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Groundwork gurus: When do you get on the horse?

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  • Groundwork gurus: When do you get on the horse?

    In the thread re: Clinton Anderson and the dead Friesian, we had the standard "diss NH trainers/marketers" discussion.

    But! Some others who ride and start horses defended the practice.

    That raises a pair of good questions:

    1. What do you use groundwork for, assuming you *do* want to ride the hay-burner in the end?

    2. When do you know that you have taught the horse all you can on the ground and that the rest of being a saddle horse must be taught from his back?
    The armchair saddler
    Politically Pro-Cat

  • #2
    Originally posted by mvp View Post
    That raises a pair of good questions:

    1. What do you use groundwork for, assuming you *do* want to ride the hay-burner in the end?
    Not sure why you bring up NH. Groundwork is important regardless of NH or not

    A Manners
    B Getting used to wearing a saddle and bridle
    C Moving forward in response to voice aid and/or whip.
    D Halting in response to voice aid and/or reins
    E Introduction to lateral work
    F Prepare to show in hand

    2. When do you know that you have taught the horse all you can on the ground and that the rest of being a saddle horse must be taught from his back?
    I don't think you can EVER say "you have taught the horse all you can on the ground". It is not ucommon to go back to work in hand to address a particular exercise or evasion, even well into the horse's performance career.

    Butthe time to start work under saddle is
    When the horse reliably responds to the basic aids from the ground
    AND the horse is sufficiently developed/mature to carry the weight of the rder

    Edited to clarify that none of this has anything to do with a round pen. or a loose horse
    Last edited by Janet; Apr. 26, 2013, 04:36 PM. Reason: clarification

    chief feeder and mucker for Music, Spy, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now).


    • #3
      When I started my colts I was usually on them by the third saddling in the round pen. They understood the verbal 'whoa' and 'back'. I didn't do a whole lot of groundwork but they had been handled a lot, like picking up hooves. Going down the road or in the pasture was where most of the training took place. It seemed to me I got a better colt ride with less is more type of training.

      Nowadays, with my physical problems, not likely to start any colt but I still do a lot of handling and trying to figure out how groundwork might help me. ??
      GR24's Musing #19 - Save the tatas!!


      • #4
        I'm a big fan of groundwork. When I got my mare, she was very green as a six year old, had no manners and was quite disrespectful in that she didn't respect my space and delighted in trying to use me as a scratching post for her itchy face. I felt it was important for us to establish a strong relationship on the ground before we started under saddle.

        I'm a big fan of the trainer who started my mule. He has a work book entitled "You Ride the Horse You Lead". The point of the exercises is to establish yourself as a leader on the ground before you work under saddle because if you can't control the horse on the ground, you may not be able to control it under saddle. It's all about getting the feet to move the way you want as well as getting the horse to disengage it's hindquarters at your will.

        I agree with Janet's statement: I don't think you can EVER say "you have taught the horse all you can on the ground". It is not ucommon to go back to work in hand to address a particular exercise or evasion, even well into the horse's performance career.

        I am surprised by the number of people I know who don't know how to work with a horse from the ground and wonder why their horse has bad habits or is pushy.

        Personally, I think a lot of people could benefit from spending some time on the ground with their horse no matter what the age and level of training.
        Proud owner of a Slaughter-Bound TB from a feedlot, and her surprise baby...!


        • #5
          I am by no means a ground work guru, but I do have several horses in my program where the initial phonecall went something like, "No one else can and/or will get on it. Can you help?"

          In these cases I use groundwork in cliff notes form to test the horses reactivity vs. responsiveness. Reactivity = bad. Responsiveness = good.

          So if the second I move the flag the horse is leaping around at the end of the rope halter, I think it is prooooobably too reactive to swing a leg over it just yet.

          When it longes quietly with me waving the flag vigorously over it, especially where riders sit, I think perhaps the reactivity has toned down enough that we are getting some where.

          When it is responsive but non-reactive enough to quietly do prompt changes of directions off of a light rope, and when I can stand next to it flinging that flag all over the place, then I think it's ready to hop on.

          This is very, very different from just longing it til it's tired.
          The Noodlehttp://tiny.cc/NGKmT&http://tiny.cc/gioSA
          Boy Wonderhttp://tiny.cc/G9290
          The Hana is nuts! NUTS!!http://tinyurl.com/SOCRAZY


          • #6
            I also use a lot of ground work when starting horses, and all through their riding career.
            they must lead properly, at my shoulder, not barging ahead or lagging behind, they respectfully stop when I stop and go forward at the 'walk on' command.
            They learn to lunge properly, responding to voice and whip commands; they learn to carry the tack and accept the bit.
            They also long-rein, learn what whoa and go means before I get on.

            The first riding is usually pretty anti climatic, since they've done it all before and usually will walk around in a relaxed manner, stopping and turning with no problem. Subsequent lessons introduce trot and canter under saddle.

            Lunging still occurs, usually to perfect canter transitions, trot lengthenings and so on all along.


            • #7
              I have bought mostly long yearlings because I love spending a year just doing ground work with them. I get them used to my routine and make sure they know all the vocal commands first.

              With my last horse, I had spent a lot of time taking care of him, then had to move and couldn`t bring him right away. Once I had him back and ready to start, I wasn`t able to get to the barn daily. So I put him with a tainer for 3 months. I told her I wanted mostly ground work on him. I am a very short trail rider, I need something thats quiet while I figure out how to get back on.

              At the end of 3 months, he had been backed and was awesome on the ground. Just what I wanted.

              I did find I had to hold the trainer back a bit. I didn't want him doing w/t/c in 3 months time. I blamed the breed - lol! Slow growing Arabian. And I really do not think horses need to learn tricks.

              Love seeing people teach a horse they can't ride all these tricks and brag about the training. Cracks me up everytime.


              • #8
                We didn't have any round pen when we were starting feral horses of all ages.
                We started all our horses on the longe line, in the indoors.
                In other places, wherever we could longe them.

                Most feral horses we started and were riding them within the first two hours, just a bit, on the longe line, carefully, without any fireworks.
                A few that were still too touchy that first day we waited with mounting and generally were ready by the second session.
                After that, we just rode them, longing was for training and it was not considered good for a horse to be longed much or for long, too small a circle.
                Any work on the longe line was for a specific purpose and as short as it could be done.

                The only exception was lessons on the longe line for the rider and vaulting and for that, we had specially trained and conditioned horses that were good for that, where that kind of work was not hard on them and we used them sparingly.

                Now, other work on the ground in hand, to teach other that will later be complementary to riding, or tricks, or to evaluate a horse, that we did any time that was appropriate.

                I do think that so much "round penning" and other such work on the ground, as done today, has become almost a discipline in itself.
                There are people that love to do that with their horses and invent new things to do, like dog agility type work over courses with their horses running around loose.

                Our imagination is the limit there.


                • #9
                  The horse should be started when it's ready. It shouldn't be on a timeline, every horse is different. Some fly through the groundwork with ease, some take a lot of time and patience. A good trainer will listen to their horse and not have them on a schedule ( why I hate colt baking competitions)


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by BansheeBreeze View Post
                    The horse should be started when it's ready. It shouldn't be on a timeline, every horse is different. Some fly through the groundwork with ease, some take a lot of time and patience. A good trainer will listen to their horse and not have them on a schedule ( why I hate colt baking competitions)
                    Banshee, that typo is hilarious!!!

                    One of my former trainers used the expression "No microwaved horses, please!" You hit the nail on the head even though that's not what you meant to say.

                    This is a great discussion thread.

                    For me and my horse, we are doing groundwork until I can get the nerve to get back in the saddle. I fell in early March and my confidence took a hit, so we are just working on the basics in the round pen -- walk, stop, trot, canter, walk, turn.... It keeps him focused on me and in shape until I can ride again. I actually like doing groundwork with him, but it's not the "be-all, end-all". It's just one piece of the puzzle.
                    Alis volat propriis.


                    • #11
                      I don't like colt baking either!! HA!!
                      GR24's Musing #19 - Save the tatas!!


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by goneriding24 View Post
                        I don't like colt baking either!! HA!!
                        Would take some kind of oven for that.


                        • #13
                          I reallyappreciate this topic! I am doing groundwork now on my well broke but in need of refresher AQHA. It is awesome for disengaging the hips, helping him NOT brace his shoulders, move forward, give easily to pressure and so on, all stuff that IMO is really the foundation for a safe trail horse! I want him to feel like he has options, for example, when he is challenged, can easily move side to side. Also, very importantly and as has been stated, I want him responding to, and focused on ME - "Hey mom! What's next?". And to that end I could not agree more with the not just lunging them in circles till they're tired, as that does NOT teach them to focus on me, they can totally check out if they're just doing the circle thing and maybe get fitter,but not actually learn something.

                          I think it also depends on someone's goals. I am a trail rider so sure, my "big picture" is I want to ride. But have a solid foundation can avoid so many problems down the line (being able to do a safe single rein stop, for example, or having a horse comfortable working back and forth laterally). I also like doing ground work at home at the END of the ride, so my guys remember that "Barn!" does not necessarily mean "end of work!"


                          • #14
                            1. What meupatdoes said.
                            2. I agree with Janet and jenm - I think groundwork is still useful for introducing new things before we encounter them under saddle. Water crossings, etc.

                            I also like to do groundwork sometimes just to break up the routine - I think horses, like men, find you more interesting when they don't always know what to expect from you.
                            I'm not ignoring the rules. I'm interpreting the rules. Tamal, The Great British Baking Show


                            • #15
                              I am constantly amazed at the bad mannered horses wearing English saddles and in really fancy barns. Yes their horses can collect up and look fabulous being ridden but I'm not keen on being run over,bitten, used as a scratching post, or a hitching post. Really really not keen on a horse that does not know the meaning of WHOA. I don't need the slide but whoa means stop and I shouldn't need reins or a bit to get it.
                              Now I am not a fan of Parelli or the NH crap many of them are selling but nothing beats solid groundwork on young or green horses.
                              Now Equipment for ground work is really not hard. Halter, leadrope, lunge rope, securely fenced area preferably empty and never ever with other loose horses unless you are working on a particular lesson. Lunge whip might come in handy eventually. Begin at the basics (leading, stopping, having feet picked, stand) and get more complicated from there.
                              For the actual time to get on them? That is an individual thing and I personally tend to wait until they stop bucking like maniacs with a saddle, accept a bridle willingly and have learned the word WHOA to mean stop and stand no matter what you were doing a minute ago. I also tend to install walk, trot and canter verbally before I swing a leg over.
                              Adoring fan of A Fine Romance
                              Originally Posted by alicen:
                              What serious breeder would think that a horse at that performance level is push button? Even so, that's still a lot of buttons to push.


                              • Original Poster

                                Great answers! This will really help me and the slough of green horses I have been asked to ride lately.

                                I distinguish loose ground work, in-hand, longing and long-lining. Oh, and throw in ponying for good measure.

                                The loose stuff has limited value to me, once I have all these other ground work tools. I'll turn a horse loose for a minute in the ring if it looks worried about out "place of business." Like Meupatdoes, I want a horse who is thinking and responsive, not reactive and second-guessing the work we'll do. IME, the "join up" happens really fast for a horse who hasn't had much done with him. It's not a huge "thing" to teach them. But I do like a horse that I can send away from me and then ask to come back. It's a horse who can accept psychological pressure. Surely, riding or in-hand work includes that-- the problem of staying attentive to the person who is also making the horse's life hard.

                                The only ground work not mentioned yet that I add is moving the hips or shoulders in-hand. Think of asking a horse to do a turn on the haunches or the forehand. I do this (and ask them to back or "heel like a dog") from both sides. You'd be surprised how many horses can't do this when you are on the off-side rather than the near-side.

                                To me, this is making the horse mentally flexible. I guess moving the hips or shoulders away from me relates conceptually to moving away from my leg. But I don't know if horses are smart enough to translate between where I am on the ground, or perhaps a poke in the side to me sitting on top and using my leg.

                                Oh, and don't forget line-driving around the farm or over obstacles. To a horse, it's really different when I walk over the Tarp of Death first, and when I'm walking behind and they have to go first.
                                Last edited by mvp; Apr. 28, 2013, 12:34 AM.
                                The armchair saddler
                                Politically Pro-Cat


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by mvp View Post
                                  In the thread re: Clinton Anderson and the dead Friesian, we had the standard "diss NH trainers/marketers" discussion.

                                  But! Some others who ride and start horses defended the practice.

                                  That raises a pair of good questions:

                                  1. What do you use groundwork for, assuming you *do* want to ride the hay-burner in the end?

                                  2. When do you know that you have taught the horse all you can on the ground and that the rest of being a saddle horse must be taught from his back?

                                  1. Groundwork for me starts with being able to touch/ brush / handle the horse everywhere . I move to saddling and the horse will stand tied ( quietly) for as long as I choose. Horse will be comfortable with me banging, flapping and moving any part of saddle while wearing it. Then I either lunge or round pen horse under saddle to where they are responsive at all 3 gaits. Working quietly and listening to me. Sacking out with objects depends on the horse.

                                  2. When all that is accomplished I usually practice hopping up with weight in the stirrup, move to standing up in the stirrup, laying over the horses back and finally quickly sitting/dismounting staying in the saddle longer each time. (If horse act nervous at any stage I do it over and over and over until they don't care). Then I mount fully and teach horse to give to the bit , walk, back and gradually progress.

                                  I always work alone which is why being able to mount from the ground is not optional, but a much needed skill.


                                  • #18
                                    I always do a little groundwork before I get on. If the horse is "sticky" it will translate into under saddle problems like bucking. If my horse checks out ok, I get on. If the horse is having a hard time I do more groundwork until he smooths out. Usually I only spend 5-10 minutes before getting on.

                                    ETA: My definition of groundwork is working on the halter rope (NH style). Some days I'll do liberty work (horse loose) just for fun.
                                    Crayola Posse - Pine Green
                                    Whinnie Pine (June 4, 1977 - April 29, 2008)
                                    Autumn Caper (April 27, 1989 - May 24, 2015)
                                    Murphy (April 28, 1994 - May 5, 2017)


                                    • #19
                                      Groundwork is a tool in your toolbox - that's all.

                                      I use groundwork when I'm starting a young horse - when I'm retraining a spoiled old horse - sometimes when I just feel a horse needs a quick refresher on something. I don't think there is a hard and fast rule on when you should ditch groundwork and never return to it - to me that seems a waste of a valuable training opportunity.

                                      Groundwork for me is different then 'manners'

                                      Manners is grooming, leading tying, trailering. tacking up.

                                      Groundwork is lateral work, learning cues, addresing flexion probelms., learning to back up, piaffe, passage, long lining, shoulder in - as a few examples I can think off of the top of my head.

                                      With young horses, I may back them and training for several months afterwards can and often does consist of groundwork and saddle time in the same session.
                                      It's like lunging for me - it's useful for so many reasons/fixes/re-training moments - I'm fluid with it - like all things horse related.
                                      Never say never.
                                      Originally posted by ExJumper
                                      Sometimes I'm thrown off, sometimes I'm bucked off, sometimes I simply fall off, and sometimes I go down with the ship. All of these are valid ways to part company with your horse.


                                      • #20
                                        I guess I'm 'always' doing groundwork when I am with a horse but not on its back. If you are just in the habit of correcting when they are 'a little' sloppy or forgetful or bratty, little sparks never get a chance to grow in the brush.

                                        I can't say I've ever started one in a round pen actually, because when I've started horses there wasn't a round pen available- so I used either pasture or riding arena. But generally I guess I've never found a need to do a zillion hours of ground work before the first ride. Exception being the allegedly broke-at-the-track TB. Him, I just treated as assuming 'never ever ridden' and longed, tacked, etc fora couple of weeks before climbing aboard. His manners when I was on the ground were impeccable, and he never put a foot wrong. But he tried to do me some serious damage before my right foot was ever in the stirrup. So- obviously badly started at the track, shame because he would've been a nice little field hunter but at the time I didn't have the time to work him through it, so he went on to a very successful rodeo career as a saddle bronc. Oops, sorry for the digression.