It sounds so “romantic” when professional horse trainers talk about groundwork and show their work with horses that lie down on command, rear on command, can sit on their hindquarters, and follow the trainer through thick and thin up and down various obstacle courses. It’s undoubtedly fun to achieve that result, but at times, for an ordinary rider who has a full-time job, children, and a horse, it might be a bit of an overwhelming challenge. That’s why we’re providing you with our editorial team’s inspiration for easy groundwork that doesn’t require a lot of fancy facilities and is both fun and educational for horse and rider.
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1. TEACH YOUR HORSE TO MOVE – VERY SIMPLE, BUT AN UNDERRATED EXERCISE
Before you start with the full-scale horsemanship, it’s a good idea to have the basics in place. Often, you hear about blacksmiths and other professionals who have experienced being squashed by the horse they’re tending to. The same problem often arises in the paddock. An entire herd comes running towards you when you’re fetching your own horse, and they don’t just move away straight away. In other words, it’s a very useful exercise to teach your horse that when you apply gentle pressure on either the chest, shoulder or thigh, it should move.
The exercise can be done at any time of the day, and it’s incredibly simple. Apply gentle pressure to the area you want the horse to move. If it doesn’t react, apply more pressure until, for example, the hindquarters move. If nothing happens, it may be useful to use a couple of fingers instead of a flat hand, as it provides more concentrated pressure.
2. THE DANGEROUS UMBRELLA CAN BE A PROBLEM AT COMPETITIONS
Many horse owners, of course, enjoy all the trips to and from competitions. It’s a great feeling to prepare both yourself and your horse for a competition, and it’s lovely to have a little adrenaline kick when you enter the arena. Many competitions are held on outdoor arenas, and the weather isn’t always on our side. This means, among other things, that if it starts raining, there’s a risk that many people will open their umbrellas. Although it may seem a bit silly, it’s a good exercise to prepare the horse for the “dangerous” umbrellas, as it can turn into a very unpleasant ride if the horse is spooked by all the open umbrellas. All in all, it’s a good idea to think about possible “dangers” you might encounter at competition venues so you’re as prepared as possible. The horse is most likely going to be more alert away from home, so you’ll avoid conflicts if you’ve already “exposed” it to fluttering blinds, loud noises, bright colours, trailer driving and whatever else is involved at a competition venue.
An umbrella can suddenly become quite interesting if you take some time to get the horse accustomed to it. It’s time well spent in the long run.
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3. CAN YOUR HORSE STAND STILL?
It’s quite troublesome, not to mention annoying, to get on a horse that’s walking around. The same applies in the stable. A horse that scrapes and shuffles around isn’t much fun. A very simple but also incredibly complicated exercise is to teach your horse to stand still. This can be done in a simple way, for example, by giving the horse a signal where you have your arms raised so it understands not to move. If it moves its legs, simply back it into place and try again. Start small, so the horse only has to stand still for a few seconds, and when that’s established, you can extend the time.
A single signal is enough for the horse to understand what’s going on, and it’s important not to do it for too long at a time when starting out.
4. POLE TRAINING – GOOD DISTRACTION
It’s always quite enjoyable to train with poles and loose jumping. Although it can be a bit of a laborious task, it’s worth it, as most horses enjoy the change of pace and have to use their brains not to hit the poles. You can also create diversity in pole exercises, where the horse backs over a pole or moves sideways with the pole between its front and hind legs.
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5. THE BAG OF CANS
This is quite a fun exercise and also a bit of a challenge for the horse because it has to accept a rattling noise behind it. Many horses don’t particularly like such a sound, especially when it follows them around, so be aware not to make the exercise too difficult to begin with. A good way to start is:
• Find a carrier bag and fill it with empty cans. Tie the bag securely so the cans don’t fall out.
• Attach a lunge line to the bag handle and show the horse the bag before you start dragging it behind the horse. Make sure to rattle the bag so the horse becomes familiar with the sound.
• Place the bag on the ground and let your horse sniff it. Then, gradually start moving it around. Your horse should also be on a lunge line so it can easily move away if it becomes scared.
• When your horse is used to the sound, you can start dragging the bag on your left side while the horse is naturally on your right side.
• When this part of the exercise is no longer a problem for the horse, you can begin to extend the rope with the cans so the bag drags behind the horse. If the horse becomes scared, stop immediately, go back a step in the exercise, and slowly build up the exercise again.
6. THE TARPAULIN WORKS EVERY TIME
You can buy quite large tarpaulins for a small price in many online shops. And it’s certainly worth the modest investment. It may be a bit cumbersome to set up the tarpaulin, but once it’s done, you can begin the fun. Let your horse sniff, scrape (within reason, of course) on the plastic. Teach it that a different type of surface is not dangerous. Feel free to place poles on the tarpaulin that the horse should walk over and try to back it up over the surface. It’s important that the tarpaulin is large enough that the horse can’t simply jump over it. If it still tries to jump or evades all your attempts to get it to step on the surface, give it food in various places on the tarpaulin. The horse should associate the exercise with something fun, and food and treats can be a great reinforcement.
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7. LUNGING – BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVERDO IT
It’s always nice to lunge your horse and it’s a good form of exercise to get it into shape. But it can quickly become too much. It’s not very inspiring to walk around in a small circle for a long time, and for some horses, it can be hard on the body. Therefore, you should lunge with moderation and perhaps expand the lunging by placing poles in the circle to make it more interesting. A book called Training Your Foal: Raising a Foal from Birth to Backing by Renate Ettl also advises against lunging horses under two years of age.
8. GOING FOR A WALK IN THE COUNTRYSIDE – UP AND DOWN DITCHES
It can be really enjoyable to go for walks with your horse – even with the rider actually walking alongside. It creates a cozy bond between you and your horse, where you can pet it and practice basic exercises from the ground, such as stopping, backing, moving to the side, and all of this in a new environment for the horse. It’s always beneficial to expand even the simplest exercises, which the horse performs without problems at home on the training arena, out in an unfamiliar environment. It’s also good training to lead the horse up and down ditches, so it gets some varied terrain under its hooves, and many horses actually find this makes the walk more interesting, rather than just walking on asphalt. Of course, you should be careful of nature and any cultivated land when deciding to go up and down ditches, for example.
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