Written by Jennifer Denison
Simple tasks can provide the most valuable groundwork lessons for your horse. Learn how Tammy Pate makes the most of leading, grooming, saddling and bridling her horses.
If you are a longtime horse owner, you probably have a pre-ride routine. In ritualistic fashion, you walk to the pasture with halter, lead rope and grain bucket in tote. You catch your horse, lead him to the barn and tie him to the hitching post. You brush off the mud and dust, plop on a pad and saddle, and bridle him. Now you’re ready to work.
Your work started the moment you walked into the pasture, when your horse formed his initial impression of you.
Last month, in the first of four articles in this series on “intuitive horsemanship,” you learned that you start training your horse—and any others around him—from the moment you step into his environment. Depending on your approach, you could be teaching horses to recognize and respect you from the ground, or to disregard your presence and leave.
This is all a part of my philosophy, based on ancient yoga principles, of being aware of your inner and outer worlds, and bringing the two together in harmony. When you’re in tune with yourself, your horse and nature, your intentions will be focused. In other words, you’ll be mentally and physically present in the moment, and recognize that each situation is an opportunity to build on your horse’s training and refine his responsiveness, which transfers to what you do in the saddle.
This sometimes means you must change your plans and spend more time working with your horse on the ground, rather than in the saddle. However, groundwork doesn’t have to be thoughtless movement around a round pen. You’re doing groundwork from the time you go to catch your horse.
In this article, we’ll pick up where we left off in the last installment, on the ground with your horse haltered, ready to lead him back to the barn to groom and saddle. These simple tasks, if done correctly and with cognizance, are effective groundwork exercises in preparation for riding.
First, however, take a moment to relax, breathe deeply, focus on the present, and forget everything that’s bothering you. Also, set an affirmation for this lesson. As I explained in the last article, an affirmation helps create positive thoughts that increase your confidence, focus your intentions, and empower you physically and emotionally to achieve your goal.
Once your horse is haltered, pay attention to how you hold the lead rope. You want to grasp the rope firmly in your hands, but never gripping it. Gripping creates a current of tension that radiates up the rope to your horse.
No matter what you do with a horse, you must capture his mind before you can ask for movement. If your horse is asleep, grazing or looking at something other than you, before you lead him, gain his attention by gently bumping the lead rope, bringing his head toward you, snapping your fingers or ...