Riding Both Sides of your Horse — 5 Thoughts

Riding Both Sides of your Horse  — 5 Thoughts

by Dr. Mike Guerini, Ph.D. (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Does your horse have a difference in response on one side as compared to the other side?

As we become better riders, we must develop the ability to ride both sides of our horse – as the horse needs.

To do this, we need to feel the different sides.  Do you know which side of your horse is stiff, which side is hollow?  The stiff side has more tension and the horse’s jaw and poll is tighter and more resistant.  The body might feel like one giant solid 4 x 4 post.  Horses often lean into the stiffer side, fall (drop shoulder) into a circle, or make tight and abrupt turns.  On the hollow side, the horse has no resistance and you might have to work to keep contact on your horse because it gives so slightly to pressure.  As you move in the direction of the hollow side, the horse may drift to the outside or overbend.

There are reasons for a horse to have a difference between sides.  A horse can be right or left handed (scientifically proven based on in-utero implantation) and this creates a difference between the sides, uneven muscle development, and rider related issues (balance, rider asymmetry, etc.).

Here are five thoughts about how you can make sure you ride both sides of your horse.

  1. Determine which side is the hollow side and which is the stiff side.  When you know this, you can make certain that through correct exercises you help the horse become more balanced/even on each side.  Work with your coach to develop a plan so that you actively exercise both sides of your horse.
  2. Do contralateral training for the rider.  Make certain you are doing the right exercises for the rider – these should include contralateral exercises (exercises that rely on movement of body parts on the opposite side of the body).  This is important so that you can effectively use (for example) inside leg to outside rein (opposite parts of your body need to work in harmony).
  3. Improve Rider balance.  Work on rider balance with Pilates, Yoga, Tai Chi, or other programs that help you strengthen your balance and core.  Along the way, make sure your exercise program includes some good cardio work.
  4. Learn how to apply the aids correctly and as needed.  You may need a stronger aid on one-side verses the other (early on in your training).  Know this and make certain you adjust to the needs of your horse as you bring him into balance.  This will take time and it really benefits from riding with mirrors in your arena and even more so when you have a coach or video your rides (or video rides and review with your coach…even better).
  5. Learn to feel the balance in your horse.  This takes time but it is very critical.  Have an observer help you develop the feel.  Learn how it feels when your horse bulges out on one side, drops its shoulder on another side, has its rear end fall out of the circle or square.  Feel comes with time and it really helps to have someone coaching you (eyes on the ground as we say) so that you can have them tell you what is happening and you can develop the knowledge and feel….with this and your own rider preparation – you can then ride both sides of your horse to put him into balance and achieve rider to horse harmony.

Thank you for reading and please feel free to share.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).

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Overcoming Shaken Confidence about your riding – 5 Steps

Overcoming Shaken Confidence about your riding – 5 Steps

by Dr. Mike Guerini, Ph.D. (www.dunmovinranch.com)

It has happened to each of us at one time in our riding career.  Sometimes a well-meaning friend offers advice about our riding and we lose confidence.  Sometimes it is an instructor or clinician or horse trainer that says something and we feel all alone and confused and upset about our present skill level.  I think back many years ago to the first horsemanship clinic I attended… the clinician told me that I was not a good rider, my horse was not good, and my saddle was awful — and I was banished to a corner of the arena for the rest of the day. Needless to say, I was crushed and messed up in the head as I thought about what he said.  I called home and shared the news with my folks and they asked me what my plan was for the following day.  I told them — “I came to learn and that is what I will do.”

I am sharing this with you all to let you know that ALL of us have times when our riding confidence has been shaken or absolutely crushed. I look back on that clinic and clinician and I am thankful for the experience…because of what he said, I sought to improve and get better.

Here are the five steps I suggest to help you overcome times when your confidence is shaken.

1) Write down the comments and advice that you received — especially those key points that shook your confidence.  Put the list away and then come back and read it a few days later.  In the moment we are not always able to look at the criticism or comment and find where it may help us….a few days later we can look it over once again and set up our homework.

2) Go for a ride on your horse.  Sometimes the best way to regroup is to get back in the saddle and go for a ride.  Do not worry about all the advice, just spend some time reconnecting with your horse and the love you have of riding and learning with your horse.

3) Share the experience and your notes with a trusted friend. Ask them to listen to what you are thinking and feeling.  Sometimes just talking things through makes all the difference in you getting past the mental issue that has your confidence at rock bottom.

4) Go for a ride on your horse. This bears repeating.  Get back in the saddle and get back to riding.

5) Schedule your next riding lesson or clinic.  Continue to learn and seek improvement. The clinician who told me I was not good was right (on most aspects).  I needed a better saddle, I needed to ride better, I needed to plan my riding better.  The clinician was wrong in one aspect — my horse was good (she still is good) — I just needed to get better.

The big take away message for you is that you are not alone.  We all have days when our confidence is shaken or seriously damaged.  You have the power to move forward and get your confidence back — I believe in each of YOU.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).

How does your Horsemanship Measure Up?

How Does your Horsemanship Measure Up?

by Dr. Mike Guerini, Ph.D. (www.dunmovinranch.com)

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2015 is here and it is time to start a new year of horsemanship.  How did you do last year? Did you meet all your goals? Do you recall what your goals were for 2014? How did you measure your progress throughout the year and from ride to ride?

Here are five ideas that will help you keep track of your 2015 Horsemanship successes and measurements.

1) Keep a Journal.   Keep track of your daily rides and look back each month and see where you have been and where you are going.  Here is a great resource from the team at Equine Hydro-T for tracking your horsemanship throughout the year.  Click HERE.

2) Use Video to check your progress.  Take videos at the beginning and end of each month.  Sit down and watch the videos and review your progress.  In addition to your own personal review, submit a video to Coach’s Corral www.coachscorral.com and get a coaching review of your riding.  Once you have learned how to video yourself and work on areas you want to improve upon, check in with me and I promise to share with you some of the options available for Virtual showing.

3) Measure your horse’s stride.  Are you working on extensions or rhythm, balance, timing, and cadence.  Rake off a clean area where you ride then walk, trot and lope and measure the length of stride.  Make sure you know how long a stride is normal for your horse.  Maybe your horse has not stretched out…measure and keep track and see if your current plan is helping your horse improve.

4) Time your circles. Are you working on that perfect 20m circle.  Take a stopwatch and time how long it takes you to ride each 20m circle (helps if a friend does the timing).  A consistently sized and shaped circle where the horse is moving with the same timing — will always have the same time show up on the stopwatch.

5) Chart your show progress.  If you are involved in Dressage, keep track of your scores and look for trends of improvement on certain aspects of your ride.  Pay close attention to the comments section of the tests and see if you are getting dinged for the same errors or problems.  If you are into reining, cowhorse, or trail — take the time to get your score sheets (if available) and review them after each show and each month.

Welcome to 2015 and make sure that you set yourself up for success by measuring how well you and your horse are doing.

Thank you for Reading this blog.  Share this Information!

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).

Western Dressage Circles – How they benefit you and your horse in other Horse Show Events

Western Dressage Circles – How they benefit you and your horse in other Horse Show Events

by Dr. Mike Guerini, Ph.D. (www.dunmovinranch.com)

A few weeks back I wrote a blog on Western Dressage (WD) called “Western Dressage and the One Trick Pony.”  In that blog I commented on the need for Western Dressage to reach beyond the normal WD test and educate/reward/encourage/empower/celebrate how people can use WD to build a better horse that is able to excel in many different areas.

This blog begins the journey of sharing with you all how I think WD can help us build better horses that can compete in multiple events.  There are many key elements in WD, many of them come from lessons learned from Classical Horsemanship, and used in Classical and Competitive Dressage.

The first topic of discussion is the Circle. The circle comes in 20m, 15m, and 10m sizes.  There are also half circles that can be included in this category for now.  Okay, first lesson – the sizes in a measurement we use in our daily life.

20m = 65.62 feet diameter circle

15m = 49.21 feet diameter circle

10m = 32.81 feet diameter circle

Second lesson — The key to learning how to ride a perfectly sized and shaped circle is to look TWO POINTS AHEAD and “connect the dots.”

We need to realize that riding the perfectly shaped and sized circle helps the horse’s physical development (circles help develop lateral flexibility and engagement of the inside hind leg). On the mental side of things, riding accurate circles helps develop obedience.

What does the Circle in WD teach us as a rider and horse team that we can use in other horse show classes?

ARENA LOCATION/PRESENCE – This is all about knowing where you are in the horse show class. Are you near the rail, in the center, how far to the end of the arena – all this comes because you know where you are located with your horse at any time.

When you ride the 20m circle, and do it with the correct size and geometry, you learn to view the surrounding area where you are riding with much more clarity.  Centered Riding by Sally Swift has taught us to have soft eyes. With soft eyes, we are aware of our horse and the rest of the riding area with greater ease.  When we focus on a point, and our eyes are not soft, we get fixated and lose the ability to plan our ride and prepare for the next maneuver. When we do not know where we are in the arena and how to navigate the area, we are forced to make big changes that disrupt our horse and our rhythm.  Guess who always looks when we make those big changes – that is the exact moment in time the judge looks at us.

In which Horse show classes is arena location/presence important?  ALL OF THEM!  I need to know where I am so that I prepare for the next trail obstacle, I need to know where the other riders are located, I need to know where center is for reining, I need to know where the end (or side) of the arena is when I want to turn a cow.  We need to have nicely controlled circles for running barrels as well. For those who ride equitation – this is critical for you to know where you are in the arena — presentation matters.

Good quality Circles help us to achieve success by planning, preparing, and making small changes as needed.

BALANCE – This is about having your horse able to work out in space and not lean on the rail.  When we ride a 20m circle (or 15m or 10m), there is at least some part of the circle that does not have a rail to hold up our horse.  Horses and riders get to leaning on a rail and they rely on that for balance. An un-balanced horse and rider that depends on the arena fence/wall for success is one that is not as athletic as possible. With a well-balanced horse, the circle geometry is perfectly round.

In which Horse show classes is balance important?  ALL OF THEM!  Again – each class benefits when we ride a balanced horse that can show his/her athleticism. Ride the perfect 20m, 15m, or 10m circle without an arena fence and you will learn how to ride softly and with more feel. Reining (and reined cowhorse) especially benefit from balanced and well-rounded circles.

Once again — Good quality Circles help us to achieve success by planning, preparing, and making small changes as needed. When we ride these perfectly shaped and sized circles, we have our horse mentally and physically balanced and ready for whatever comes next. A horse that is balanced is responsive to the aids – it is NOT leaning on one leg or one rein.

FLEXIBILITY (Bending and Straightness) – One of the goals of riding a round 20m circle is to create flexibility. Flexibility refers to your ability to bend laterally through his side. The bend through your horse’s side should be equal from the poll to the tail. With a flexible horse you are developing one that is ambidextrous (that is he/she can bend just as easily on the right as on the left). Correctly ridden circles also teach the basic/beginning elements of engagement (bending of the joints of the hind legs) and circles also develop straightness. By definition, a straight horse is straight on lines and bent along the arc of a circle.

In which Horse show classes is Flexibility (Bending and Straightness) important?  ALL OF THEM!  A flexible horse is an athletic horse.  In my time I have had some horses come in for training that the rider described to me in these words “My horse is great.  She goes really straight but we are having trouble getting around the corner.”  I mentioned that likely half the time in any horse show class the horse was needing to be bent (turns, arena corners, etc). A few of these riders have looked at me and said they had never thought about that.

For every horse show class we will ever compete in we will need a horse that is flexible and can answer our call for action. Riding a perfect 20m circle will help you develop a horse that is ready to answer your request and help the two of you look good in the show arena.

RHYTHM – Rhythm of the gait of the horse is so important in WD circles. We want to establish a rhythm, timing, cadence to the gait and hold that the same throughout the circle.

In which Horse show classes is rhythm (timing & cadence) important?  ALL OF THEM!  IF we are in western pleasure, ranch versatility, reining, or trail, we need to maintain an even rhythm of the gait. We want our horse traveling at a gait that has consistency because when the horse is consistent, the presentation looks better, but more importantly, the horse is ready/prepared for the pre-signal and aid you will apply to make those changes necessary to show smoothness.  In Equitation classes, we want to have a nice rhythm because that is pleasing to the eye and accentuates your rider form and smoothness with the horse.

So far I have mostly concentrated on the benefit to the horse.  HOW ABOUT THE RIDER AND THE BENEFIT FROM RIDING THESE CIRCLES? Well the rider benefits greatly from learning those perfect circles. The rider improves his/her arena location knowledge as I said earlier.  But the rider also improves the use of his/her seat and legs, and balance and softness of the hands when riding these circles. By riding these perfect circles, he/she learns how to make small changes and it is these small changes that tell the horse you are competent and trusting.  Any time we make abrupt and physically reactive changes we tell the horse that we are not very trustworthy.  Soft and small changes keep that trust and harmony in your ride.

There are also a few life lessons in learning how to ride the perfect circle.  I still work each ride to make that perfect circle.  Some days I succeed and other days I  break a few circles….but each time I get better and the life lesson is that with patience, planning, calmness, and time – I  can be a better rider…better person…better equestrian and along the way I get the benefit of learning these lessons with a horse!

Hopefully this has expanded your awareness of why and how these circles in WD can help you build your all around horse and develop a better foundation of training. You do not need to ever take a WD test, although there is a great benefit and feedback that comes from taking one of these tests (you get a score and written remarks), but if you ride in a western saddle and you do not take the time to see how well you can ride that perfect circle – you are missing out on a learning opportunity for you and your horse and you might be keeping yourself out of the winners place in your western show events.

The circles we learn and ride in Western Dressage (tests, clinics, lessons, etc.) – or in the Cowboy Dressage world – help us to build a better western horse.

Thank you for Reading this blog.  Share this Blog and Share your Thoughts!

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).

Western Dressage and the One Trick Pony

Western Dressage and the One Trick Pony

by Dr.Mike Guerini, Ph.D

(www.dunmovinranch.com)

Last year about this time I published a blog sharing my thoughts on the future of Western Dressage (WD). You can read that blog posting HERE. Well another year has passed and there are some pretty exciting things still happening.

 

  1. Train the Trainer programs are being taught around the United States and in Canada by Western Dressage Association of America.
  2. Cowboy Dressage (CD) has huge shows, particularly in California with over 400 entries on a weekend.
  3. North American Western Dressage is a leader in Western Dressage and Cowboy Dressage Virtual Shows.
  4. Judges training seminars are being held for both Western Dressage and Cowboy Dressage.

 

We have a great deal to be excited about and the future continues to look promising for Western and Cowboy Dressage Competition….and that is what has me a bit worried.  The future looks really good for discipline specific competition — Now I am a bit worried about us all developing a One Trick Pony.  That is to say we are focused only on showing our Western Horse in CD or WD and reporting those results.

 

Now I will stand up and say that neither WD nor CD is a trick.  Both teach so many skills.  You may think I am using the term “One Trick Pony” a bit harshly but I sure want to get everyone’s attention and make sure we advance this conversation.

 

When I first heard about the Western Dressage Organization being formed in 2011 I was pretty darn excited.  The chance to have very open discussions and educational opportunities in discussing Dressage and how it applies to developing a high quality horse ridden in a Western Saddle — EXCITING. Sure, Western Dressage specific tests are a good thing but at this time there is very limited conversation on how Riders and Trainers and Coaches are using Western (and Cowboy) Dressage to build a better Western Horse that has longevity (long term soundness of body and mind).

 

Many of the CD and WD clinics are specific for how to prepare to ride a test.  I would say that if we work on the foundation basics necessary for developing a good working horse, apply the Training Scale and Dressage Principles from Classical Horsemanship – we can ride a CD or WD dressage test without any significant problems. Sure the memorization of the test or following the direction of the reader might be tough — but we certainly do not need to school on the test – we should be building our horses to succeed in a test by focusing on our foundation work.  What we learn in these clinics is how to navigate the dressage court (and trust me I have made my share of mistakes there both as a rider and reader so I benefit from a few of these lessons).

 

We want to push ourselves to be more than riding drones in a test…we want to be adaptive.  Think about issues within our educational system here in the US where many students are taught just what they need to know to pass a standardized test. Since I spent many years in school to gain my Doctorate, I can speak with some authority that the real world needs us to be able to analyze, adapt, and figure our way out of situations with our foundation skill and knowledge sets – there was never a class I took or research experiment I conducted that gave me the answers for everything.  We need to remember that learning the foundation principles are our goal and that we need to celebrate and ride with those abilities each day.

 

How do we continue on this pathway of success with CD and WD and make sure we are not developing just a One Trick Pony?

1. We need to discuss, share, educate, and celebrate how development of a proper bend, circle size control, collection, extension — can benefit other western disciplines.

Here is an example of how to apply this suggestion. Reining and Cowhorse competitions have a pattern that requires a circle, most often a large fast and small slow. This is a great opportunity to develop a Reiner or Cowhorse that lasts longer in the show world by guiding our training and coaching using Dressage, and more specifically how WD and CD can help make this a success.

For this I am planning on sharing each month (maybe more often) how a particular aspect of a CD or WD test is also used in other western performance disciplines or can be useful in helping us develop a better performance horse. Likely I will start sharing this on my FB page and website but if you are interested in getting notified or helping me build this resource – let me know by dropping me an email to michael@dunmovinranch.com.

2. Further develop the systems to celebrate the rider/horse combinations that are excelling in WD/CD AND other Western Performance activities.

I am quite pleased to see one of my mentors leading this charge. Charles Wilhelm has developed the Ultimate Super Horse Challenge (Click HERE for more info) and it includes Cowboy Dressage in the competitions…along with some other pretty darn nifty things necessary to develop the best horse and rider team.  I encourage people to participate int he Ultimate Super Horse Challenge either as a rider or spectator.  For the leaders of WD and CD – this is your chance to step up and reach beyond what you are already doing and develop reward systems and competitions that showcase how fabulous CD and WD are for building the ALL AROUND HORSE. Working Equitation does this to some extent…but I bet the leaders of WD and CD can do more.

3. We need people to speak up and share how the horse they took a CD/WD test on last Saturday is in competition for reining on Sunday, or on a trail ride on Tuesday, or teaching the grandkids a lesson or two about riding, or taking on a new challenge with the human partner. Share how your horse is not just a One Trick Pony.

4. We need to promote freestyle work even more. Each horse and rider is unique and Freestyle riding tests can sure demonstrate how riders and horses can be creative and showcase their teamwork.

5. We need to make a challenge test that is set up day of show. Be creative and set it up to challenge horse and rider to be a team that has skills they can draw upon to adapt and succeed. There are many smart people in CD and WD who can take parts of different tests and bring them together into a challenge that you do not get time to practice before the actual test. In my opinion this is the goal of developing an All Around horse and rider.  This is where success in CD and WD, the competition part, will show the success of horse and rider as a team.

 

Like I said a year ago — Western Dressage, like Classical Dressage, IS about GOOD HORSEMANSHIP. This year I will add that with Good Horsemanship we develop and nurture horses that can do many different things.

 

In full disclosure I am a Lifetime Founding Pioneer of the WDAA, Professional member of NAWD, and friend to Cowboy Dressage.  I like what these organizations are doing and look forward to them doing even more.  Each organization has said they have a role in education of the western rider – more education is needed for all of us to become the All Around Rider and develop our All Around Horse.

Push yourself as a rider and lead/ride/train your horse safely compassionately while you develop a great Horse partner.

 

Thank you for Reading this blog.  Share this Blog and Share your Thoughts!

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (www.coachscorral.com), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

Questions you MUST ask yourself about your warm-up routine before competing.

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Over the past year as I have coached people at horse shows and watched many riders as they warm up their horses I have wondered — what are they doing. In some cases people lope for an hour to get the horse “warmed up AND worn down” as they say. Others do only discipline specific activities like practicing a sliding stop or a roll back or a lead change. Some wander around and do some walk, trot and lope (canter) work and then sit watching everyone else. Have you ever watched professional athletes prepare for a game. They have a plan, a routine, a focus…I consider that horse riders competing are athletes and so I offer these 8 questions (there may be more) that you should be asking yourself and answering to improve your success.

1) Do you have a plan for your warm-up? (Answer — YES)

2) Does your warm-up plan have contingencies based on the surface or weather?  (Answer — YES)

3) Are you warming up the horse and rider or only the horse?  (Answer — Both Horse and Rider, separately and together)

4) Similarly, are you practicing good sports psychology to prepare yourself for the warm-up and competition? (Answer — YES)

5) Is the social aspect of the show getting in the way of your warm-up routine? (Answer — NO — NEVER 🙂 )

6) What do you do between the warm-up and actual class or your personal run? (Answer — keep the horse limber and supple and ready to go, never letting the horse stand and wait)

7) Does your warm up get you and your horse relaxed, in a rhythm ,and working on the connection needed to win? (Answer — YES)

8) Does your trainer warm up your horse and allow you to skip that part of the day? (Answer — I always ride my horse as part of the warm up)

If you have answered differently than the suggested answer for each question then it is important that you sit down with your trainer/coach/mentor and make sure you improve your warm up plant to better prepare for competition.

As always I look forward to your comments and please share this post.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (www.coachscorral.com), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

Ground Work Benefits for Horsemanship — Demystified

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

We have all seen people working their horses doing “ground work”. Many have sticks, dressage whips, or other implements in their hands. Along with this tool comes a halter and special leadshank in some cases. Often, “doing ground work” is synonymous with natural horsemanship practices and has been called “that fancy stuff.” Well I will step forward and say — I firmly believe in ground work and know it can help you no matter your riding style or ability….because most importantly it can help the horse.

Sometimes folks think Ground work is not useful…or just not right for them…or their horse does not need this work because it is broke…or it takes to long to do…or it takes planning…or it is confusing…you get the idea.

For the purpose of this blog I will place ground work into two categories: 1) Lunge line work and 2) In-Hand/Haltered Ground Work. Certainly driving horses with long lines from the ground is a form of ground work that I have practiced and think is an excellent addition to training programs for riding and driving but I will just speak to Lunge work and In-Hand/Haltered work in this write up.

Lunge work can be done at the end of a long line or in a round pen (with freedom). In any case, this has been a long practiced activity when starting horses. Here we are seeking walk, trot, canter from the horse, a halt/whoa, and turns either towards or away from the handler. Certainly more can be done and additions include backing on the rail, stopping on the rail…etc.

In-Hand/Haltered Ground work involves having the horse either haltered or with a bridle (very loose term used her for bridle to include bitless, snaffle, curb, bosal, etc) and the handler working with the horse in close proximity. The key elements to accomplish here are walk, whoa/halt, back, side pass, disengage hip (Turn on Forehand), and a haunch turn (Turn on the Haunches). We can add in Haunches left and right, Shoulders left and right and quite a few other elements…but suffice it to say these Big 6 (walk, whoa/halt, back, side pass, disengage hip and a haunch turn) are the keys to successful use of In-Hand/Haltered Ground Work. As an important note to add- when doing ground work or lunge line work…make sure you work both sides of the horse equally.

In each of the below examples, I present in parenthesis, how much of this type of work I do either on the Lunge Line or In-Hand/Haltered.

Here are Eight ways that Ground Work can Help the Horse and Rider/Handler:

1) Early life lessons for the colt to learn to lead and give respect. This is accomplished with haltered ground work and for the most part we want to have that young colt walk, whoa/halt, back, side pass, disengage hip and do a haunch turn. This type of ground work is one that we all do if we are ever involved with a young horse. This is especially important for safety of horse and handler and much needed for the veterinarian/farrier visits. Some of you right now might be saying to me — Mike…say it isn’t so…I have been telling people I do not practice ground work but you have just defined working with baby horses as involving Ground Work…sorry my friends, it is so.  (In-Hand/Haltered – 100%)

2) Colt Starting/Re-training for Riding. This includes in-hand/haltered ground work and Lunge work.  Here we are working the horse to achieve respect, stamina (walk, trot, canter), and to begin to develop athletic skills that are coordinated with rider aides. Lunge work gets us stamina and respect and in-hand/haltered ground work gets us a strong foundation for success in the saddle by teaching the horse aides we will use in the saddle while we are still on the ground and achieving respect. This helps the rider get an idea of how the horse will respond before we get in that saddle…and as I get older I like to have a bit of early information on what I might anticipate. (In-Hand/Haltered – 60%; Lunge Line – 40%)

3) Assessing & Improving Biomechanics.  Here we can learn how the horse moves its legs and feet. How the joints are flexed. The assessment can take less than 60 seconds and can find issues.  Recently I had a friend show up with her reining horse. I watched him move on the ground and commented about how he flexed his rear leg. My friend told me he was always sticky that way and that it had been there for as long as she could recall and that her National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) trainer had not commented much about this.  In 15 minutes, we had the horse improving its ability to move the hind leg and even more exciting — the horse ran some better patterns the following week during practice and the NRHA trainer was glad to see the improvement and asked what happened. Ground work happened and it helped improve the horse and this will likely keep the rider and horse safer because when the horse moves fluidly, there is less risk for injury or stumbles.  (In-Hand/Haltered – 90%; Lunge Line – 10%)

4) Warm-up.  For the older horse (and older rider), a bit of movement on the ground before getting in the saddle can help limber up the legs and get the circulation moving better. This does not need to take a long time, 2 to 10 minutes is all you might need.  This can either benefit from in-hand/haltered or lunge line ground work.  (In-Hand/Haltered – 70%; Lunge Line – 30%)

5) Halter Horse Muscle/Tone Building.  Un-ridden horse being shown in halter needs good muscle development. Lunge work is great for building up those muscles. Add in a little in-hand/haltered ground work for those necessary pivots and the benefit of having a respectful horse and ground work is helping you here. (In-Hand/Haltered – 15%; Lunge Line – 85%)

6) Teaching Adults and Youth.  Starting people can take as much time as starting a young horse. People need to learn how to move a horse and how the horse responds. As a kid I jumped in the saddle or rode bareback without ever thinking of ground work. I had no fear and went with the horse for the thrill of riding. But today I am finding more people aged 50+ who are excited to come into the world of horses for the first time in their lives. They are stepping forward to acheive a life-long goal. Many want to take things slowly and learn from the ground up so here, in-hand/haltered as well as lunge work are great for helping them build confidence, gain experience, and most importantly learn safety.  (In-Hand/Haltered – 80%; Lunge Line – 20%)

I would like to stress that anyone who considers him or herself a horse trainer, coach, educator, or mentor about horses and likes to share should make sure they have some ground work tools to use since sometimes it is safer for a horse when people begin their education on the ground.

I am especially pleased to be able to direct you to the Cowboy Dressage Youth: Amateur Partnership On the Ground program (Click HERE) as a great example of youth education starting including work with horses from the Ground Up. Thanks to the Cowboy Dressage team for including this in their program.

7) Rehabilitation from Injury.  Many of us have had a horse get a leg injury that required stall rest.  As that horse comes back from injury it needs to get range of motion, circulation, flexibility and muscle tone to build back up.  This is almost always done with hand walking and needs in-hand ground work.  I have worked for a few veterinarians and been involved in rehab work and I can say with 100% certainty, a horse that responds to ground work and has a strong foundation in ground work generally has an easier time during the rehabilitation process…because the horse is better prepared to be worked with on the ground.(In-Hand/Haltered – 90%; Lunge Line – 10%)

8) Pre-Ride Check.  Sixty (60) seconds is all this takes.  Check the horse range of mobility of joints, listen to and watch the footfalls, and know if you have an issue before you get on. Many of the old timers I have ridden with do this simply by being quiet as they walk the horse to the saddling location and listen to the horse and feel it move behind/beside them.  They know by the skip of a hoof if there might be an issue or if the horse needs more riding work on one side or another.  Some of the barns of old timers I have been in have a great rule … no radio and no cell phone. They require…no strike that…demand that you put your attention on that horse and not be distracted. The old timers did this without lunge work…simple walking along and making a turn or two and stopping is all they needed but sometimes they would do just a bit more.  This pre-ride check lets you measure up the physical, mental, and emotional state of the horse. (In-Hand/Haltered – 90%; Lunge Line – 10%)

Thanks to everyone for reading and I look forward to your thoughts on what I have shared with you regarding my ideas and philosophy on the use and benefits of Ground Work in Horsemanship.

Special Thanks to Lauren Michele Mcgarry for speaking with me about this Blog.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (www.coachscorral.com), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).