Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Groundwork - A Paradigm Shift in Training

Groundwork... Groundwork.... Groundwork
Like location, location, location..... groundwork really does make a HUGH difference in a horse's ability to learn faster and easier. It also helps a rider to learn faster and easier.

So why not?

Paradigm Shift In Training
Gone are the days when it was considered common practise to start all training once mounted (after a little longeing perhaps and then that wasn't very common either. I rarely did it.). Remember those days when you were a little nervous or unsure about getting on a horse because you weren't sure what they would do? Well not any more!
We now, thanks to many pioneer horsemanship trainers, have a new common practise to do groundwork first. Yea! Its made a big difference in my training program.
So I go on record now in thanking those pioneers for making groundwork an everyday practise.

What Can Be Achieved
I personally believe that almost EVERYTHING can be taught to a horse first while on the ground. If not, then at least some part of the training steps.

So why not?

Here is a partial list of what can be achieved from groundwork:

  • establish mutual respect and trust between horse and human
  • establish communication between horse and rider
  • getting rewarded for a positive response
  • establishing good habits in your and your horse
  • teach the horse to pay attention to you as team leader (& establish you as team leader)
  • establish basic body control on the horse (lateral flexion, sidepassing, etc..)
  • familiarize/learn the step-by-step progressive process in training (ie. training scale) 
  • teach the horse to respect your space
  • determining temperament of the horse to customize training program
  • learn to read the horse's body language and visa versa
  • establish a mental connection with your horse
  • start to teach the horse to handle pressure in training
  • teach the horse to follow you (hooked on you)
  • establish & reinforce forward motion in the horse (which is so important)
  • teach the horse voice commands like the 'kiss', 'cluck', 'whoa', etc.
  • teach a horse to stop and backup using voice and rein cues
  • to create confidence in you and your horse
  • do a system's check to make sure everything is OK before mounting.
  • make sure your cinch is tight enough before mounting.
  • for the rider to really like being around their horse & visa versa!
I could go on and on and on. (Which I will as we do the groundwork exercises).

Isn't this great?!

And there is SO much available now a days on the Internet and through videos etc. to learn how to benefit from groundwork. Here is a link to a YouTube video of Clinton Anderson’s Gaining Respect and Control From the Ground Series I.The key to groundwork for the trainer is that the learning process is made easier and faster and is more satisfying for the horse. Effective horsemanship methods encourage the horse to want to be a team player and to enjoy their job.
What a way to start the lesson or ride! It's a quick way to check things before riding.

So, my body control foundation reining training (as well as all my other training programs)... you guessed it... are heavily grounded in groundwork. :)

Round Penning and Longeing
The way to do a lot of the ground work is by doing round penning  and longeing exercises.
I won't go into them here in detail for this series of articles on Trigger except for the groundwork that I will do with Trigger, (I will go over them in more detail in a later series of articles). For general information, I recommend you look up
Clinton Anderson and  Stacey Westfall's groundwork programs so you are familiar with the general terms.

Everyday Handling
What I do want to especially point out is that a lot of groundwork can be done while you are handling your horse in your day to day activities. Feeding, turn out .... anytime you are with your horse can be turned into a groundwork success.
I use this a lot when I work my horses or customer's horses.

Why not? Why not reinforce the positive work and behaviour you want in your horse.
Be consistent in your handling. It's easy! And a little training every time really adds up. And you are establishing good habits with your horse.

Trigger in the Cross Ties
If you've been reading my articles, I've started to give an older gelding named Trigger a tune up. Tune up's are 'training by the hour' sessions used as retraining in the horse. (Reinforcing the body control foundation). Trigger needs to have a basic handle or foundation. Don't they all?!?!

In my first training session, I worked with Trigger on the ground while I brushed and saddled him. This is where I start to teach a lot of the basics for the horse like lateral flexion, emergency 1 rein stop, flex to a stop, voice commands like 'whoa' and 'cluck', and to backup (see the list above). Trigger is not very responsive to voice commands. He is used to being pulled on by the reins for most of his cues.
What I will do with Trigger (and all horses who were taught the 'everything is done with the reins') is to associate the voice and leg cues with his old heavy reins cues. As he understands the voice and leg cues, I will wean him off the heavy rein cues. I will then retrain him that light rein cues are used for other things like flexion and steering.

After I was satisfied that Trigger started to understand lateral flexion, getting rewarded for a positive response (that I wasn't going to hurt, nag or bug him), started to understand 'whoa' and 'cluck', I then took him outside and did all this again while longeing.

Under Saddle
Once I was satisfied that Trigger started to understand lateral flexion, getting rewarded for a positive response (that I wasn't going to hurt, nag or bug him), started to understand 'whoa' and 'cluck', I then mounted and did all this again while at a walk, jog and trot. You can see the progressive steps.... ground, longeing, mounted.

Body Control Foundation/Western Dressage, Reining Techniques and Training- An Overall Flavour
Being a reining trainer, I do teach the groundwork, foundation training and all other training (including reining) using body control and reining fundamentals and techniques. I believe it gives the BEST, most complete training. (I'm biased. I know. I like it!). It's ultimate power steering and power brakes!!

Any and all horses can benefit from it
. That's the beauty of it!
. Update: Dec/2011, western performance horse development is now the general term being used for body control foundation training. Imagine that! :)

So once I have done the initial training (introducing what I want the horse to learn) via groundwork, and once the horse understands what I am asking (communication has been established), I do repeat the lesson and perfect the lesson while mounted. This could and generally takes several sessions. The goal, after all, is to get the horse better trained while mounted as well.

I will mention as I write the articles, the body control foundation and reining techniques or exercises that I use. The lateral flexion for example is the start to having a softer, more responsive mouth. That's body control and that is definitely a requirement in reining. More on this in the next article.

The next few articles will talk in more detail about each of the exercises I did. I started the Body control work with Lateral Flexion, Flex (laterally) to a stop, Flex (laterally) to slow down, and Emergency 1 Rein Stop (Flex laterally to a sudden stop).

Need to have a 'whoa' before you can 'go'! (For safety of course!)

Not feeling up to par but still want to work your horse..... do groundwork.
Don't have a ton of time to spend working your horse ..... do groundwork.
Want to reinforce something taught under saddle.... do groundwork.
I think you're getting the idea I want to get across.

Key to Groundwork - A Peace of Mind
The key to groundwork is that the rider can be absolutely sure (as much as is possible) that when they step aboard the horse, they know, without a doubt, that they are confident that the horse is safe and the rider and horse have established a communication between each other.

If you need any help with groundwork or any other, please contact me for an information package on my fun, innovative approach.

Putting my spin on groundwork.
©Copyright KISS Reiners

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