Groundwork Exercises to up Your Horse Training
Often in our horse’s training, we just want to skip to the fun part, the riding, the jumping, the fancy footwork, the wow effects, and show stoppers. We forget that just like everything else in life, you need to establish a good solid base to build off before you get to the show stoppers. This is where groundwork is essential.
Every rider has different goals depending on their discipline, current level of training, and what they are preparing for in the future. Regardless of your goals, groundwork exercises can be beneficial to all horses. Groundwork takes you and your horse back to the basics. Most groundwork exercises can be done with a simple rope halter and lead rope.
Groundwork training for the day can be as easy as training how to lead correctly—using the rope and halter as the only aids. Your horse should not be pulling you or following you by several feet. Think of it like heel training for a dog. Your horse should be shoulder to shoulder with you, stop when you stop, and walk when you walk. You can start this training in an enclosed area and work in new locations with new distractions and obstacles.
Flexing the neck helps stretch your horse’s muscles and teaches them to give into pressure. You can do flexing from the ground or saddle.
Start with a halter and a lead rope and stand at your horse’s girth line. Using the lead rope, one hand on the withers, the other pulling on the additional slack of the rope, ask your horse to turn their nose to touch their shoulder. Their legs shouldn’t move while they stretch their head around to their side.
This stretch opens the shoulder, neck, and leg muscles. Once they relax in the stretch, release their head back to neutral. The first few times you attempt this exercise, your horse may spin. It is important to remove the pressure when they are standing still. Repeat this stretch on both sides until it becomes natural for them to tuck their nose in when you apply pressure to the lead rope.
Lunging is beneficial for all horses. It is great for green horses to learn boundaries and voice cues. It’s suitable for out-of-shape horses, who can build stamina without carrying a rider, and for horses building new skills like cantering or jumping. Starting new skills is easier when you are on the ground in a controlled setting like a round pen or arena.
Starting with simple lunging commands like pointing in the direction you would like them to go. Try frequent transitions or spiral circles to help your horse build balance, muscle, and focus.
Spiral circles can be a powerful exercise on the lunge rope or under saddle. These can be done at all gaits. If this is your first time doing this exercise, start with the walk. Establish your gait at a 20m circle with your horse bent slightly to the inside. Maintain the slight bend as you slowly reduce the size of your circle to a 5m circle, then expand your circle out again. Keep your horse balanced and prevent them from dropping their inside shoulder as you reduce and expand your circle. Make sure to complete the circles in both directions.