The what and why of groundwork with horses

Groundwork with horses is the collective term for all exercises which involve the horse being led and guided by a rope + halter or neckrope. This is different than Liberty Connection Work, where the horse is free = he’s not held by a rope.

During groundwork exercises you continue to work on trust, connection and clear communication through which training will not only become safer, but also more fun and fluent.

A big part of Groundwork is “training” the horse

Liberty Connection Work is based on the natural way of connecting and communicating of horses. So it’s not “training” the horse, as we’re not teaching the horse something unnatural or new (something he doesn’t know yet). In fact, everything that we do during Liberty Connection Work, the horse already knows.  Liberty Connection Work is natural to horses. 

In Groundwork however, you do teach your horse things that aren’t so natural anymore.  So that’s why Groundwork is about “training” your horse.

Let me take the example of “yielding to physical aids”. The horse needs to understand this concept because in the human world there will be a lot of unnatural physical “pressure”. Think about pressure behind the ears when tied up to the wall, aids from the riders legs or bit/bitless bridle, stepping backwards off a trailer when the handler gives slight physical aids on the nose or chest, holding the hoofs by the trimmer, etc…

Helping your horse getting used to the trailer, to traffic, to a saddle, … is also training. Because these are all situations which would never occur when your horse wouldn’t live with humans, but in the wild. That’s why we have to help the horse understand all this. 

Life in the human world

An important thing Groundwork does for your horse is helping him to  deal with life in the “human world”.  In all of these acts the horse has to know how to cope with it, accept it and hopefully also enjoy it as much as possible. You’re the one who can make sure that’s the case! That's your responsibility as a horse owner. As a horse owner, you are also a horse trainer, never forget that. 

Groundwork will also contribute to an even better communication, because your horse also learns to understand signals and cues that he wouldn’t naturally see if he wasn't living in a human world/

It’s enjoyable to watch the penny drop for a horse and see him think: “Ooooh, now I get it!” And from that moment on your horse just understands what you ask of him or he understands what a certain situation is all about.

I like to compare this to learning the alphabet when you’re 6. If no one teaches this to you, you can be perfectly happy and not lack anything, but if you know how to read and write, your life in our society will be so much easier ánd fun.

Horses are forced to live in a “human world”, no matter how naturally you board them and take care of them.  That’s why a good groundwork training is essential, because some groundwork exercises are a little bit like learning the alphabet when you’re 6. It makes your horse’s life easier , more enjoyable and more comfortable.

leading your horse with a leadrope-groundwork with horses

These are the reasons do to Groundwork:

  • * Continuing the friendship and connection you‘ve developed during Liberty Connection Work
  • * Learning how to guide and lead your horse with confidence and calmness in situations that are more challenging (think about traffic training or taking your horse to an unknown place)
  • * To help your horse understand the human world and human wishes (such as daily handling and care, being tied on the wall, trailer loading, traffic, vet treatments, dentist, scary objects, …)
  • * Helping fearful or traumatized horses overcome their fears/traumas
  • * Preparation for Gymnastic Groundwork
  • * Preparation for riding (Ps: I never ride longer than 10 minutes anymore, more about that in a new article soon...)
  • * You develop yourself to be the best trainer possible!
  • * It gives you and the horse much more variation in training
  • * Helping your horse to remain balanced, fit and happy on every level.  This is so important! Many domesticated horses lack physical, mental and emotional stimulation.  

Groundwork: where to start?

When you want to do Groundwork you should start with Basic Groundwork.  Basic Groundwork exists of lead exercises, touch exercises, yielding to physical aids, yielding to driving aids and circle work.

This is something every horse, also your horse, should now. It’s the basic communication of groundwork training.

You and your horse need it, you really can’t do without if you want to be successful in training your horse on the ground and if you want to have a safe, happy and balanced horse.

What’s next?

When you and your horse master Basic Groundwork, the next step is Continued Groundwork, which naturally builds on what you've already learned. Continued Groundwork includes obstacle training, working with a neck rope, trailer loading, double long lines, traffic training, and preparing for riding.

fear training in groundwork with the neck rope

Out of these six components, I highly recommend to train obstacle training, trailer loading, and traffic training. These are crucial for helping your horse feel relaxed, safe, and confident in our human world.

As for groundwork with a neck rope, double long lining, and preparing for riding, it's entirely up to you. If you're excited about these activities, go for it! If not, that's okay too. They're not essential for your horse to feel good and safe in the human world, but they can significantly enhance your horse's physical, mental, and emotional balance.

Remember, the more variety you can introduce into your horse's life, the better! Each new challenge you tackle together strengthens your bond and builds your horse's ánd your confidence.

horsefulness training groundwork course online

Sounds a lot to you?

If this sounds a lot to you, then don’t worry, you don’t have to do it all by yourself!

In my Horsefulness Groundwork Program I coach horsewomen and their horse(s) to do groundwork in a pleasant, and step by step manner.   

So if you too want to enjoy good and mindful groundwork, check out this page about the Horsefulness Groundwork Program to find out more details.


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