I recently have had my first experience with horse training. As a recent college graduate and a current intern in my professional field, I had found that I didn't have much time or money to do the things that I love. One of these things was being around horses which, as horse people very well know, is no cheap hobby. Through people I met at work, I managed to find an owner of a large farm who had a retired racehorse that needed more regular work to get him ready to sell. Riding and working with Tico was definitely a challenging and rewarding experience.
Tico had some issues with excessive bucking while being ridden and was a tad bit pushy on the ground. The first few weeks of riding Tico were easy going. He had some lead issues, favoring his left, and liked to go a bit too quick, but he was responsive. The more I rode, the more he relaxed and he became much more supple. We worked on the usual things like bending, leg yielding, and extending.
After about three weeks, I had a horse that I was convinced I wanted for myself. Then, all of a sudden he started behaving in ways he hadn't been before. This is when the bucking started. His behavior was fine on the ground since we had been working on not being so pushy, but the minute you put a saddle on his back his attitude changed. He'd let me tack up and mount, but he refused to move forward. When asked to do so, he would take a few steps backward and pin his ears. He also developed a habit of reaching around to bite the tips of my boots. I'd always ask nicely for him to walk on and when he wouldn't, I'd give him a good kick which made him buck. This led me to believe that he wasn't trying to be malicious, but rather he had some sort of pain. His new bad behavior was directly correlated with having added weight and pressure on his back.
Since I do not own Tico, it was not up to me to decide if he should be seen by a chiropractor or a vet. Because of this, I did what I thought was best. I rode less and worked the basics from the ground. We worked some very important ground manners that are an essential part of developing a functional relationship with a horse as well as having a horse that you enjoy working with on the ground. I learned that the following list of things are extremely important.
- Leading: The horse should know your leading him, not the other way around. Clearly define your space versus the horse's space and keep reminding the horse of your space until he learns to respect it.
- Body Comfort: The horse should be comfortable with being touched anywhere as we need to handle or touch most parts of their body to ensure their health, safety and for things like grooming and tacking. Stroking the horse all over will desensitize the horse to being touched and you can also stroke with different objects such as a whip or things like bags if you want to desensitize them to strange sounds.
- Yielding to Pressure: You can teach aspects of riding from the ground as well. Teaching a horse to respond to slight pressure is a good way to help them understand how to respond to leg pressure while riding. You can do this by putting pressure on areas such as above the ears for putting their head down, on the chest for moving backwards, on the hip to move aside, and pressure on the girth area to teach bending of the body.
- Working on a Lunge Line: Working the lunge line is a good way to teach your horse how to respond to body language which can then transfer to riding. This is also a good way to exercise a horse who has back issues without having to ride as often.
In summary, groundwork is the foundation to a good relationship with your horse and it is helpful in teaching the basics of what your horse needs to know for riding. When you have a horse that is already broken, groundwork can be a good reminder of some of these exercises. I learned through my experience in training through groundwork that you can learn a lot from a horse from how it responds to you on the ground.
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