Have you ever heard someone say, "I don't believe in groundwork."? Yeah... me too. But here's why I do.
I've seen it. In fact, I have two horses in my program right now that have some pretty big issues and they were caused, you guessed it, on the ground...
I see two major issues when it comes to ground work... a lack of it or groundwork done poorly.
A lack of groundwork.
This is probably the MOST COMMON issue when I get a horse in. Someone didn't take the time out of their day to give their horse any sort of positive attention outside of the work they were needed for.
One of my current horses has this issue and let me tell you, it's been really tough to build back his trust and show him that being pulled out of his pen doesn't always suck. Not to mention, he is extremely nervous about being cinched up and will even pull back. We have been able to improve this issue in the last 3 months, but it's not gone yet.
Groundwork done poorly.
This one is less common, but probably more detrimental to the horse and harder to fix. This one comes in a couple forms.
The first being that the owner did work with their horse, but they let the horse more so work them. This horse is pushy and will likely try to run their owners over often. This is commonly seen in horses that were extremely spoiled by green riders.
The second form of this is the worst form. This is when an owner/trainer pushes the horse too hard without many releases and takes away the option of flight, leaving their "fight" as the only response. I have a horse in my program that is like this now. It was unknown to me when I purchased him, but it didn't take long for me to figure out that this horse has most likely been roped and choked down on multiple occasions. Now, we've used a rope in a round pen before, but there is an art to it, and choking one down is not necessary or recommended. In fact, this has been one of the toughest horses to gain trust from and after 2 months, we are still not quite there. This horse has had to build back his confidence in people. I was told he was spooky when I bought him, but this is one of the least "spooky" horses I own... He isn't scared of his environment, he's scared of people. This horse is a thinker and has the memory of an elephant. We can fix this (to an extent), but it's going to take a lot of time and patience and this could have been avoidable.
So what kind of groundwork do I do?
Listen, I want to get to riding as soon as possible, but I've learned to incorporate groundwork into my everyday routine, even on my most broke horses.
I lunge my horses, but with purpose. I don't believe in long loungelines and mindless lounging. This isn't teaching your horse to give to pressure and seek releases. This is just an opportunity for them to play or screw around. I stand with my feet planted and move my horses forward by putting pressure on their shoulders (no their hips). Then to stop them, I move my eye pressure to in front of them. If they miss the cue because their not paying attention, I give it a few steps and then sternly correct them and change their direction. I don't make them do multiple laps in one direction before changing direction because this normally just encourages mindless running. I change their direction frequently and make sure that my horses are tuned into me. When I feel like they're paying attention and ready to go to work, I stop them with my eye pressure and then back my body up and draw them in to me. I am their "lead mare". I push and then I release and then they start to follow me and look to me for guidance. This will then translate to our work riding. Giving my horses an opportunity to move around a bit before and after their saddled, gives them time to think through their feelings and prepare for the day.
I spend time with my horses outside of riding. I fully believe in the power of braiding manes. What I mean by this is that I believe grooming time, can be so good for a horse's mind. This builds the bond between horse and rider and the bonus, a gorgeous, long mane. Sometimes, I'll just go out to their pasture and sit. Yes, in the dirt. I watch them and generally they'll even come and say hello. When they follow me in from the pasture, I'll even reward them with some grain. This way, they're associating me with good things and they look forward to my presence. However you choose to spend time with your horse, make every second of it count.
Horses are always learning and it can take months to build their trust but only seconds to lose it.
I've been around the horse industry since I was young, and I've learned a lot over the years. I'm just here to share my experiences and hope to improve the industry one client at a time.