You do groundwork for several reasons. Think about learning to deal with human requests and keeping an optimal connection with your horse. But another important reason is also that you try to keep your horse mentally and physically fit and this is only possible when you make groundwork a little bit more challenging each time.
Often people tend to do the same exercises over and over. There is nothing challenging about this, nor physical or mentally. The horse becomes less motivated every time so you too stop enjoying it and this results that not a lot of groundwork is being done anymore because “groundwork is boring….”
This is a shame, because also after years, groundwork can still be very enjoyable! I am pleased to give you 5 ways to make sure groundwork doesn’t become boring but instead remains interesting and challenging for both you and your horse!
1. Start working with obstacles
By integrating obstacles during groundwork, every exercise can be made more challenging. Every basic groundwork exercise can be combined with 1 or more obstacles. Some examples:
* Lead work
Lead your horse over a tarpaulin, through a fly screen, through water, … Also, let your horse stop on the tarpaulin or in the water, backwards through the fly screen, … Practise this in the 3 lead positions : from the lead position, from the partner position, and from the drive position.
* Circle work
Place a small jump and let your horse circle around over the jump, send your horse through a narrow passage from the circle, let the horse change directions between two cones with flags on top, ….
* Touching exercises
When your horse loves to be stroked all over by your hands, teach him to be trustful when being touched with all sorts of foreign objects, varying from a bright coloured flag to a rustling bag.
2. Put together new groundwork sequences.
A groundwork sequence is a succession of groundwork exercises that are done several times in a row. You practice these groundwork sequences until it goes smooth and easy. Depending on the difficulty, you are often working on a sequence 1 to 3 weeks. After that you change your sequence here and there or you make a complete new one.
This way you can put together countless different groundwork sequences, from very easy to very difficult. Because once one can be done very well, you just make a new one! By doing sequences you can work with less and less aids. Your body language becomes better, you and your horse will become more and more attuned to each other.
3. Train in unknown places
Most people train in their own paddock or arena. Of course, there the training goes easy. To make it a bit more challenging you can also start to train in other places, for example the arena of a neighbour, or the arena of the local riding school.
Practising your groundwork exercises on the street or in a field is also very fun and different. You’ll notice that you have to put in more effort to keep your horse's attention.
When you regularly train in different places, you’ll notice that your horse becomes calmer in strange places and also becomes less scared by things in the surroundings.
4. Use your fantasy
Why would you only do the exercise you have seen with your instructor? Use your fantasy and discover your own exercises. One of my students taught his horse to collect a bucket and put it down on a chair. Another student taught her horse to calmly stay still in a very narrow passage which she subsequently completely closed. Another person taught his horse to canter with 4 balloons attached to the lunging girth (circle work).
They all started from the basic exercises and every day they made it a bit more difficult, whereby in some days to weeks, their horses where doing these exercises without any stress and with obvious pleasure. These people enjoyed themselves very much too and they learned to deal with the challenges these invented exercises brought with them.
5. Substitute your (rope) halter for a neck rope
You will notice that when you take off the rope halter and instead practise with a neck rope you have to be much more conscious about your body language. You cannot “correct” with the head, something that happens often unknowingly and unintentionally.
Many exercises become therefore a lot more challenging when you start working with a neck rope. Just think about leading: with a halter it is possible to “block” in case the horse wants to turn around because it is distracted. With a neck rope this is impossible!
You will need to use your body language to invite your horse to keep his attention on you, or you will need to use an appropriate exercise to prevent the horse from turning away from you.
Working with a neck rope requires more experience, being more in tune with each other with body language, and above all: a better timing.
With a halter, when you are too late with “correcting”, you can still ask the horse with his head towards you. With a neck rope this isn’t possible anymore and you have to notice this in time, before the horse actually turns, otherwise you are too late (to stay with the example of a horse that wants to turn away from you).
Of course you should practice this first in your familiar arena and surroundings! Subsequently you can also start to work with the neck rope in unfamiliar places, combining exercises with obstacles, and off course putting together sequences that are done with the neck rope.
There you go: this way you can keep it fun, interesting and challenging!
Who still dares to say groundwork is boring???
Please share your own invented exercises that make your Groundwork more fun.
I'd be happy to read them!