Why the groundwork is so important at this time of year

I talked about how riding has been inconsistent at best due to weather. It seems we get a day or so of riding and then several days off. Fields are all mud. Horses aren’t moving around. Horses get fed premium alfalfa and good food. They tend to feel good!

I would say that I am a confident rider but I have developed a sense for self-preservation over the years. The reality is that it’s important to not get hurt. I never think my horses would want to hurt me but lack of preparation, lack of training and lack of common sense on my part will put you in a stupid situation. I used to be a rider who never lunged horses. Never really focused much on ground work. I knew it was important but it took time and time was better spent riding.

I think that is the younger version of thinking on my part! Over time I began to see how ground work mostly lunging made riding so much easier. I like to think about it in terms of a really high horse. If this horse come out and it’s high as a kite but has no concept of contact, how to engage, how to go forward and how to be ridden into contact then you end up feeling like holy crap this is going to be bad. You take that same high as a kite horse and teach it about contact, going forward, how to connect from front to back and all of a sudden you have a horse who is feeling high as a kite but suddenly you have a place to ride it to. You have the tools to be able to put it to work. Work=engaging the brain. You can’t take a high as a kite horse and try to “teach” it while it’s high as a kite. You need to have the basics installed first so you aren’t overwhelming this extremely fresh horse with new concepts while it’s going boing..boing..boing around the ring. They have to know what you are asking them.

I sort of get down on myself a bit for lunging when I could be riding but Truckee needed to learn some groundwork. Truckee is NOT a bad horse at all but he is extremely athletic, forward thinking and talented. He needed to learn how to use his parts in an efficient manner. I wanted all those buttons installed so that I could use them to influence good behavior while riding. I first started lunging in side reins, then vienna reins and then the pessoa. He understands voice commands, he has learned about contact, he can stretch down into the contact and he has learned a bit about not panicking when feeling trapped (this is often important). He has gotten to understand that the contact is there and he must engage from behind and round his back. He looks like a different horse.

I knew it was all paying off but I really felt it last night. I sort of debated getting on because it was a crazy night. I had a new boarder ship in. It was cold. They hadn’t been ridden the day before and then spent the day up in their dry paddocks. They were fresh. There were four of us in the ring going every which way. This was going to be a lot for his brain to process. However, I really did think all my homework was going to allow me to have a rideable horse. I needed to test out my tools.

He stood perfectly for me to get on. Good boy! We did a little bit of baby leg yielding at the walk and he was great in the contact. It got busy in the ring and I could feel him getting anxious so we went right to the trot. Remember forward is your friend! Allow them to go forward. We just picked a half the ring circle and I focused on riding him forward and up into the contact. With a horse who wants to be silly this is often your saving grace! They need to have a place to go. They like to feel the contact and they like you to give them direction. I was just working on encouraging him to stay steady in the bridle and around the turns we would practice a little half halt and then some baby steps sideways to introduce some bending. He is just so good! He had moments of oh boy but just came to little head shakes and nothing more.

He is a narrow type of horse so it’s very important to have all this work done so that you can control his straightness!!! He could easily drop his shoulder if I didn’t have the ability to ride him up into the contact which is why I feel like it’s important for horses like him to learn about contact ASAP. It’s not that I’m holding onto his face or pulling him into a frame but I am asking him to make the correct shape with his body. He does understand that me putting some pressure on the reins and adding leg means to step under and soften his topline. This allows me to have a softer back so that I can manipulate him and it also encourages relaxation.

I am telling you he felt amazing!!! I was so proud of him because he had never been in such a busy situation but he was just so good. I was so impressed with how he felt. Wish I had video…I know…but I have more people to help with that now so we will work harder at getting video. I just walked and trotted but he is now ready to start working on the canter under tack.

It really is a ride like that just seems to make everything right in the world. I love what I do and it’s just so much fun to see horses that may have been a bit difficult starting out all of a sudden figuring it all out. His personality is emerging and he is starting to trust me as a rider. I was so proud of him!

Now I can’t wait to ride him again and of course we are getting poured on today and potentially more snow for the weekend. Uh!

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One response to “Why the groundwork is so important at this time of year

  1. Nice to read about your take on lungeing. I had a bad fall (on my neck!) two years ago, and have had confidence issues ever since. I recently started co-boarding a new horse who made me a bit nervous at first – lungeing before rides (especially during this chilly winter!) has really helped me to feel more comfortable with and on him.

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