Many horse owners seek training advice from Internet social boards or Forums. The most common questions are usually about how to get a horse to do something that they’re asking it to do, or how to fix a problem.
While it is difficult sometimes to get the true picture of what the problem is, most of the time the root cause is a lack of solid foundational training. A piece of the foundation training is either missing or needs to be improved upon.
The foremost thing that clinicians and trainers will tell you is if you can’t get a horse to do something on the ground they’re not going to miraculously do it for you under saddle. Just like building a house, building a horse is from the ground up. You start building your foundation on the ground and go from there. Riding should be just a repeat of what you’ve already done on the ground.
Numerous books have been written on the subject of ground work and while it is an extensive process that requires a ton of work, there are three basic areas you need to concentrate on when working on a horse’s foundation.
The very first goal to work towards is getting your horse soft through his face and following his nose. When you ask your horse to bring his head around to his side, do you have to pull or can you just pick up and his nose comes around? If you have to pull, he’s still not giving and soft so you have more work to do.
Can you stand in place and just point your hand to the left and get your horse to take a step with his left foot? If you have to pull to get your horse to take that step then guess what? He’s not learned how to follow his face and he’s not light enough.
The second thing to keep in mind when working on ground work is teaching a good solid stop. When you walk forward and then stop does your horse keep on walking? When you’re lunging and you ask your horse to stop does it take him a while to stop? If he does either of these then he’s definitely going to do the same thing under saddle. So work on getting a good stop on the ground before you ever get on.
The last point to remember is get control of the hips and shoulders. This is one of the hardest areas for people to work on but it’s a piece of the foundation that has the biggest reward. Control of the hips and shoulders is needed for simple things such as getting the correct lead, but it’s also critical for more advanced lateral work like side passes and half passes.
Can you move just your horse’s shoulders over? What about moving just his hips? If you can do these two maneuvers how much effort does it take? Are horse’s feet sticky?
In the beginning the goal can be as simple as do these two maneuvers because they are difficult and a little more advanced. However, as you progress in order to get your leads under saddle or perform a lateral movement you need to be able to do these two movements effortlessly. Lightness in these two moves is just as important as it is for getting them to give through their face or stop.
Even though a horse may be broke and competing, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a full foundation to their training. Any time a horse has problems accomplishing a maneuver go back and look at these three things in their foundation and see what area they’re a little weak. If you work on that one weak area you’ll not only improve the maneuver you were working on but you’ll also improve your horse’s foundation.
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