Groundwork - practise
Whilst we're on the topic anyway, I'd like to get in to the topic of groundwork some more. Of course there is a lot more to groundwork than just leading. But as soon as you have the groundwork basics going well for you, you can do all sorts of fun exercises and you'll always be able to think up a new challenge you can venture into! But for starters you could elaborate on the connection and feeling you have with your horse. Maybe you could teach your horse to stand quietly or 'ground tie'. Ask him to "stay" and try to slowly move around him and rub him over his body - this feels good to the horse and will relax him and which in turn will make standing quietly easier for him. As long as you keep up the rubbing and the scratching he isn't going anywhere!! :) Try making the good behaviour easy for him to do, i.e. don't make it too difficult for him to succeed. This will also add to building his trust in you. Should it happen that he loses interest, stops following your feel and starts wandering off, all you need to do is softly correct him by asking him to take a step back in the opposite direction that he first started wandering off in. For example, if he takes a step forward, you ask him to take a step or two back, and then ask again to "stay!". Reward him if he stays for a couple of seconds, and continue your rubbing and moving around. If you repeat your correction every time he takes a step, he'll soon realise that's it's much easier to just stand still, and soak it all in rather than going back and forward all the time! And just relaxed, without having to resort to any force.
Other exercises you could move on to are teaching the horse to step over on feel. The easiest way is to start at the hip on this one, as horses already have the tendency to keep their hindquarters away from you, this being their vulnerable body part. You stand to the side of your horse, take a strong look at his hip (this alone will cause some horses to move his hindquarters over!), lay you finger on his hip and slowly increase the pressure of your finger until he steps away from your finger - and release all pressure immediately, give him a good rub on his hip in reward when he is standing still and relaxed again = peace. Change sides and repeat. Try asking him to step his front end over this way as well, although this is harder. You could also stand in front of your horse with three fingers on the bridge of his nose to ask for a back up. Remember to keep the pressure consistant, even if he presses back into your pressure. He is just looking for the correct answer and will get a release when he finds the right direction. Don't forget the reward and some kind words for the smallest try!! It's like saying "warm, warm.....YES!!". This gives your horse a clear message that he's on the right track, feedback that everyone needs to keep the learning process enjoyable. Imagine playing a game where you have to guess the answer, but no one is giving you any feedback wether you are on the right track or not. You will try to figure out what the answer is, but by lack of any communication or feed back you'll soon lose interest and most likely quit all together. But if someone would give you some feedback and say you are 'warm', but not quite there, it becomes fun and before you know it you'll be obsessed to find out what the right answer is!! This is what keeps you motivated!!
Soon you won't need to use any pressure at all, if you practise often enough. All you'll need to do is point your finger at his body part and this will be enough pressure to get him to move over. As long as your timing of release is good, you're consistant and you don't drill it all too much, he'll learn it all in no time. Timing of the release is of the essence though, as that is the que that gives the reward for the correct behaviour. It may take some practise, but you'll soon get the hang of it. Once you've got it going well on a short line, you could try doing these exercises on a long line as well to see if your horse responds to your ques at a distance. You can also teach your horse to give to pressure on the long line; by asking your horse to stand still and guide the rope along the opposite side of his body and around his buttocks. Stand to his side and slowly build the pressure on the line.(see below) It may be confusing to him to start with, as he has to turn 'away' from you to follow that pressure. This is a very good exercise to get him used to giving in to pressure and following the feel, instead of pulling back into it, like his instinct tells him to. You can do the same kind of exercise with his feet, by running a rope under his hocks and slowly building up on the pressure, which will cause him to lift his foot to give in to the pressure. Once you have taught the horse this concept of giving in to the pressure it could save him a lot of pain and injuries should he ever get caught up in a rope or fence. Instead of panicking and pulling, thus damaging himself, he will learn to stand quietly and wait for the release....
learning the feel to give into pressure...
There are countless exercises you can do in the arena or whilst you are going for a walk outside. Just use your imagination and something will come up! As long as you keep it safe and easy, of course. Dreams and I have been out walking for over a year now. The first time we left the yard she was literally shaking like a leaf at the gate!! Now you should see her! She's much more confident and has turned into a nosey little bugger trying to check out everything! The more new experiences she has, the less anything really scares her - she's been there, seen it, done it and got the t-shirt.. :) Horses love to play and discover new places, but only when they feel safe and secure, feel peaceful and can trust you. I try to introduce new things to Dreams all the time - whatever I can think of! Only recently I invested into a big "dangerous" orange sheet and we had a play with that. First she came to check it out, and after a while she looked pretty relaxed again so I gently lifted the sheet towards her body and rubbed her with it - to get her used to the noise and feel of it. After a couple of minutes I could just run it over her back and leave it there - and she just ignored it!!
But of course that wasn't enough! :) Of course we would have to walk "over" it as well as be underneath it! And that was a whole different ball game again and she had to start all over investigating it on the ground and pawing at it. Funny how if you introduce the same thing or exercise at a different angle, the whole process starts all over again.. Anyway, soon enough she ventured a walk over the nasty sheet without any problems. You can see the soft look in her eye on the second picture. We practised walking over it a couple of times before we tried a jog over it - and that was reeeaally scary!!!
But before we knew it she also ventured into a lope over the sheet...
And there you go, that's what playing around can do for you and your horse. It builds on the trust between you and thus your partnership. I can't get enough of it, going for long walks outside and discovering new things. Helping Dreams to cope with her fears. Walking through water, jumping logs and streams and you name it. Doing all these things with her I hope to accomplish that if one day something really frightens her, she can stand still for 1 or 2 seconds, take it all in and turn to me for help...
Copyright © 2003 Horseplay all rights reserved.