aids continually give him space to move into, his jaw and poll soften and he begins to respond with increased trust in your aids. He becomes less distracted by objects or other horses and has little to be concerned about other than feeling good in his body and moving.

Suddenly, you discover that your “behind the leg” horse is maintaining his own activity and you have to learn to give him the freedom to move rather than constantly nag with your aids.

One of the first things we teach a young horse is how to go forward. But it doesn’t stop there. Developing true “forward” (not just forward as in moving ahead) is a lifelong, developmental process that we have to come back to time and again, every time we explore new movements or skills.

Moving truly forward is something you have to work on during your whole ride. It isn’t a button you can just press on your horse! Not only do you have to carefully promote it in your horse, but you also have to learn to do it yourself, all the time!

Initially, it seems like an awful lot of work. You might have to become more aware of what you are doing than you have ever been. The tasks of keeping the horse going and then going with him, yourself, are challenging enough to begin with.

As time passes, you become more used to the forward feeling and so does the horse. You both will have an easier time maintaining it especially in the movements that you have mastered. But beware! Every time you learn something new, you need to develop the forward inclination all over again.

Now I’m not saying that forward is the answer to all riding problems. There is so much more to it than the few words I can write here, or anything you might be able to see on a video. But moving in a forward manner is one of the most fundamental aspects of riding.

Developing a true forward feel can only be done with a good instructor who can teach you, give you feedback and then teach you even more after you gain some mastery! But if you give it a try, you might be pleased to see the results – in any riding discipline and style. And most importantly, your horse will thank you.

How do you interpret “forward”? Please comment below.

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New! Horse Listening – Book 2: Forward and Round to Training Success

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3d Book 2More related articles:

Go and No: The Connection Between Forward and Half-Halt in Horse Riding: We have to learn the coordination between “go and no” – all the while, keeping our balance to give the appropriate aids while not pulling on the reins.

How to Do A “Forward” Back-Up:  It sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s the truth. You MUST make the back-up into a forward movement.

How You Can See A Horse’s Active Back – And What To Do When it Happens:  An active back is fairly easy to identify. Take a look at the horse’s back behind the saddle.

#1 Rider Problem of the Year: Confusing Aids:  One of the most overlooked aspects of harmonization comes not from the horse becoming one with the rider, but within the rider herself.

Ready? Steady! (Or How To Ride Calmly and With Consistency:  Achieving consistency in riding is not a matter of waving a wand and then simply hanging on for the ride.

Horsey Word(s) of the Week

Kayla 1

Kayla at 8 years old

Horses for Courses

Idiom

UK

  1. used for saying that it is important to choose suitable people for particular activities because everyone has different skills

_____

There is truth to the phrase, “There are horses for courses.” Although in the real world, they use this expression to indicate that a job is suitable for one type of person or another, you can take it literally when referring to horses.

Pick a breed and you’ll probably be able to identify the characteristics that it was designed for. Most of our present-day horses trace back to a particular purpose – whether for work, for flashiness or for speed. Some horses are high-stepping, others are great pullers, and others are designed to move over ground with a low center of gravity. I imagine that as time passes and we continue our breeding programs into this era where horses are now generally bred for rideability (recreation), there will be more commonalities between breeds than there were in the past.

My horse, Kayla Queen (now 33 years of age) is a prime example. She was my dream-come-true horse, and as a Standardbred, taught me things that horses from other breeds never could. At 14.2 hh, she could keep up with the walking stride of a 17hh warmblood horse. In fact, she outwalked most horses and therefore was always in the lead during a trail ride. 

Because of her desire to “just go”, she taught me to enjoy the thrill of pure movement. Her steadfast personality meant that she rarely slowed down or spooked (she would look at something and just go by) and that allowed me to become a super confident, trusting rider during my most important early riding experiences.

Best of all, she is a free-legged pacer. That means that when other horses would trot or canter, she would pace. She also sported a wonderful high-stepping trot but would switch over to pace after a certain speed. 

So I learned to sit the pace, enjoy the speed, and wave buh-bye to my friends as they switched to canter just to keep up! The “course” that Kayla was made for was definitely the speed course, and so we ended up conditioning for and then competing in long distance trail rides. That was her area of strength and what she enjoyed the most.

Kayla also spent many years taking me through my rider lessons and fun shows, but her way of going was not suited for things like collected canter or flying changes. And so in her years after retiring from competitive trail, we always headed for the trails even after a ring session.

Kayla taught me all about horses for courses. 

How about your horse? How is your horse suited for a particular job? Let us know in the comments below.

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New! Horse Listening – Book 2: Forward and Round to Training Success

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3d Book 2More Words of the Week:

Gallop 

Horsey Word of the Week

Gallop

NOUN

[IN SINGULAR]

The fastest pace of a horse or other quadruped, with all the feet off the ground together in each stride: the horse broke into a furious gallop
____

The difference between a canter and a gallop lies in the footfalls. The canter is a three-beat gait with the outside hind being the “strike-off” leg, then a diagonal pair of footfalls landing at the same time, then the inside front leg landing before the moment of suspension.

The gallop has four beats while all four legs strike the ground separately. It also has a moment of suspension.

220px-Muybridge_race_horse_animated

Race horses gallop at full speed on the track. 

Our less speed-inclined horses probably rarely gallop, if at all. Most of the time, they canter bigger or faster. But in order to gallop, the footfalls actually have to change to 4 beats. 

When I was younger, we had a “racing stretch” where my friends and I would head to for a fun run. It was a straight, flat quarter mile and the horses were all familiar with with the lay of the land. Some of my best memories are of the times spent on that racing stretch. We never forced the horses to run hard – just as fast as they wanted. Even then, I doubt that the horses really broke into a gallop. They just cantered merrily along until the end of the stretch and then we walked them out on the way back to the barn.

How about you? Have you ever galloped on a horse? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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New! Horse Listening – Book 2: Forward and Round to Training Success

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3d Book 2More Words of the Week: