You gotta have tools….
This is something I have been working on over the past couple of months with Plezant. And while I meant to post it earlier, that didn’t happen. But I’m writing about it now, in case you are getting started working with your horse, or are wanting to do more groundwork with your horse this article might be helpful for you.
Groundwork for Plezant
I started working with Plezant from the ground first a couple of months ago. I couldn’t be consistent though because well, it was the middle of winter here. But at this point in time he has had plenty of time to settle in and now its time to get to some serious ground training.
And the first thing I want to do is make sure that he isn’t afraid of the tools I am going to use. So I have to make sure he knows that the tools (and me) aren’t going to do anything to hurt him. Which means I am going to need to desensitize him to each of the tools I use.
It isn’t a fast process. But the time that I take now, and work with him will be worth it when I begin riding him.
The tools that you use for training your horse are an important part of the training process. I wrote an entire blog post breaking down each of the tools I like to use. And you can find it here.
I do have a Clinton Anderson rope halter and a 14 foot yacht rope lead that I use for all training sessions. But if you are looking for a more affordable option, Knotty Girlz on Amazon has fantastic products too.
You aren’t allowed to take away the pressure until he stops moving his feet and shows a sign of relaxation. So wherever he goes, I go. I keep following him with the lead rope until he stands still and shows a sign of relaxation.
If he runs away from me the most important thing I need to do is keep his eyes on me, as well as keep a hold of the lead rope. The worst thing that I could do is to drop the lead rope. So I have to keep a firm grip on the lead rope. And by keeping his eyes to me, it disengages his hindquarters.
And with a huge horse, this can be challenging!
Slow Progress Is Good Progress
Now once he is good with the lead rope off to the side then I am going to throw the lead rope at him with rhythm. And again once he stands still and gives me a sign of relaxation, I take away the pressure. Once he stands still with the rope being thrown over his back, I then throw the rope up his neck. And again, I wait for him to relax and stand still.
Once he stands still, I praise him, back off the the pressure of the rope, and rub him and tell him good boy.
Keep in mind to go with the horse if he moves away. Our instinct when the horse moves around and backs away is to back off the pressure. But if we back off when he is starts moving, then we are training him that the he can get away from the pressure by simply running away. He learns that is the right thing to do. We need to teach them that running is never the answer. The answer to get a release of the pressure is to stand still.
And after his back is done, then I work on his front legs, then his back legs.
Its all about approach and retreat.
Once he is quiet on the one side, then I can go to the other side. Everything I do on one side, I have to do on the opposite side.
Baby Steps, One Day At A Time
When I started doing groundwork with Plezant, I had only ridden him one time. This was way back in early December. And once I got done riding him, I asked how long it had been since he had been ridden, and I was told it was over a year ago. (Something to remember to ask BEFORE getting on the horse!) But I really want to learn as much as I can about him and his habits before I start really riding him.
Especially with the current situation we find ourselves. I am doing everything I can to keep myself safe while working with my horses. Now would not be a good time to end up having to go to the hospital because I was in a rush, and did something stupid to injure myself.
The goal is to set myself as well as my horse up for success. Which is why I spend a lot of time on the groundwork first. And, well because it is one of my favorite things to do.
Always Start with Groundwork
Whether you are beginning to work with a new horse, or if you are just giving your horse a refresher, it is always best to start with groundwork. For the first week of beginning your new routine, if you can dedicate an entire week to working on the ground you will be setting yourself up for success in the saddle.
You can reconnect with your horse and establish the basics of respect as well as communication. The goal is to earn your horse’s respect, and build his level of trust in you. If you establish this from the ground first, it will transition under saddle. Because if he understands what you are asking on the ground first, there is a much better chance that the lessons will transfer to when you are in the saddle.
This doesn’t mean you can’t do both groundwork and riding at the same time. But if you spend a solid week of working on the ground first, it will make your in the tack training faster and safer.
Changing Sides – Changing Brains
Did you know that when you work on one side of your horse, and then move to the other side, it’s as if he is seeing this for the first time? He can be super great on one side, and you think everything is good. But change sides, and it’s like you are changing brains.
This means after your horse gets it on one side, you have to repeat the process on the other side. So once he is good with an exercise on one side, you have to go through the same process on the opposite side.
If when you are working on the ground your horse pulls away from you, or is not doing what is asked of him, remember, don’t try to stop him by pulling on the rope. Stay at the 45 degree angle from his shoulder, and keep his nose tipped toward you. Keep your hand up high so he can’t run forward over you.
For Plezant, I am just getting him used to the tools that I am using.
The goal over this learning session is to prove to Plezant that my tools are not going to hurt him. I am desensitizing him to the tools. I want to prove to him that he doesn’t need to be frightened of me or my tools.
So this means I am going to throw the rope at him, sort of. I use a rhythmical motion and move the lead rope toward him. Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt him at all. This is why I like the 14 foot yacht rope lead ropes. They have weight to them, but they are soft, flexible and move very well.
At first, your horse can get pretty dramatic, and move all around you when you are tossing a rope at him. But that is ok, he will settle down as he get’s used to the tools. For every movement away from you, he will start to be ok with it in time. And after a few moments of backing up, or looking wide eyed, he will eventually stop moving and begin to relax.
And after every moment of relaxation I make sure to rub on him and tell him what a good boy he is. Always remember to keep the pressure on while the horse is moving his feet. You can decrease the intensity, but keep the rope moving until the horse stands still. If you keep his eyes tipped toward you his hindquarters are disengaged. You can do this!
Groundwork for Plezant – Getting Used to the Tools
One thing to keep in mind when you are desensitizing is to do it in order from least sensitive body part to most sensitive body part. So you go in this order:
- Withers and back
- Back legs
- Front legs
And then throw the rope all the way over his back
Do it in this order, and in time and with repetition you will be successful with desensitizing your horse to the lead rope.
Groundwork for Plezant – Getting Used to the Tools
Well this is day one for groundwork training for Plezant. Overall he did really good. But the lesson doesn’t end here. Nope. Each time I bring him out to work with him, I work on desensitizing him to my tools, and me. And then each subsequent lesson I build upon the last one.
And I think it’s worth mentioning, I have a membership to Noelle Floyd’s Masterclasses as well as Clinton Anderson’s No Worries Club. I use both of these memberships to help me with training. I know it would be best to have a trainer, but because of my own circumstances, as well as our global stay at home order, working with a trainer isn’t something I can do right now. There is so much information I can find online. And since we are all under orders to stay home, this type of training is so helpful!
Be sure to subscribe to my blog so you can see all of my tips on ground work, and getting Plezant ready for his new career of being a happy and calm horse!