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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Ground work - be inspired!

I do a lot groundwork.  I always have - either because my horses were too crazy to ride, were recovering from an injury, or I couldn't ride because of footing, lack of facilities, darkness etc.  In addition to riding, I also drive horses - ground work is an opportunity to tune up my body language, long line, and voice skills.

When you think ground work, are you already bored? Activities mostly at a halt or walk focusing on yielding to pressure or "sacking out"?

If you think lunging, do you think of horses going around in endless circles, or with equipment on to work on certain "positioning" of head, neck, and body?

Is ground driving you walking behind the horse holding 2 pieces of "string"?

Is round penning you in the center of the circle with the horse going round and round and doing inside and outside turns?

If this your preception of "ground work" or any of the other variations above, then I'm going to blow your mind.

Think of groundwork as something that you can adapt to any situation, any facilities, or any tools you might have on hand.  It is only limited by your imagination, and I guarantee you that my groundwork sessions are just as physical AND mental a workout as anything else I do with Farley (excluding my super long rides of course). 

I'm going to share with you the ground work session I did with Farley today in an attempt to inspire everyone and convince you that groundwork is so much more than "getting the bucks out" or "joining up".

What I did today could EASILY be done in a roundpen, or on a double line.  I happen to have a super large arena and can only find one of my long lines - thus I'm doing thus as a lunge.

First I warmed up with some moderate trotting in a circle.

We trot 8-10 circles, then I would have her switch directions and have her trot another 8-10 circles. Sometimes she breaks into a nice little canter and I don't worry her about it.  My goal at this point is to keep my position fairly still and central and relaxed just have her go around me at a moderate pace in a relaxed manner with a couple turns every once in a while.

Once she was warmed up, we started doing more turns.  The goal is not to ever do a complete circle.

Again, I am not moving from my position much (ideally) so far.

 I vary the type of turn I ask for.  Because I'm on a lunge, all my turns are to the inside, but sometimes I ask for a pivot turn on the hind quarters, and sometimes I ask for trotting circle to the turn. 

I move on from this when I can see her move more of the impulsion to her hindquarters and she's curving her body towards me, because she's ready to do a turn at any point, but is maintaining good forward impulsion. Now we should be travelling at a consistent, forward, rhythmic working/medium trot.

Next I move onto "spectacles" and then "figure 8's". The idea is to ask for turns and straights and circles and curves to mimic these 2 patterns. My goal is the patterns to be done by the horse with a smooth and even trot, without breaking stride.  With patterns, now, I have to start moving and using my body position as well as everything else to communicate the objective.

If I feel like she's having a hard time getting the concept, or I'm getting uncoordinated in my efforts to communicate, then I slow her down to a jog or even a walk. If she's really tried hard and finally "got" something after really trying hard at it mentally we will go back to a couple of easy complete circles, like the warm up, to clear her mind and so she can have a bit of a mental break. I really try to make exercise flow to the next one.

On noticed during the patterns that she made a much wider turn towards (into) me when doing the left side of these patterns - ie when she makes a turn that switches her direction from counterclockwise to clockwise, which is forcing bend towards the left. Some of it is my body language, some of it is her perference for a "side".

So, I used a random object in the arena to help us not to "cheat" - a orange cone. 

The cone isn't to "force" her into a certain pattern - she could care less and ignores the cone - it's a guide for ME of whether or not I'm communicating effectively and precisely.

Here was the goal. was what actually happened. Over and over. 

A combination of her AND me, and the lesson stopped once we did two good completions of the cone in the "correct" pattern.  It wasn't as smooth or done with as much rhythm as I wanted....but it was a good stopping point.  I had originally planned on hopping on for a little bit of bareback walk/trot dressage, but as always when I do these sorts of focused groundwork lessons, I found both me and the pony thoroughly physically and mentally content for the day.

In summary, my goal with these sorts of sessions is that they are done with smoothness and calmness. As we progress through the session she should get softer and more relaxed and more supple. She should be traveling more and more with a rounded top line, pushing from the hindquarters (her natural inclination is to travel around on her forehand with her head and neck held straight in the air. *sigh*).

(and yes, she was still 100% absolutely sound today! I'm officially going to stop obsessing).


  1. Thanks for the inspiration! When you do this type of work, do you use a lunging cavesson with a center ring on the nose?

  2. Nope. If I'm thinking about it I grab my flat nylon halter or biothane halter instead if my rope halter because I feel like it doesn't torque and put weird pressure in her face when the line flaps or pulls. I used to have a lunging halter like you described but didn't lime it for a couple of reasons. The nose had to be right, like a Davidson, or the weight kg the line or any pressure causes it to twist. Also, it provided almost too much control, any pressure causes the horses nose to come inward, and sometimes that's not what I'm trying to do.

  3. Comment was getting long so had to split. Anyways. If I had a young strong horse I might use a lubge halter if they constantly blew through my turn requests. But, the goal is improved communication with the goal being able to do these exercises on a free lunge, so IMO less is more. Perfectly ok to use a tool as long as its needed....but my eventually goal is effective two way communication and I found that the lunge halter was both a crutch for me and let me get away with less than perfect technique, and was a barrier to getting good feedback from my horse on whether I was doing it right. But like I mentioned earlier, disresectable horse that blatantly ignores be I would use that tool as long as I needed. Sorta like the crib but on Farley at rides. I prefer a Snaffle because I can feel and support and do subtle stuff. But if she's going to pull and.ignire me I'll absolutely slap a curb on her.

  4. Cavasson auto corrected to Davidson above. Sorry. On phone as usual....

  5. Got it:) I used to use the lunging cavesson, but I found it to be bulky, like you described, but when I use a bit, I find that I constantly have to switch the line to the other side when I change direction, which I am seriously irritated about. Now, I'm using 2 long lines and doing a hybrid long-lining/lunging thing, but I don't like the way the outside line tends to wander around my horse's hocks. It could just be bad form on my part, but if you've got any tips, let me know:)

  6. I never had a lunging surcingle so I always put an English saddle on, tied the stirrups to the girth, and then laced my lines through the stirrups. Mimicked driving gear pretty well. But yes, the lines do dangle at the hocks, I actually use the point of the hock as a reference point to make sure my lines don't drag when I don't have tension. When I ground drive in real harness, the lines are at the level if the hocks, although the lines are better supported, because that's the. Level that my hands and elbows are at. So I don't think you are necessarily doing anything wrong. One precaution I do because I am using sort of a hobbled together set is I hook my lines on a halter and not a bit, unless I'm in actual drive harness. Just isn't work the risk if a torn up mouth if it goes south. And having the stirrups riged instead if the "correct" set up has more drag and a different angle than my drive gear in the lines, so since I'm not actually teaching Farley to drive (although she would make an awesome cart horse!) I'm using the halter instead if a bit to minimize any impacts if I do end out trying it in the future.


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