Ground Training a Horse: An Essential Foundation

Ground training a horse is great for teaching and reinforcing manners on the ground that will transfer to riding.

It is essential for a safe start in training a horse to ride or drive.

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Not only do ground exercises for horses teach obedience, responsiveness, respect and suppleness, they build trust and communication beyond what you and your horse have experienced before. If you need more background on why horses need and respond so well to this type of training, visit my horse training tips page, specifically tip #3.

Good ground training for your horse goes way beyond lungeing and leads to great work at liberty and while riding! Working at liberty is the magic of having no physical connection to your horse at all! The better your foundation on the ground the better your communication in riding and/or driving sessions will be.

ground training a horse

Is “Sacking Out” Really Training?

Many people think of sacking out a horse as an acceptable form of ground training horses. It is an awful horse training method still used today. A better idea is getting a horse more confident and accepting of things he perceives as scary.

Sacking out involves tying a horse up hard and fast and flapping anything and everything at him until he is too tired to pull back anymore. It is a bad idea. This kind of horse training is exhausting and dangerous physically and mentally for the horse. It does NOT build any kind of trust or positive association with people.

Would you rather have your horse curious about new things, or just too tired to fight anymore?

Natural horse training uses approach and retreat to accomplish the same thing and build confidence and curiosity in the horse.

One of My Experiences with Sacking Out

horse ground work

I would like to share with you one sad story I remember growing up about a beautiful black and white show horse. The trainer cranked her head around to the left and tied her snaffle bit to the stirrup of the saddle. Then she chased the horse with a whip. She cracked it wildly and then eventually left the horse to stand that way for hours.

She was trying to get the horse used to the whip and teach her to bend her neck. By the end of it the poor horse was drenched in sweat from head to tail and bloody at the mouth from the pull of the bit. Her muscles were trembling with fear and exhaustion.

She kept getting caught up in her own legs trying to run away. To this day I will never forget the sad and terrified look in her sweet brown eyes. Guess what?

The training was ineffective!

She was petrified of whips still and still wouldn’t bend her head. Put yourself in her hooves; would you lose your fear of the whip or want to bend your head after being subjected to a situation like that? That trainer didn't get it.

Horses can't learn when they fear for their life

A Training Method That is So Much Better

Ground training a horse should be so much better than that!

Even lunging becomes dull and boring to a horse if done too much (and it usually is)!

There are so many things you can teach your horse that will expand your communication with him and foster trust. For instance when training young horses ground work should always come first before riding. This allows the horse to understand and learn riding cues before he carries the rider. It becomes much easier for him to understand cues given from the rider when he is started under saddle.

Teach Your Horse This to Gain His Respect and Build his Confidence

All horses no matter what their discipline, should be respectful of your personal space. A good foundation should include teaching yielding from pressure on the ground first. Ground training a horse to back away out of your personal space when asked will keep you safe. When you teach him only to enter that space when you invite him to, you build respect.

Getting your horse used to and confident with all sorts of stimulus such as:

  • tarps,
  • umbrella’s,
  • balls,
  • bridges,
  • water,
  • pedestals,
  • trailers,
  • pool noodles,
  • and barrels

using approach and retreat will build his confidence and teach him to look to you as his leader. Ground training a horse should also include Leading, tying, long lining, and trailer loading skills.

Do You Lack Imagination or Need More Know-How?

Are you lacking ideas or know how? How about trying

  • figure 8's around 2 cones
  • putting your horse's feet into a hula hoop
  • getting your horse to follow something he finds scary such as a bike or car
  • backing him out of his stall
  • teach him tricks such as "smiling" and saying "no"
  • Teach him not to fear a plastic bag or "flag"

Many natural horsemanship trainers have very specific programs for groundwork. For instance, both Parelli horse training and Clinton Anderson horse training methods have detailed DVD's describing ground training a horse from beginning to advanced exercises.

Find a method you like or come up with some ideas of your own and try some ground training exercises. Ground training a horse will heighten your communication and improve the relationship with your horse. Your horse will thank you for the variety from his regular training routine, and you will gain a more willing and confident partner when you do saddle up and ride.

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