What is groundwork? Why is it so important to a solid foundation?
Working your horse by lunging them around in a circle with the intent to tire them out before you ride isn’t what I consider groundwork. Rather, I see it as an opportunity to play with your horse. When you play with your horse on the ground, you are allowing the two of you time to check in with each other. Groundwork provides both horse and human the chance to communicate to each other on how they are doing; mentally, emotionally and physically.
Playing with your horse on the ground not only allows the rider to see where the horse is, it also allows the horse to feel where the human is coming from. Your horse is a sentient being, and you are striving to be their leader, and yet, your horse will not trust you if you are not showing up authentically or focused in the present moment.
As a horsemanship motivational coach, I meet many people who do not incorporate groundwork into their horseback riding routine. There are even more who do not know or understand what groundwork is, or why it is so important. It is common for riders to just saddle up. Some will lunge their horses if they appear to have excessive energy. Then it’s “get on ‘em and ride”.
All too frequently, the result is riders are met with a reactive horse with flare nostrils, heads held high, and wide fearful eyes. This is an unpleasant experience for both the horse and the human.
The result is tension, frustration, anxiety, fear and even unnecessary pain in the horse’s mouth from the pulling and fighting to try and rein in control of a horse’s mind and emotions. These kinds of scenarios, all too often, result in injuries of either the horse or rider and sometimes both.
I relate groundwork to that of a preflight safety check by a pilot. They perform this safety check to ensure our safety and successful journey prior to our departure, so why do we climb on top of a 1000+ pound living, breathing, emotional being without checking in to see where they are? While we might get some idea if they are physically sound when we lead them out of their pens, where are they mentally and emotionally?
By playing with your horse on the ground, you are performing your safety check. You are allowing your horse to show you how they are doing, as well as allowing them to connect and get a read on you. This is you becoming the leader of your partnership and setting both of you up for success.
Many people fail to understand or appreciate the mental and emotional trauma a horse experiences when they are put into situations they are not equipped to handle. All of us recognize the fear and the trauma riders endures when a ride goes awry, but few of us see the situation from the horse’s perspective. Rather, all too often, we assume the attitude that our horse partner just needs to get over it and carry on.
So many accidents can be avoided by “taking the time that it takes” on the ground first to allow both partners to check in and harmonize with one another. The number one priority in succeeding in everything we do with our horses should be safety.
Teaching riders how to approach groundwork correctly and to appreciate the feedback they are receiving from their partner will help them create a solid foundation which translates into riders achieving their dreams with their horse.
I have witnessed amazing transformations between horse and human even on their first lesson utilizing groundwork. Through the use of groundwork, I have successfully coached riders filled with anxiety and fear, along with their wide-eyed horses mirroring the rider’s behavior, to reach a place where they are both in the present moment, connected, and confidently communicating with one another. Allowing our horses and ourselves the time that it takes to check in, warm up, and get in harmony with each other, will reward our relationship ten times over.
As I have stated in previous articles, the relationship between horse and human is analogous to a pair of ballroom dancers. These graceful dancers don’t just show up at a competition ready to perform. Together they spend hours upon hours practicing to ensure that both of them are mentally, emotionally, physically, and intuitively connected to each other.
Groundwork is the beginning of the human-horse dance and the level to which one can become connected to your horse, and your horse to you, can be endless.
Horsemanship is more than lunging, then getting on and going riding. The art of horsemanship is about the partnership and allowing both the human and the horse an opportunity to express themselves and share their needs to each other. When we connect and find our balance, when we feel each other and become one, then our horse-human dance becomes real, fluid and dynamic. It is the dance.
Groundwork is where it all begins. It is the first thing we do with a young horse and it shouldn’t stop just because the horse can carry a rider. What you teach and learn on the ground is what sets you and your horse up to achieve safe and amazing experiences in the saddle.
During the winter months when it is too cold to ride or you don’t have an indoor arena to ride in, what is it you can do to keep your relationship strong and your partnership growing? The answer is simple: groundwork.
Playing with your horse on the ground allows the two of you to understand each other better. It provides you opportunities to expand and explore your creativity and heighten your leadership skills while asking your horse to move in six different directions. The ones that they do naturally: forward, backward, left, right, up and down. The only limitations we have in doing this are the ones we inflict on ourselves by not allowing our minds to be playful and creative.
One of the richest lessons I hope to teach my clients is to understand that horses are amazing partners with humans. Horses not only desire but possess a basic need to have relationships and bonds with other living beings. What makes a horse-human bond so much more powerful than other bonds, is having humans comprehend just how valuable having a horse as friend and partner can be.
I believe horsemanship is the solid foundation for all other sports with horses and in that foundation lies safety, respect, leadership, confidence and a partnership built from trust.
This is a primary focus for Heart Soul Confidence-Based Horsemanship™ on building those partnerships and relationships between horses and humans.
Horses love to play. Can you be playful enough for your horse to want to choose you over their herd mates?
If you would like to learn how to enjoy your horse through the winter months, while building a solid partnership from the ground up, I would love to keep you motivated while coaching the two of you through the process.
The question isn’t how good you are with your horse? But rather it’s, how good do you want to be?
Cindy Hartzell ©