Groundwork with horse
Groundwork with the horse is boring? Are you kidding me? Are you serious when you say that! Groundwork is a lot of fun if you don’t just combine groundwork with lunging. To arouse enthusiasm for groundwork in you, I will give you 10 exercise ideas for groundwork with horses so that you can make the training from the ground varied.
This exercise is not as easy as it sounds: counting steps.
I like to use it as a warm-up in my body awareness classes. In this exercise, your horse has to react to your aid and balance his body well to stop promptly.
You can easily implement them. You only need your horse, a halter, a cavesson or a rope halter, a rope and, if necessary, a riding crop.
You lead your horse 10 steps forward and stop. Then you lead 9 steps forward and stop. You do this when you have arrived at a step and then count up again.
A little tip: Pay attention to how your horse stops. Of course, the holding position depends on the foot sequence. But quite often, I can observe that the horses stand much more closed in the exercise course.
A nice exercise for leading at a distance, which you can also find in my 👉 online course Basics of Groundwork: Build a few cones or marking plates and lead your horse through the slalom. First from the left, then from the right. And then from both sides with more and more DISTANCE! If none of that is a problem, try backward. And if that works, the supreme discipline comes: free!
Your goal should be to get your horse to bend properly and not swerve with the hindquarters. Also, the curved lines your horse makes around the obstacles should be regular and of equal size, not angular plumbs.
As you can see, another exercise that sounds easy but can be quite difficult for some people. Incidentally, slalom promotes your horse’s longitudinal bending and improves coordination, particularly its ability to react, balance, and orientation.
Tip: I’ll link you to markers here that I prefer to use myself. They won’t break if your horse steps on them, nor will they tip over. And you can store them in the saddle cupboard much easier than big hats.
The best way to improve your horse’s coordination is through varied and varied training. If the training always stays the same, there are improvements at the beginning, but at some point, they stagnate. If, on the other hand, variants are incorporated, and thus new coordinative stimuli are created, the training is more effective and goal-oriented.
To create variety and train your horse’s coordination skills, you could integrate a few bars into your training and vary the distance between the bars. This changes the way your horse moves. Sometimes it has to take smaller steps and sometimes bigger ones. In this way, you address your horse’s muscles in very different ways, set new stimuli, and have a great training effect.
If you regularly incorporate bars into your training, the movement pattern will be saved by your horse. For example, you improve the activity of the hindquarters, which is your horse’s engine.
You can find more ideas for coordination training in my online course, More balance with creative floor work.
Leading between two hands
When training my horse, leading my horse between two hands was one of my favorite exercises, and even today, I lead my horse very, very much between two hands. I discovered this exercise during Tellington training, which is called Dingo.
Leading between two hands is great preparation for you and your horse for later lunging. In addition, that’s why I appreciate the exercise. It trains your coordination. Many of my students with whom I do this exercise in class or in courses do not find it easy at first. For me, however, it is a prerequisite for classic manual work for precisely this reason.
If you want to lead your horse between two hands, then you walk next to your horse so that you frame it with both hands. For example, if you walk around to the left, you hold the rope in your left hand and the crop in your right hand (an extended arm). Your position is at the shoulder height of your horse.
Classic manual work on short reins
The classic manual work is gymnastic groundwork, where you do the exercises from the ground that you normally ride.
You can do the handwork with either a cavesson or a harness. In this way, you can influence the correct position of your horse.
Exercises that you can do with the classic handwork from the floor are, for example, all side movements (shoulder-in, shoulder-out, renters, traversal, pirouette). You can also work out leg turns with the hand reins from the ground.
Lateral walks in the hand
If you’re comfortable with the needlework, you could incorporate a few variations on the side aisles. The constant alternation of shoulder-in, croup-in, travers, and renters promotes your horse’s straightening, permeability, and relaxation. And for our riders, this exercise trains logical thinking and coordination skills. In my article, you can find a possible training variation that you can practice with your horse from the ground instead of from the saddle: Riding lateral movements – a tip for more variety in training.
Targeted lunge work is effective in building muscles and stamina. However, I am talking here about lunging (ideally combined with other elements of groundwork) and not about centrifuging a horse that has been untied with auxiliary reins! That means: When lunging, you include a circle and the entire riding arena!
Lunging looks easy, but it’s quite difficult for your horse. It has to be able to carry itself well, and it needs a very good balance to walk around the corner with balance.
When lunging, your horse must bend correctly. It would help if you focused less on the shape of the neck and more on your horse’s hindquarters. A correct bend goes through the entire horse’s body. No matter how round the neck may look, it will not bend correctly if your horse evades with its hindquarters.
You can find many ideas for lunge work in my article “Building Muscle through Floor Work”. And here, you will find 5 tips for correct lunging.
Have you ever heard of the crunches (Core Stabilizer or Intrinsic Core Posture Exercises)? This exercise requires a clicker and should use feed praise. It involves your horse raising its withers. It grows tall and takes a proud stance. This exercise is usually accompanied by increased hamstring flexion.
If you are interested in the topic, you can find more about intrinsics here. In this post, I tell how I was inspired by Intrinsic in my horse training.
I do some trick with my pony almost every day. By that, I don’t mean circus lessons like the compliment, the plié or the kneeling. I mean tricks that motivate your horse to think along and, above all, to participate.
For example, my Sleipi can knock over a hat (and sometimes put it back up again), roll out a carpet, say no, say no, Spanish greeting, flehmen, and pull something off his back. For example, a jacket that I put on his back.
He also enjoys climbing on platforms and one-legged platforms, and seesaws are a lot of fun for him. But I don’t count that as trick training. Sleep was also able to cross his legs and pull the hula hoop over his neck. But we haven’t practiced that for a long time.
For a change, practice a trick with your horse and add variety to your everyday training. In my text Why circus tricks with horses are so great, you will find various ideas on integrating trick training and circus exercises into floor work. And in the book by Sabine van Waasen you will find an incredible number of great ideas.
Unstable surfaces and balance pads
With the help of an unstable surface such as the green gymnastics mat, you can train wonderfully sensorimotor and, for example, address the proprioceptors of your horse. These sensory neurons are concentrated in the deep muscles of the spine and joints and tell your horse’s brain about body position and movement.
This is an important protective function for the body and the individual joints. And only if this basic sense functions adequately will your horse’s brain receive sufficient information about muscle tension and joint position. Only then can the muscles acting together (agonist and antagonist) work together exactly.
I have already written a lot about the subject of unstable surfaces in horse training:
Here you can find my text with tips about horse training with balance pads, here I write about Plufsig, and here you can find a text about proprioceptive horse training.
Combine floor work exercises creatively
Theoretically, you could combine all of the exercises presented within one unit – but I advise you not to do so because that would be too much input for your horse. But you can pick three exercises that you combine in one unit of groundwork with your horse.
For example, you could set up your unit like this:
. Count steps
. The lead between two hands
. Count steps
You can also combine the exercises, for example, by placing the bars on an unstable surface, crunching on the mat or lunging your horse over the bars.
Combining side movements and lunging (on the cavesson) is also a good idea.
I hope I was able to give you a few ideas with my post that you will benefit from in the future when working on the ground with your horse.