July 30th,  2022

By Karine Vandenborre

Groundwork training with horses: 5 tips

1. First Connection, Then Training

When a horse doesn't feel a connection with you, when the relationship is not strong, it will be harder/more difficult to train your horse in groundwork. It's logical: the more trust, the deeper the connection, the more your horse will be willing to do things together with you.

I advise building on your relationship in Liberty first, as liberty is the most natural way of being/living for a horse. Also, before you start a groundwork session, always take your time for (some of) the Connection Exercises.

2.  Basics, and Basics, and Basics

Basic Groundwork exercises prepare your horse for what I call "Continued Groundwork", like traffic training, trailer load training, groundwork with the neck rope, etc... So first train all the basics. Those are leading, touching, yielding for driving and physical aids and circle work.

However, if your horse knows all this, keep practicing the basics. It can also be smart to start a Continued Groundwork session with some basics to warm your horse up or to see how your horse is feeling that day.

3. Regularity and Repetition = good results.

I've learned that regularity is key. It's better to practice only 2 times a week and do that for a long time, instead of one week practicing every day, the next week only 1 time, the week after not, the next week 3 times, etc. This is irregular training and the results will be irregular too...

And when it comes to repetition: it's good to repeat until it goes a bit better, then stop. Too little repetition and the horse will not make progress, too much repetition and the horse will get bored.

4. Praise, Pause, Reward, Relax

Sometimes you will praise with words, sometimes you will pause, sometimes you will reward with a treat or scratch, and sometimes you will do something that relaxes your horse, like grazing or massaging the horse.

When you don't praise, pause, reward and relax enough during and after the training session, the horse will lose his motivation.

However: for some horses and situations, you can also praise, pause, reward en relax too much. Doing this at the wrong moment can get you and the horse out of the flow of the exercise, the learning stops, or the horse gets distracted.

Try to find the right moment for praise, pause, reward and relax.

5. Be mindful, intentional and logical

Stay grounded, calm and mindful about what the horse feels/needs.

Be intentional = have a clear plan and vision about what you like the horse to learn/understand + work with a loving intention.

Be logical= think about the steps you need to take, and don't skip important steps. Start with A, then B, Then C ...

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