Friday, January 2, 2009


I have been chewing, (stewing?) on this subject for a while now. The longer I blog the more alternative opinions I run into. I try to be open in my thoughts, I really do. I have been given some interesting things to think about and have learned a bunch.
There has been one subject which keeps looming larger and higher in the horizon and is about to drive me crazy. It has to do with ground work and riding. How much is good? How much will keep me safe? How can I guarantee I've done enough? I think groundwork is becoming an excuse not to get up and ride. I see a tendency to stay on the ground longer and longer and spend more time avoiding getting into the saddle.
My horses have some basic groundwork I want them to have.
1.They have to lead. I mean freely and willingly walk with me on a relaxed lead rope.
2.My horses must stand tied. Alone and in groups. They don't have to like it, but they have to do it.
3.My horses must be respectful of my space. This is at all times. They can't bang into me, rub on me, or kick me in the heels when I'm leading them. This is when they are loose or tied, in the stall or out in a field. When I walk towards them I expect them to look at me with a pleasant expression and clear their hip away from me. Always.
4.My horses must stand quietly while I tack them up. This is when I saddle them or am just catching them in a field. They must keep their feet still while I tighten their cinch, clean their feet, or anything that makes me drop my head below their chest level.
5. My horses must stand quietly for the vet and farrier. They don't get to rear, kick, wiggle or goof.
6. My horses learn to longe. They walk, trot when I cluck and lope when I kiss. They take their leads in each direction. They stop when I say whoa. I don't worry about transitioning down.
7.Round Pen...see 6.

That's it. My concept of groundwork. The kicker here is, I consider all of this stuff a work in progress. An ongoing project, along with what I mainly do with my horse, which is ride her.
My whole goal with a horse has always been and always will be to ride. Not to spend days analyzing them at a walk or occasional trot as they go around a round pen or a longe line.
I have made sure I'm educated enough to know if my horse is lame. Or has a sore back.
Other than that, I'm going to ride. Period. I'm going to work on the ground stuff at the same time I'm working on my riding stuff.
I don't need my horse to learn to stand on a box, in a box or by a box. Unless I'm on her and want her in a box.
The only despooking I'm going to do is to make sure she doesn't buck me off when I put on my rain slicker. Which I do by rubbing her all over with said slicker until she doesn't care anymore. Then I get on her and take my slicker on and off. Then I hang my slicker on a fence and off a fence and sling it around. You know when I do this the first time? When it's going to rain and I need my slicker. It takes about ten minutes. If it takes longer I get wet.
As my life goes on with a horse I'm riding, things come up. I need to pull a kid on a sled? Well I guess we learn to pull. Going on a trail ride with 11 water crossings? I bet she'll be broke to cross water when we're done. Need to reach my Diet Pepsi off a fence post? We learn to get things off the fence post. See what I mean?
I'm a big believer in addressing things as they come up. As time goes by my horse gets better and better at doing what I ask. Because every ride entails successfully, or not so successfully, taking on a new challenge.
If it doesn't work out there's always tomorrow. The key point here is I'm riding my horse. I'm not getting hung up on the what ifs. The reality is if you don't just ride you won't ever get anything done. I'll work on my ground work as I catch him, saddle him and ride him. If I don't know how to do something I'll find a way to learn it, while riding my horse. She'll learn it when I do. In the mean time we'll be working on what we do know.
I feel the same way about bad attitudes, crooked ways of going, inability to take a lead etc. It's all stuff I have to work on, but I work on it while I'm riding. I don't feel a need to fix it on the ground first.
I had a horse come in for sixty days. He was a cute little paint colt. As I worked him I noticed he was curved to the right. He moved around like he was being set up to take his left lead. Which he did. All the time. He would pin his ears and wring his tail if we tried to move him around to the left on the longe. He obviously was uncomfortable.
I was still training out of the Big K's place at the time, so I asked him about it.
Keep in mind we knew the horse was sound and healthy.
"I've seen horses like this before," he said, "I've heard it's how they lay in the womb.
"I've always thought it could be as simple as the mare nursing them in a cramped stall, or they have a water bucket set funny. But I wouldn't worry about it, keep it in the back of your mind and make sure you have control of his ribs before you lope him."
So I didn't worry about it. What I did do was start him under saddle right away so I could start shaping his body with my legs as he travelled.
I long trotted the little paint a bunch. I focused on helping him travel straight lines and following his nose. I spiraled him up and down, at the trot, about 70% to the left. My reasoning was he needed to tighten the muscles on the left side of his body and loosen the ones on the right.
I taught him to trot deep with his head down and his nose extended, (think cowboy "chewy stretchy"). We worked on 90 degree turns, square corners and maintaining speed. I loped him, but I didn't ask for a lead at first. I simply got him to lope when I kissed. I ignored his slinging head and grumpy attitude. He never became lame or sore, but bending to the left felt completely wrong to him.
When we finally got around to the right lead I had control of his feet and shoulders. I stayed off his face, kept my inside leg at the cinch for support and my outside leg pushed his hip into the right lead. His head slung to the outside, he missed it a few times and then picked up his lead. By the time his owner took him home he was still crooked, but could WTC, was happy and responsive and knew his leads. Because of the consistent exercise, while I rode him, he became comfortable travelling to the left. As the years have gone by he has gotten better and better. But he will always be crooked and his owners will always have to work to keep him balanced. By riding him.
I am crooked. I have mild scoliosis and horrifying posture from an inbred "dowagers" hump. Gotta love that description. I look a little like a Turkey vulture with a list to the right. When things get bad I have to go in for some serious physical therapy. How does my therapist approach this? With strengthening. He gives me exercises which stretch my muscles on the right and strengthen the muscles on the left. Hmmmm.
I will always be crooked. I am achy. I limp when I first get up in the morning. I pin my ears and wring my tail until I get at least two cups of coffee. But as soon as I quit forcing myself to move I'll be done in. I have started running with my dogs. It sucks, but I refuse to lose any more of the mobility I started to lose as soon as I got chained to my desk. I have to keep riding. I don't want to have to stay on the ground. So I run. I stretch. I exercise. I can't imagine not doing the same for my horses.
There's a part two to this rant-o-rama. But I would like to get some input and thoughts.


  1. I need to think about this some more. I'm not sure I ever defined what exactly I require before I think a horse is ready to get on. But I think it's as ever, a moment individual to each horse / rider combo. I do agree that there are more timid riders out there, which I've said before that I believe stems from people growing up in cities and not getting a good early grounding in animal body language and behaviours. Adult beginners nearly always have more timidity problems in my experience.

    Re the paint: If you were a dressage rider mugs, that would be called riding him forward, to ride him straight, which is the first stepping stone towards teaching bend. (Very badly paraphrased Alois Podhajsky)

  2. I agree with this post. Too many people spend so much time on groundwork, and never ride. I know, because I did it. I WAS scared to get up and wanted everything perfect on the ground FIRST. I can now say, the last two times I went sorting, there is NO ROOM to lunge, so I just got on and flexed her to both sides adn moved her hindquarters to get her attention- FROM UPTOP! Also, sure, I can spend hours, days, months and work with her on the ground- she will move her hips, shoulders, ribs ect from my finger, but once in the saddle - NOPE, so I shouldnt have wasted so much time on the ground, and got more done from uptop earlier on. I think we would be a lot further along now if I didnt waste so much time on groundwork. JMO

  3. I purchased my current horse when she was just 3 months old and took her home as soon as she was weaned. I feel kind of lucky to have had those two and a half years to just play with her and build a bond with her. By the time she was ready to ride, she did all the things you mentioned except cantering on the longe line. She was walking and trotting but I held back on the cantering because of her age and a tendon issue she had. In addition to your requirements, my horse would load in the trailer, stand to be clipped, and stand quietly for a bath. I used to take her for walks and whatever we happened to encounter would get dealt with, but I didn't make things up to introduce her to. She is a wonderful horse today with impeccable ground manners. She respects me and I respect her. That certainly helps...

    Sometimes I'll get her out, brush her, pamper her, and then take her to eat grass. Or I'll just walk into the pasture with a brush and scratch her all over. She loves to have her belly scratched! I enjoy spending time with her without expecting anything from her in return. No riding, no working... just spending time together. She has the manners for it, though. Some of the other horses at the barn push people around, rub on them, and just crowd their space.

    I think she works harder for me than any other horse I've ever owned and I attribute it to all the quality time we spent together and all the ground work we did when she was young. She's the first horse I ever started from the ground up.

  4. Everything I've been taught is the same as you've said. You can't spend time thinking about the 'what if's'.... you just have to get on and go.

    I struggle thinking about the 'what if's' with my gelding who can be a bit "reactive" about stuff he doesn't understand and he is reactive without warning. But every time I get on him and we have a successful ride, I gain confidence. I'm guessing he does too. I'm hoping that if something scares him, he'll pause to check in with me - that he'll begin to trust me and look to me first.

    yeah - I'm not looking forward to finding out what he does when I'm on him and he has a really bad scare... maybe it won't happen. Maybe it will.

    Dunno. Maybe I'll walk outside and get hit by a bus. Maybe I won't. You just never know what this life has in store for you and there isn't any use fretting about the bad things that could happen.

    But yeah - I have to give myself that little speech a lot. So y'know I'm not all blase' and super cool about it... tho' I try really hard not to let my 'what if's' hinder me!

  5. I hear you about the too much groundwork and not enough "saddle time " the last colt I srarted is my saddle horse Johnie Handsome. I was having "chickenshit syndrome" and had done every thing but get on him. Finally I bored myself and him I am sure and just stepped up, I am sure if he could talk he would have said"its about time!"
    Bravest horse I have ever known and will do anything I ask (if I ask it right)
    Also I agree about he "move it or loose it" I have Lupus and a few chronic pain issues and if I don't stay active I am a write off.

  6. Hey, very OT...

    I have read your blog a few times and really like what yo have to say. I was just curious, where did you get "Mugwump"? A friend of mine had a dog with that name (sort of...) and I always wondered what it meant.

  7. Amen, mugwump! The solution to most of the problems I've encountered is always "ride more."

    Shanster - I spent a couple years battling "The Fear." Every single time I'd go to get on a horse, I'd think to myself, "Welp, it's a beautiful day and I've had a wonderful life and maybe this horse will flip out and kill me, but I'm gonna ride anyway!" And I'd ride. It's pretty funny that we have basically the same coping mechanism.

  8. If I waited til my horse was sacked out in a round pen to ride, I'd still be bound to the ground. Our experiences together are much better when we're relaxed and riding. Neither of us likes a lot of groundwork, though I do have a round pen and I do use it. I like to ride in it to work on ME, my skills. As I become more confident, the rest seems to take care of itself.

  9. I was watching someone lunge her horses the other day with a blag bag tied to the surcingle. One of them freaked so she is going to do it to him again. Now I haven't done this with my boy because I don't see the point, but if I did I doubt he would raise and eyebrow. Yet he spooked the other day when a bag came blowing over some reeds and up over our heads. Fair enough, and more likely to happen than a bag attaching itself to his back.

    Mugs if you've written about this before, please point me to that post, but how exactly do you teach a horse to lead softly and with a loose rope? Mine does it, kind of, but he often stops, switches sides and absolutely won't walk next to me, he is always lagging behind. How do I get him to walk shoulder to shoulder? This is important to me because I lead my 6 year old around on him and I would prefer being where I can see her, especially when we trot a bit. (Just short distances, mom's lungs and legs won't last for much!) Thanks!

  10. I enjoyed this rant-o-rama.

    And I pretty much agree with everything you said. You can't possibly for everything you might experience while out on the trail.

    How do you prepare for a bear or mountain lion sighting?
    How do you prepare for odd angles and objects changed by the snow?

    I went out riding on Christmas Eve. My friend and I were almost back home when we walked through a neighborhood and past some 'obstacles', a wagon wheel and an inflatable snowman on the ground.

    These were obstacles that my horse and my friend's horse were familiar with, but somehow believed them to be new because of the snow cover.

    We decided to desensitize them to these familiar objects...she ad her horse to the snowman and me and my horse to the wagon wheel.

    We introduced ourselves to the snow covered wagon wheel and my mare sniffed and snorted until she was bored.

    We turned to head over to my friend and her horse by the snowman and....everything happened in an instant.

    My horse was spooked by something, probably my neighbor's snorting gelding, or the sun glinting off the snow. Who knows.

    But she jigged and jumped sideways and I didn't follow. I slipped out of the saddle and onto the ground. My foot got snagged and now I'm looking at surgery for a torn meniscus and ACL and months of physical therapy and rehab.

    I think the best you can do to prepare you and your horse for trails is to have the basics down pat....and then to ride as often as you can....and always be ready for the unexpected.

    New Mexico

  11. That will teach me to preview my comments. Sorry, it's late where I am. Meant to say black bag.

    LOL, the word verification is IOUNITS.

  12. Heila- I'll drive you nuts. I WANT them to lead behind me...we need some showmanship at halter people to chime in here!

  13. mugwump, I was trained by old school team ropers and reiners who taught me to do just enough groundwork to get a horse comfortable with the saddle and some basic checking up (usually took about a week) and then get on them and go. I, too, think many people do way too much groundwork cause they're scared to do that work from the horse's back. I don't think all that groundwork benefits the horse, it just keeps the rider safe.

    I don't break colts any more, but I am amused at those folks who are suprised that I always get on my broke horses "cold". I saddle them and climb on. Then I warm them up. No I don't longe them or warm them up from the ground, even if they've had three weeks off due to rain. Yes, sometimes they are a little fresh. But if I can't ride them when they're fresh, I don't want to own them.

  14. I just have to say I like the mental image that comes along with imagining a person who pins her ears and wrings her tail. :)

  15. You guys know I get afraid-I've talked about it a lot. I have had to make myself ride more than once.
    But it seems every time I ride, the next one is easier. Every time I let myself work on the ground, it's harder the next time I need to ride.
    Mugwump-A person who sees both sides of an issue....that's me to a T.
    Laughing Orca-Ouch. I've always felt it's more important to be able to ride a spook than prevent one. But in your case, stuff just happens. Situations like yours are the kind I always get hurt in.

  16. Laura Crum- I still have horses I'll longe or work in the round pen if they're fresh. But it's dwindling. One is your buddy Pete. He's about over it, but he has a funny little glint in his eye sometimes. My goal is to be able to crawl on them all cold. But I'll longe if I need to. My yellow horse is just this year gotten to where I can just crawl on. It's also the first year she's ever been out on pasture. Go figure.

  17. Well, mugwump, you know I never keep them in a stall--they've all got room to run and buck and play. So that helps. And all the horses I ride right now are in their double digits. That helps, too. Pete and your yellow mare are both six, right? I believe you and I agreed that Pete was still too young and squirrelly for lazy old me. Otherwise I might be on my way out to Colorado to try him (!)

  18. Ok, I'll be the dissenting opinion on this one.

    Certainly no one could argue that there aren't a lot of people and a lot of schools of thought that advocate more time on the ground than is probably necessary and or helpful.

    Certainly good saddle time is the way to make a solid riding horse.

    That being said, I think there are good reasons for doing more groundwork than mugs mentions either before or preferably concurrently with saddle time. (note, I dont know if you were trying to argue for doing only the stuff you mentioned.)

    Principally, in my (limited) experience, groundwork can help compensate for weaknesses in one's riding. I think that might be affecting your point of view on this, mugs, since you've spent so much time riding all day every day.

    I'll give a parallel to this post's example from my experience:

    A horse who had trouble picking up his right lead.

    We had spent some time under saddle working on this, and I could get the lead but it took a half hour and everyone was frustrated by the end. Could mugs have fixed this under saddle, obviously yes, but, this poor gelding was stuck with me, just doing the best I could. So big R (who's back is way too bad for this sort of thing) suggested long lines.

    I was able to help him bend, I was able to offer instant, unambiguous correction when he picked up the wrong lead, and, very importantly, I was able to stay the hell out of his way. A better rider could have dispensed with this, as I said, but I'm still learning and it wasnt fair to him to ask him to do something difficult when I couldn't help.

    Long story short, it worked. He figured out what I wanted, and he had the freedom to figure out how to do it, and to practice and get better. So when I asked under saddle he was much better equipped to do what he was asked. And I took it from there.

    There are a lot of other ground work things I think can help when problems arise. As I've gotten more saddle time myself I don't do as much on the ground anymore, but when I reach the limits of my skills (and I humbly admit that this is no rare phenomenon) I often wind up back on the ground.

  19. Thank you for giving those of us who prefer the saddle to the ground PERMISSION to work that way! Luckily, today I have a trainer who works that same way.

    Agree there are certain things that the round pen is helpful with, but most of what I have accomplished, I have learned in the saddle. But its almot taboo any more to admit it. We are trail riders -- some things on the trail just can't be emulated in a round pen. Teaching a horse on the trail is part of the sport.

  20. Glory Halalluya-someone else who thinks the endless groundwork is pointless!!
    Teaching and reinforcing ground manners IS a daily task, but at some point you just have to get on and RIDE!!

    Most horses that get messed with continually on the ground are so bored they cannot express themselves any other way than to get pissy about things. If people would just realize that if they just got on and rode those horses a lot of the issues that they keep working on would go away. Horses that know what work is don't waste their energy trying to get away with nearly as much-they learn to appreciate a little groundwork time. It then becomes a form of relaxation not an endless routine of boring repetitious games that NEVER stop.

    Years and years ago, when I trained WP horses, everyone insisted that you needed to lunge every single time before you rode...what I ended up with was horses that you could not just throw a saddle on and ride. They got to where they needed that lunging time before they were ready to ride. That doesn't work too well when you have horses or cows get out or an emergency and you have to take the time to lunge your horse before you can head out. So I stopped doing that pretty quickly. Took a few humpy rides to get those colts over it, but they learned that from the time they are saddled they were expected to ride right out. I think they even started progressing faster in their training and consistency too.

    My mom has really gotten into all of this groundwork stuff though and was silly enough to tell me the other day that a coming 4y/o that is ready to be started needed at least 3 to 4 months of groundwork before he would be ready to ride. Now mind you this is a perfectly gentle colt, halter-broke-leads and ties and you can trim his feet. He may need a couple of WEEKS of regular handling, grooming, leading, some lunging and sacking out before he goes to the trainer(he is too tall for me to even contemplate starting)but that is about it. Three or four months would create nothing but a mess.

  21. You are talking about me and my mare to a T (when you talked about paint colt). I have horrible posture, but I don't really feel "off" to one side or another. On my blog, I've been receiving some pretty good advice on how to strengthen my mare's left side. We can lope to the right and 9 times out of 10 she picks up the right lead right away. To the left, I wonder why I even bother because she drops her head like she's going to buck, she never picks up the correct lead and for the longest time I couldn't even get her to lunge to the left. Now she lunges to the left. I did notice that when she's free, she goes to the left more than the right though. But I still have problems while riding and doing things to the left, which makes me think it is just me and not so much her. I need some of your consistent exercises to use while I'm riding to help with her toning.

    What kind of groundwork helps for your first trail ride? lol That's the thing I'm worried about for this year. I would LOVE to trail ride, but short of walking her down the paths on foot first each time, I don't know what else to do besides pop on my brain bucket before I mount and head out.

    I not a trainer, obviously, but my trainer did about zero groundwork with my mare before he hopped up on her. The groundwork she had before him, taught to me by other trainers, was walking and stopping and learning how to lunge. That was it. Nothing else. Those were the only things I could do because I couldn't ride. Maybe that's why he didn't do any of that, even though by the time he got to her she was really high strung and nervous and we couldn't even walk her out to cool her down because she'd work herself up more.

    Ok, sorry, taking up all this space. I can't wait to read all the comments and your next post to see what you brainstormed about :)

  22. Gillian-I think you're missing the point. You used long lines to fix something. Then you got back on right? You also continued learning to ride correct? What I'm railing on is the group of folks who use ground work as an excuse not to ride.
    Your using long lines is no different than me rubbing my horse down with a slicker before I crawled up there and put the slicker on. My point is once the horse got his lead you got back on correct?
    I also notice you're perfectly willing to accept responsibility for your share of the horse's frustration.
    It's when the ground work becomes an excuse to not tackle what should be handled from there back that I become impatient.

  23. Ezra-I will do a more thorough post on the crooked will be a few days.

  24. Thank you, thank you. I will anxiously await. As I do for all of your posts :)

  25. I totally agree that you have to get on. I miss my youthful days when I never even thought twice about it.

    I had a bad fall recently and I will admit I'm full of excuses lately about why I can't ride. Then yesterday happened...

    Mugs - What would you do if a normally well behaved horse went all crazy on you? I don't even know what to think right now. Tax freaked so bad at the fire-breathing, horse-eating llamas that I have to admit I'm intimidated right now. He started rearing and leaping tied to the trailer and was so panicked I could see his heart pounding and his whole body trembling. He stared and snorted and tried to crush me against the trailer. He tried to kick my sister every time she tried to get his saddle on. I finally gave up and took him for a walk. When we were further away (he could still see the dreaded beasts but they weren't dangerously close) I just let him walk around me in circles because he wouldn't stand still. I didn't want him to hurt anyone so we did that until he finally calmed down enought to try grazing. By then it was getting dark and I had to start loading up. I feel like I gave up. Wouldn't you know that the spooky mare was on her best behavior and had no problem with demon llamas or the twacked out horse she came with. LOL

  26. Ok, thoughts.

    Mugs are you asking here: At what point does feel the fear and do it anyway become bad advice?
    I struggle with this rather with big fences these days - I've had a couple of nice smashes. It's an ongoing question and battle of wills with myself.

    My minimum requirements for a first ride are:

    a, Horse has accepted me as boss, and is in its comfort zone with me.
    I can walk around, lean against, touch all over, handle feet, lead it etc with it being respectful, and without it either tensing, getting in my face, or zoning out on me.

    b, Horse has the give to pressure reflex solidly established.
    I do not mean it must side pass and reverse 20 feet in an L shape or waltz in circles on cue, just give to rein / halter pressure and move away from pressure on its sides when cued to.

    c, Horse is comfortable with tack, and has w, t, & c, with it on in a relaxed manner. Horse must know basic lunge cues both body language and verbal.
    Whoa must be solidly established.
    (Stand as a cue comes later.)

    That's about it. I won't get on till I and the horse are comfortable. Sometimes it's days sometimes it's weeks. Each horse is individual.

    I like them to lead (pony) from another horse properly too, but that's not essential.

    I don't round pen btw, it's a very useful tool if you have one but when I started, they were not common in the UK, and tbh, I don't really feel it's that necessary.

    Mostly, I just 'know' when the horse and I am ready. Which sounds stupid and new-ageish I guess.

    What does occur to me is - had I ever had a bad accident with a youngster - I might find that that sense of 'knowing' was compromised by my own tension. Then it gets complicated - are you misreading the horse because of your own tension, are you influencing the horse due to tension, are you ignoring your own correct tension because you're overcompensating for your own anticipated tension?
    I guess at that point, you need to ask for help. Or just get on and see I suppose, but that's for people younger than me these days.

    As to lunging an established horse before you get on... *groans* God, I have seen SO many dressage people for whom this is a reflex, and I hate it. If you have a seriously cold backed or sharp horse it makes sense or one that's stabled 24 / 7 but imo, 9 out of 10 times it isn't necessary.

    Quite a few pros do it as a matter of course though and I suppose I can see the sense from their pov - injuries are expensive, riders rarely have good healthcare plans and if lunging for 30mins reduces that chance of rider injury... of course, it's not always so good for the horse.

    Mostly, I prefer to get on and make it plain that the behaviors are not acceptable, rather than the tacit acceptance of them that is implied by 'letting him have his buck out' or 'getting the sillyness out of him'. There's always an exception though.

  27. fyyahchild-This is a scary scary thing. This is the reality of horses. Why we have to be able to ride to our best in case this stuff happens when we're on them.
    Your horse freaked out on llamas. A lot of horses do. There is no way you should have ridden him, you made the right choice. This was not a time to be tough.
    BUT. I would not have taken him for a walk. I would have left his dumb-bunny self tied to the trailer until the cows came home.
    I would have encouraged everybody else to go on their ride and I would have sat in the car and let him scream and holler and be as hysterical as he wanted. No soothing words from me. No punishment either.
    I would seriously plan on returning to the llama site and leaving him tied to the trailer until he learns to stand quietly.
    Over and over. He wouldn't get to graze until he stood quietly looking at the llamas.
    The only time I would have punished him would have been for running around me when he should have been politely leading. BUT he wasn't in a safe mind-set, so he should have been tied to the trailer, not being led. Don't be discouraged. You can help him handle this. But you need to just tie his hienie up and figure out he isn't going to die.

  28. fd-everything you say makes sense. It's the thought that training every move, reading every flick of an ear or glance, translating every move a horse makes in an attempt at complete control will keep someone safe.That having a horse broke on the ground=safe under saddle. It doesn't. What keeps a rider safe is riding. Lots of riding.

  29. I suppose a good analogy for this is the car one - you can learn all about engines and hydraulics and how to take things apart and put them back together, but none of that'll teach you how to handle a car skidding on an icy road.

  30. I'm right there with you about doing all of this stuff under saddle. The only thing I really draw a line on is schooling my horse over jumps--and I do that using long reins (some horses can just take off over jumps just fine, but she gets worried and clearly needs to sort herself out without a rider--I'm also not that advanced a jump rider, so I want her solid before I mount up.)

    That said, I do find ground driving/long lining useful for schooling when there's a persistent bending problem, or a minor muscle lameness which needs to be worked out, but not under saddle. With ground driving you're not stuck in a circle.

    But all that other ground work stuff? Shoot, a lot of it gets covered if you're ever teaching a horse to perform for Showmanship. Piece o' cake.

  31. Nice rant and great comments.

    Agreed, it is time under saddle that makes the saddle horse. No arguments here. And yes, I own horses so that I can ride.

    Looking forward to the next post.

  32. I agree there is such a thing as too much ground work. I agree basically with what you want from a horse, but most importantly I want the horse to look to me for direction when stressed, trust me. It usually doesn't take long for some trust to build with basic handling and lunging. Depending on the horse, I may ground drive before the first ride to reinforce what that thing in his mouth is for. This has never taken me more than a couple of weeks for a horse getting worked consistently 3-5 times per week. I don't enjoy the ground work, so the sooner it's over the better.

    I equate ground work vs. riding for the horse to the difference between driving a car and a truck; the view is completely different and can make old things look new. It doesn't matter how many times a horse has seen a plastic bag with you leading him, when he sees one while you are riding it can be a new and scary monster. He must learn to look to his human for stability, comfort and direction. You can't stop a spook, but you can condition how your horse spooks.

    I completely agree that lunges a broke horse cripples the rider and the horse. Usually once I start riding a horse, the lunging is done.

    On a side note, Flair’s first ride will be this week, after less than two weeks of sporadic actual work (and two years of other horses and lack of time for her). She was ready today. I ran out of time as I want ample, unrushed time to get to a good, healthy stopping point. I can hardly wait!

  33. I'm a 52 year old re-rider with a permanent screw in one ankle from a mare who stopped suddenly and damaged my leg/ankle/heel badly. Forever. It also forever damaged my self confidence which was never solid to begin with.

    That said there are 2 things that .must. be in place before I climb aboard.

    1. standing still while mounting and dismounting. Rock solid. We will work on this on the ground till it's solid enough to suit me. I have help the first few times, but the ground work I've done with leading and teaching a solid stop generally make it a non issue.

    2. knowing what whoa means. Again, it's the stop that counts when you are on top. It's the first thing I work on, and it's the one thing I work on *no matter what* at the beginning and end of every ride. I don't want to have to depend on reins or the bit because when you get frightened you often lose your reins or in the case of beginners, they are too long to work well.

    Other than that, the way I keep fear at bay is to DO IT. Get on and at least walk. There is no substitute for moving. There is no other way that I've found to overcome my fear than to find where it begins and work at the edges. Then when those edges crumble and I'm okay there....move toward something else that makes me worried.

    The summer of '08 I leased my mare to a young woman who became afraid of her and my solution was for her to ride every day. Guess what happened? She got over it.

    Just like Nike says "Just DO it!"

  34. joycemocha-we need some showmanship input.....on getting your horse to lead happily and willingly at your shoulder. I don't lead that way, but I 100% see why Heila needs her horse to. I'd rather hear from a showmanship person than me,it's more what she's looking for. Any thoughts?

  35. mugs, I think that's fair enough. I caught a lot of flack from Mr. Gods gift to horse and rider for using groundwork instead of getting on and riding. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has been pressured to give up groundwork even when its serving a useful purpose. So it does seem to swing both ways.

  36. Joycemocha... I completely agree! My mare is a wonderful showmanship horse and I think that has a lot to do with her ground manners. The process of teaching her showmanship demanded respect from her and she learned to stay at my shoulder, step away from me when I step into her, and also to stand where I put her until I ask her to move.

  37. I agree with what you've said. That is why I sold the two year old that I had. She could do everything I asked on the ground next to me, yet I had an irrational fear of getting on her back. While I did do it, I really think that I was giving her some mixed signals, she never did anything wrong. Stupidly my fear came after she kicked me in the chest, obviously we were on the ground, and more importantly I should have done what I did when I scared her into kicking. She never did that again and I tried getting her to do it so we could nip it in the bud if it was an issue. But getting on her was just not going to happen, so I sold her to someone that got on her the third day of owning her and is having a blast, because all my ground work and wasted time for me, worked wonders for her.
    Side note: What is your take on leaving a horse tied when you know they pull back all the time. I'm a believer in let them throw their fit and when they are done they can stand some more. None of my horses pull back and when they have they pull then quit. I see other people that never tie their horse because it pulls back and they don't want it to get hurt. I don't know what they do when they come across the situation that their horse has to be tied.

  38. To get mine to lead next to my shoulder, I keep a small whip, long enough to reach their behind and just tap their butt to keep them going forward. It will take time to get them to understand what you want, but keep with it. When they do what you ask, even if it's not exactly where you want them, stop tapping. You will need to start with them at your shoulder at a stand still, tap them and when they move forward, you move forward, try not to ask them to stop, then you just get into mixed signals. you want forward movement as long as you are getting it, try not to interfere too much with it. Obviously your safety is most important. But once the idea of "oh I'm supposed to be here not there" gets into their head, you can back them off if they get ahead of you. Sorry this is not written well, I have a hard time explaining things, it's easier to show you.

  39. Heila-Read Foxtrotters comments...what she said.

  40. Okay. Showmanship stuff (disclaimer, I'm far from an expert, but I learned it in 4-H and I've practiced it with my current trainer as well as talked about it with his wife who has shown Showmanship, who has it all broken down into complex details).

    I've mostly done this with adult horses, though if I dredge my brain enough, I think I can remember what I did with the first pony (who came to me as a youngster).

    And note a possible disagreement with some--I will use a stud chain or at least a rope over the nose to begin with. It's there as a cue, not a discipline measure, and after a few days or so, you can fade the reminder and get rid of it. I also carry a dressage whip.

    Start out with horse's ears at your shoulder. Trainer's wife told me that she always trains her Showmanship horses that they start with her left foot and stop off of her right foot. Hey, she's won well in Showmanship, so it's doable.

    Make sure that you are not choking up on your lead rope. You want at least 6-12 inches between your hand and the lead snap. Longer is better, but you may have to go shorter to keep the stud chain from pulling when you don't want it to swing. Cluck to the horse as you take that first step. Stop a few steps later, with fewer steps if the start isn't prompt, more steps if it is. If the horse drags back or does not step off promptly, tap it with your dressage whip (not hit but a simple, annoying tap. Think dripping faucet type of annoyance).

    In any case, you start moving. Then you want to stop. Last step with your right foot, breathe "whoa." Do NOT turn around to face horse. If Horsie doesn't pay attention, take up some tension on the stud chain and repeat "whoa." Then you face the horse and back it up promptly two or three steps, using the stud chain to reinforce the cue by putting LIGHT pressure on it (Note: in current showmanship competition, you back the horse without turning to face it. That's not the goal here. The goal here is to reinforce the slight pressure from your hand for whoa. If you want to compete in Showmanship, you'll eventually have to retrain that cue.) Don't forget to release that pressure, turn around, and immediately start off again until you hit a good quitting moment (this should not be worked on for more than 10-15 minutes, max).

    Ideally, what you want is a horse that moves off when you do, stops when you do, backs up and will move haunches, forehand, or whole body with just a cluck, based on wherever your body is positioned, and whatever pressure you give from your hand. You shouldn't need a tight contact to maintain control except in exciting situations, and if you start losing your horse's attention, then a quick whoa-back gets it back.

    In my experience, working with my trainer with a couple of rehabs, a few short sessions of alternately tapping (for prompt start) and pressure/back two-three steps quickly cues the horse to pay attention. You want to get to the point where the horse watches you, and cues off of the slightest move of your hand.

    The other thing to deal with is the pocket pony. That's a space issue. Pocket ponies will practically step on your heels to stay with you. Frequent starts and stops, and a discreet finger poke in the neck or jowl combined with a soft growl usually discourages the pocket pony.

    Then there's teaching the horse to stand square (my old Sparkle witch embarrassed me at one 4-H show by dropping her head and sagging one hind foot every time I looked away from her. She wasn't a Showmanship girl!). Haunches turns and forehand turns. Sidepassing. Trotting in hand. In all of these, the goal is to get the horse to respond to the position of your body, and the position of your free hand (as well as a soft cluck). Ideally, you should be able to cue a forehand turn by standing just behind the shoulder, pointing your finger, and clucking. Forehand turns are harder than haunches turns, btw.

    All those skills are applicable in handling. Being able to turn on haunches and forehand gives you more manueverability and control on the ground, and you never know when you might need to do that. Pointing and clucking to move a tied horse over when you want it to move not only looks better than slapping or shoving the horse over, but it's also easier on you and the horse. Plus it's a pretty impressive alleyway trick to show off to beginners (grin).

    I teach ground tie simply because I've needed to saddle a horse in a situation where I couldn't tie it up (again, the Sparkle witch mare). It's also useful if you need to rearrange ground poles, cones, etc in the arena and you don't want to drag Horsie around with you.

    The biggest key in all this is consistency. Use the same cues in grooming and moving your horse somewhere (into stalls, between pastures, when cross-tied) that you would do while schooling showmanship. Doing this also makes sense to the horse and gives it a structure it can understand.

  41. Hmm, I'm with you mugs, my groundworks pretty to the point and basic. When I started my first 2 y/o, a halter baby, I lunged her a few times, roundpenned her a few times, put a saddle on one day (she didn't care), lunged her with that and then got on. With my next 2 y/o who I raised from a foal I put the saddle on one day, he didn't care, took it off and decided to start him bareback. However with my 3 y/o I struggled through some random groundwork from a clinton anderson book and had a few rodeos when saddling him the first few times (he was untouched and kinda halter trained when I got him), after he was sorta okay with the saddle (usually when he was tired), I decided to skip the whole saddle nonsense and start him bareback. Evidently riding him sacked him out pretty well for the saddle b/c I never had much for issues saddling him after that. I guess I just get on when A)I feel good about it or B) I think I'm going to want to stall forever so I get on to get it over with... One thing I did notice was that with the 3 y/o, he was better and more sensitive about some of the groundwork stuff and that seemed to carry through under saddle. Anyway I find that less groundwork works for me. I don't lunge before I ride either, when your first horse is energetic and 35 y/o and you don't own a lounge line, it never occurs to you to lounge other horses ever. Of course I'm still a kid and my 'invincibility complex' as you all seem to call it, is probably still intact :)

  42. I don't have many thoughts other than "amen." I've been saying for years that you can't fix everything on the ground. It just isn't possible. I got criticized for riding the VLC while he was still bad about the girth and picking up his feet, but now he rides AND he stands to be cinched AND he picks up his feet...all at the same time. So if his training was supposed to fail miserably because I didn't do everything in the correct order according to the Internet Police...well, it didn't.

    I longe a little bit, with greenies. I just want to see if there is a hump in their back. Most of them, if they can buck a few times, they are done and won't do it under saddle. I just read where some crazy idiot on COTH was longeing a horse for an HOUR AND A HALF before riding. An OTTB. OK, first of all, at that point you ARE making it more fit and not quieter, and second of all, you are going to blow its legs all to hell. I mean, what kind of a psycho does that?

  43. >>But you need to just tie his hienie up and figure out he isn't going to die.<<

    LOL did that today with a TB filly who didn't want to tie. She got tied to the beam and got to watch me work with Sly. She had a tantrum. Then she pawed. Then she gave up. Now, apparently, she ties. Voila.

  44. Thanks for the advice. I worry too much that a horse will hurt itself when they act up. I can totally see your point and how letting him graze was like rewarding poor behavoir. I was only thinking about how to calm him down. What do you guys tie in? He's only ever had one little spook while tied before (nothing like yesterday's theatrics) and snapped his lead rope in half. I can just imagine chasing the hysterical freak across the county.

    Regardless we're going back to that park to practice and we're going on the ride later in the month and if he freaks so be it.

  45. My trainer was a national champion, he also felt that the Parellis system, for example, kept people on the ground and made them more and more insecure in order to sell them more courses and gadgets.

    He told me that he used ground work to get into the saddle, and the rest the work is done from the saddle. It is a tool to get onto the horse and to set manners, more groundwork ruins the rules you set. Instead of the rules being set and moving on, the horse is constantly drilled in those rules and learns ways to get around them, balk them and gets sour to them.

  46. Good rant. I was one of the scaredy cats on the ground with my first horse. She was a fire breathing demon! What she really was was a very hot, extremely well trained OTTB. After four months of wasting time on the ground, i finally sucked it up and rode her. She was great fun and taught me so much for many years.

    Nowadays, ground work sounds boring to me. Plus I can't lunge my horse at all at this point, too tight of a circle for him. I figure when i'm leading him and he tries to blow past me because of a spook, and I make his ass go backwards at a good clip, that's our ground work.

    I love your blog!

  47. Thanks for all the ideas about leading, I will definitely try it.

  48. Fyyahchild, I would not tie your horse to the trailer when you go back to visit the llamas. I've heard stories of horses ripping off the trailer ties. I would find a big sturdy tree to tie to.

  49. AMEN...To everyone! I totally agree that ground work can help...but only to a point. I can't believe the things that are sold at where I work that have to do with "ground working" my trainer also does a limited amount of ground work before he gets on a young horse. I am also a believer in not doing much with babies until they are about 2 years old. When they are born, I will mess with them quiet a bit since they are small enough that you can kind of in a lack of better terms, "manhandle" them. When they are a few days old and accepting me to be around them and touch them, I will introduce them to the halter. I will not pull on them, just put it on and let them carry it for a few days(if the space they are in is safe to leave a halter on. then I will put them in a stall and put a lead rope on and do the pull and release thing. once they are leading around fairly well, I turn them out in the pasture and leave them alone for the most part. I will go out there and mess with them, but not daily. Then when they are weaned is when the halter breaking gets more serious. once they lead and they are over being away from mom, I turn them out and leave them until it is time to bring them in to start. (and yes I do go out there and mess with them so they don't forget who I am and when I need to worm or vaccinate.) I just think that babies need to learn to be horses and be left alone for the most part as they are doing their growing up. I have had people tell me I should do some ground work with them, but I have been around those that have been messed with every day since they were born and those horses are spoiled, numb and boy do they put on a show when they don't get their way!!
    Thats just my opinion...great post Mugs

  50. Fyyahchild-I tie in a rope halter with a climbing rope lead rope knotted onto the halter OR a bull snap on a climbing rope clipped to my halter. I also have a knife handy and use a good quick release knot. But you'd be surprised at how long I wait before I untie a fit-throwing horse. (See my Captain story)
    Anon has a good point on making sure your horse won't damage your trailer. I have an old Titan three-horse stock type thing. There is no danger of a horse pulling that trailer apart. None. But I have seen the ties on the Aluminum trailers go popping off in every direction.

  51. slipping-you work your babies in a very similar way that Laura Crum does. Sane and good for the babies. I'm a negligent mess. I just scratch on them a little and ignore them. We halter break when its time for their first trim. (Sorry Ed) My shoer, Ed, is a saint and a good hand so he usually forgives me.
    I worm them by wrestling them down. Now this is not my idea of good horse-handling. It's just laziness and time constraints. I did take the time to halter break my colt and get him willing to be handled before I kicked him out in the 80 acres. I'm glad I did, because now I catch him a time or two every month, lead him around a little and then let him go. It's been easy on us both.
    This summer I'll saddle him a little, do a little ground stuff and get him ready to start this fall. But it will be minimal.

  52. I work horses on the ground much like you. I deal with it when it becomes a problem for as long as it takes.
    However, I tend to take it a step further with babies. I like to lunge them for a month or so with no rider, and it has nothing to do with obedience and more to do with letting a horse learn to carry himself, and then build the muscle to carry me before I burden him with his own clumsy weight as well as my own. It is a lot /easier/ and more fun to fit a horse up from riding, but I think it is much kinder to allow the horse to do some of it on his own (especially the two-year-olds that have been wandering in a field all their life).

  53. I agree with you for the most part, Mugwump. Before I got my current project, I would have agreed with you a lot more! He threw me very badly a couple months ago spooking at something. I now lunge him every time before I get on, and some days I don't get on at all if he is having a spooky day. He gets lunged until he is calm, and then we go for a walk. Most other horses I will still get on and just ride, but he takes some special treatment. He is getting better, though. Yesterday I only had to lunge for five minutes before I got on.

  54. dressage in jeans- I always worry about longing or round penning a young horse. It's hell on their joints. So to me it's a toss up.
    liri- we're on the same page. My goal is to get my horses to prefer I ride without needing to longe them. Which means they can't be planning on dumping me. I have never said I don't work my horses on the ground, just that my goal is to get on ASAP.

  55. I completely agree, which is why I don't lunge very long (or when they're very young--ugh). ;) 15 minutes is plenty of time to begin to build muscle, and in a 60ft. circle, the horse should be okay as long as it isn't hauling ass around the round pen, lol!