Lunge work with Horses – Three roads to explore.

Lunge work with Horses – Three roads to explore.

by Dr. Mike Guerini

Say the words “lunge a horse” to a group of horse people and then ask what that means to each person and you will likely receive a wide variety of responses. Cherry Hill Horsemanship books define lunge work as “generally thought of as a means to either train a young horse or warm up an experienced horse before a ride, the benefits of and uses for longeing (lungeing) are so varied that it should be a part of the training and exercise program of all horses.” (LINK HERE). The responses vary based on the experience of the horseman/woman and his/her goals.

 

For example, an acquaintance of mine who shows AQHA halter horses sees lunge work as exercise for muscle building and developing tone and to keep her horse in condition. She practices her lunge work with a timer and works eight minutes each direction. This is what she knows and she bases the success of her lunge work on her ability to achieve her goals in halter competition.

 

Another friend of mine sees lunge work as a way to gain respect and submission of the horse. This person continues to develop more finesse with his body position and subtle aids while doing the round pen version of the lunge work. This friend is very interested in liberty training and sees the round pen as a tool to help develop the necessary connection for liberty work.

 

Another person I know shares the idea that lunge work is to get the horse to settle down and pay attention to the handler/rider. The lunge work can be used to take off some excess energy.

 

By these three examples – you can see each person has a different purpose in mind for lunge work. For the 10 or so years I have known each of these folks … there have been no significant changes in the way they lunge.

 

Over the course of the last 5 years, my understanding AND use of lunge work has evolved. This review will briefly explore three types of lunge work. There is the round pen lunge work favored by many of the Natural Horsemanship (NH) practitioners, lunge line work on a halter, and in-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson.

 

Round Pen Lunge work:

This is often used in early colt starting or working with a problem horse that is unable to be caught (they can be moved into a round pen) or a horse that is unsafe. There are many goals with this type of lunge work and I list some of them here:

  • “turn and face” or yield the hindquarters and teach respect
  • Teaching the gaits (walk, trot/jog, canter/lope)
  • Teaching horse to pay attention to handler and then connect or join with the handler
  • Stamina development, exercise, take off excess energy

 

I have successfully used this method of lunge work at times when needed. When using this method, we look for body language or signs from the horse that help us know he/she is paying attention and ready to accept our leadership. There is a benefit for this work so long as the handler understands the purpose, has a goal, and does not use this as a form of punishment.

 

Scientific investigations of Round Pen work:

For a more detailed analysis of this work, I recommend you read work by Henshall and McGreevy (Click HERE) to begin your studies and if you are interested, contact me and I shall direct you to other resources.

 

Cautions for Round Pen work:

If our body language is not correct, we can confuse the horse. We can overwork the horse in one direction and develop lameness. We can allow the horse to develop improper biomechanics (as exemplified when the horse is looking outside the pen at times and becomes counterbent)…or we can enhance improper biomechanics by being unable to influence small changes. Pressure and Release works — pressure motivates and the release is what trains the horse. We must be cautious when using flags and other such devices that we do not overdo the pressure or push to far that the release does not allow “training” to occur. There is a great deal of science on this topic of pressure and release/fear based training – and this will be discussed on another day.

 

Benefits for Round Pen work:

  • Teaching the gaits (walk, trot/jog, canter/lope) and aids
  • Teaching horse to give attention to handler and then connect or join with the handler
  • Establishing leadership by the human and the requisite obedience by the horse
  • Development of stamina (if done with interval training and not overwork of one side of the horse)

 

Lunge line work on a halter:

This is often used for a sending exercise and go forward work (possibly over/through a trail obstacle or near a “scary” object). This can also be used to “burn off excess energy,” and it is necessary for lunge line classes. Lunge work on a halter can also be used with an unruly horse to establish human leadership or to keep a horse moving its feet when you do not have a round pen in the local vicinity.

 

Much of what we do and think about lunge work on a halter is very similar to our lunge work in a round pen.

 

I have successfully used this method of lunge work for teaching horses to go through/over a trail obstacle, load in a trailer, learn to lead…and many other applications. When using this method, we must be certain to keep our horse and ourselves safe.

 

Scientific investigations of Lunge line work on a halter:

From my review, it does not appear that a detailed scientific analysis has been conducted for this type of work on a lunge line.

 

Cautions for Lunge line work on a halter:

We can overwork the horse in one direction and develop lameness. We can allow the horse to develop improper biomechanics (as exemplified when the horse is looking outside the pen at times and becomes counterbent)…or we can enhance improper biomechanics by being unable to influence small changes. We can also pull from the underside of the horse’s head and cause incorrect rotation of the cervical vertebrae if we pull to hard, to often, or with constant pressure. We can have a snap on the halter that some use to get the attention of the horse and that can be out of alignment with equine welfare standards if the snap hits the horse.

 

Benefits for Lunge line work on a halter:

  • Go forward over/through trail work
  • Proper training for lunge line classes
  • Trailer loading
  • Stamina development
  • Gain attention

 

In-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson:

As a relative newcomer to the use of a cavesson or serrata…only discovering it in the past 2 years as I have learned from the works of Manolo Mendez, Jillian Kreinbring, Gerd Heuschmann, DVM, Klaus Schoneich … to name but a few….and I promise my journey of learning shall continue along this path.

 

This is a must read article (HERE) and this DVD (HERE) is a must for all who are interested in developing a deeper understanding of biomechanics of the horse.

 

Here are some online resources to read with respect to the lunge cavesson/serrata use and biomechanics (HERE) (HERE) (HERE) — these are but a few resources.

 

Personally, for me, the cavesson or serrata are tools to be used when the handler wants to focus on developing proper biomechanics. We can and should use the cavesson or serrata when we are interested in helping repair, rehabilitate, or develop the posture and shape of the horse so that we promote proper biomechanics for the health and welfare of the horse. The cavesson or serrata can enable the handler to give more focused guidance to the horse. This is also an excellent tool to use with long line work.

 

Scientific investigations of In-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson:

Peer reviewed articles were not found for this area of work although I can say that experts such as Dr. Kerry Ridgeway supported the use of the cavesson/serrata…but there needs to be scientific study of this in the future.

 

Cautions for In-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson:

Not all cavesson/serrata are created equal. Some are clunky and heavy and some are ill fitting. In truth, work of this type must include scholarship/study of learned professionals. Manolo Mendez is one such professional that I urge everyone to listen to with respect to the cavesson/serrata. Personally, the Micklem Multibridle with a single center ring is my favored cavesson at this time for lunge work and one I travel with to every clinic and lesson. I also encourage all folks who use a cavesson to connect it to the lunge line through the use of a leather tie/buckle or cowboy snap….a metal clip can be

 

Benefits for In-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson:

  • Develop engagement
  • Work with horse to develop proper bend (through shoulder-in)
  • Work to develop proper tracking up and straightness/carriage
  • Work to develop forward/down/open stretch of the horse across its topline
  • Shoulder-In on the ground
  • Everything you can do with a normal halter/lunge line as well

 

Summary of best application for each when used properly:

Round Pen –  developing leadership and obedience early on in training, some use for stamina

Lunge line – go forward, work through obstacles or help with habituation, stamina

In-hand cavesson – biomechanics and refinement of posture development and rehabilitation of the horse and all other activities assigned to lunge on the halter.

 

This small write up here is meant to give you more “food for thought” so that you can choose the most appropriate tool(s) for working with your horse(s) that promote welfare and proper development. I have included multiple links for you to watch/read and encourage you to open dialogues with other equestrians as to the benefits of the lunge work you are using. If you cannot answer how the lunge work you are using benefits the welfare, safety, and learning of the horse — it may be time to rethink and refine your practices.

 

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a scientist, equestrian, and coach from California. Dr. Mike teaches in the Gilroy/San Jose California area, Stockton California area, and teaches private clinics in a few locations across the United States. www.dunmovinranch.com is the home website for Dr. Mike.

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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/).

Frame – Self-Carriage – Roundness – Collection — Do you know the difference?

Frame – Self-Carriage – Roundness – Collection — Do you know the difference?

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

We take great liberties with the English language these days when we speak, text and, write. Two, Too, and To are often texted as “2” and this is just one example of us interchanging words and letters and numbers so that we do not always have to think about the exact spelling, meaning, or detail of a simple word.

As equestrians, we find ourselves in training or instructing or learning and we get challenged to describe what we are feeling.  We often use words that we think we understand their meaning…but in truth … we heard someone else say the word and we think it sounds correct or powerful or authoritative.

Four words in particular — Frame – Self-Carriage – Roundness – Collection — are often used interchangeably and by that—they are used incorrectly. These words are not interchangeable. The four terms are distinct in meaning, appearance, and feel when riding. Let us begin with defining these words normally, without the equestrian perspective….and then defining with the equestrian perspective.

General Population Definitions of these words:

Frame — to construct by fitting and uniting the parts of the skeleton of (a structure)

Self-Carriage — manner of bearing the body, deportment

Roundness — having curves rather than angles

Collection — the act or process of getting things from different places and bringing them together

Even in everyday use, these words have distinct meanings. Now let us look at them through the eyes of an equestrian.

Equestrian Definitions of these words:

Frame — Horse traveling in a predetermined outline.  Frame has a particular look.  We can influence the frame with natural and artificial aids.

Self-Carriage — the horse carries himself in the best and most appropriate manner for the movement he has to execute. Self-carriage is the result of balance.  This requires time and patience and good equitation for us to be able to work with our horse to be in balance and self-carriage.

Roundness — horse lifts his back so that the hind end can reach under further and the topline can become rounder. Again — This requires time and patience and good equitation for us to be able to work with our horse to achieve correct roundness.

Collection — to shift his center of gravity more over his hind feet by increasing the bend in his hocks and stifles. That lowers his hindquarters, shortens his strides, and means that when he thrusts off the ground, his impulsion now becomes more “up” than “forward.”  The holy grail and top of the training scale.  An often sought after, moderately achieved activity that the horse can sustain for short periods of time (note….it is not good to announce proudly that you rode your horse in collection for over an hour….just not a good plan and likely it did not happen, nor would a good equestrian want it to happen)

Simply by reading these definitions, you can begin developing a mental picture of how they are different and of course how these concepts work together. A multitude of people have discussed these concepts in excellent detail and below I share with you some of the references I use as I continue to advance my learning (See links below).

My challenge to you as fellow equestrians is to become more exacting in the words you use to describe what your horse and you are achieving.  By being more exacting – you will improve your training, develop reasonable and progressive goals, and have more fun and success.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share this blog to encourage other equestrians to learn more and to develop more exacting standards of language as horsemen and horsewomen.

From Manolo Mendez website — Balance & Rhythm in the Young Horse: Essential to Forward and Self Carriage (first independent balance)

From Karen Rolf – Dressage Naturally — Self Carriage from a Dressage, Naturally Perspective

Meredith Manor – Training Mythunderstandings: The Training Tree: Collection

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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/).

Four Ways that Driving (or sitting) may be affecting your Horsemanship

Four Ways that Driving (or sitting) may be affecting your Horsemanship

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

We all know that driving and sitting normally in a chair seat put us into that “chair seat position” we all want to avoid while riding horses.  But what other things do we do while driving or sitting in a chair for long periods of time affect our riding posture?  Any of these things listed below might just build posture habits

1) Leaning on the center console while we drive.  Sometimes I take trips to clinics or shows that are 3 or 4 hours long (or longer) and I find myself leaning on the center console for a good portion of the trip.  This collapses my rib cage (right rib cage) — something I most certainly want to avoid while riding.

2) Leaning to far forward towards the steering wheel.  This leads us to have a hunched back — something we want to avoid in our riding.

3) Leaning back away from the steering wheel.  This gets us accustomed to sitting on our seat pockets and not our seatbones… and sitting on our seat pockets is bad for our riding position.

4) Sitting in the car for long trips with our wallet (or papers or cell phone) in our back pocket (this one is especially a problem for men). This leads us to have imbalanced seatbones and this certainly messes with us being able to ride and use our seatbones correctly.

Have I got you thinking now?  What other things do you do while driving or working at your computer/desk that might be affecting your riding posture and success with your aids.  Take a few minutes and add to this list — share here on this blog and let us all begin to work on changing our habits to better prepare us for success in the saddle.

Once you have read (and added to) this list, take the time to adjust your car seat or desk chair to optimize your sitting position so that you do not compromise your riding posture.

Thanks for reading this blog and please 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/).

Four Ways that Dancing WILL Improve your Horsemanship

Four Ways that Dancing WILL Improve your Horsemanship

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

Ballroom dancing with the Cha-Cha-Cha, Rhumba, Tango, and Waltz are just a few examples of dances that we all recognize.  Many of us know how to Line Dance, Square Dance and I bet a few others are very skilled at other dance forms.  Archeological evidence for early dance includes 9,000 year old paintings in India at the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, and Egyptian tomb paintings depicting dancing figures, dated c. 3300 BC. Though there is controversy over the exact date horses were domesticated and when they were first ridden, the best estimate is that horses first were ridden around 4500 BC.

With Horse riding and Dancing –  we are dealing with two activities that have stood the test of time.  We hear and read about people “Dancing with Horses” so the merging of these two activities is known.

Here are four reasons that a little Dancing goes a long way in helping you with your Horsemanship.

Footfalls – Dancing has much to do with footfalls.  Your feet need to work independently, taking metered steps, change with the time and the tempo, and your feet need to flow across the dance floor.

In riding horses, one of the major keys to success are knowing and working with the footfalls of your horse.  When we take the time to learn to dance, we learn how to control our footfalls and we learn the biomechanics of how our body works.  By understanding how our body works – we are better prepared for riding correctly and using our rider aids to influence the footfalls of the horse.

When we are doing ground work – having proper footfalls helps us get in time and in tune with our horse. We succeed in our ground work, when we put our feet in the correct position to aid the horse in the movement.  If we are off balance or our feet are in the way—the horse cannot move correctly.

Coordination – Riding a horse or working with your horse from the ground takes coordination.  By learning how to dance – we learn how our body moves and we build better coordination.  Our hands and legs and seat all might need to move independently in a dance routine…much like what we might need to do when riding with finesse.

Mind – When we dance, we must learn a routine or plan (sometimes in the moment) how we are going to move. If we are dancing with a partner – we certainly must plan what we are going to do or we wind up bumping into each other.  Dancing helps us use our mind to think and plan our next move.  If we are standing on our left leg and need to go left, we have to plan how to shift our weight and move our body….. and we need to have this same level of planning in our horsemanship when we ride or do ground work.

Teamwork – Many forms of dance require a partner.  Horsemanship is the ultimate dance where both partners communicate with subtle touches, changes in contact, and often times — silent communication.  With a human dance partner we work as a team with one partner leading and the other following that guidance.

Want to improve your horsemanship – grab your husband, wife, boy/girlfriend, or find a willing friend or stranger and learn to dance and practice your dancing.  You will notice improved control of your own footfalls, a better understanding of how your body moves, enhanced coordination with your body, better mental planning, and improved teamwork.  Your horse will thank you for doing your homework and you just might enjoy the time.

Thanks for reading this blog and please 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/).

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/).

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).