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Alpha Natural Horsemanship

‘Ask with lightness, encourage without forcing, correct with softness’

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FOUNDATION OF GROUND TRAINING


   


The purpose of Foundation of Ground Training

All our equine teaching for handling, starting and riding is to have a horse that is trust worthy on the ground, in the saddle and responds in a positive non-resistant way to all human requests and the most sought after is riding. It can also be the most challenging. As a predator, a human sitting on the back of a horse is not only unnatural it is one of the most terrifying requests we teach the to tolerate. We must teach our horses to learn how to tolerate everything we bring into their domestic lives whether its horse trailers, saddles, blankets, bits, crowds, motorcycles, etc.  Natural Horsemanship teaches us that before a horse can learn anything new he has three primary needs that must be satisfied – safety, comfort and leadership.

 

The importance of Foundation of Ground Training

It is amazing that some people do NOT consider Foundation of Ground Training as the most important training a horse will receive in order to prepare it for work in the saddle!  It is also amazing that with a little ground work people feel that a horse is safe and prepared Emotionally, Mentally and Physically for work in the saddle after 30 days training?  The Spanish Riding School in Vienna Austria is considered by most to be the finest school of riding and horsemanship in the world. To become a member, learn classical dressage and master the art of training the great white Lipizzaner is for many the highest honour a human can achieve in the world of the horse. Whether or not one agrees with this statement is not significant. Knowing that before any student is permitted to ride they must complete four years of groundwork is, however, most definitely significant!  

 

Why Ground Work?

Research Studies and my own proven experience conclude that horses trained by establishing a solid Foundation of Ground Training had more confidence and trust in the rider”.  Owners who had experience doing Ground Work with their horses were also more confident and understood their horses.  So why would it be true that horses who regularly learn via ground work/in-hand work are more relaxed?  There are a few possibilities when horses are trained regularly with ground work:


  • Horses are more relaxed because their trainers are more relaxed because they take the time to teach their horses from the ground they are less goal oriented and more concerned with the process.  The more relaxed in general the riders are will foster this same relaxation in their horses. As you are, so is your horse.

  • Owners, trainers and handlers who are more educated about a horse’s balance will learn to move in correct balance which allows them to be healthy and sound in their bodies.

  • Both the rider and the horse are more relaxed because they are Emotionally, Mentally and Physically prepared for Mounted Training.  

  • Communication is the big secret and works two ways; if the horse understands the exercise on the ground it will respond more willingly without fear when ask to do the exercise mounted. 

  • Before the rider mounts the horse is desensitized move away from pressure, understand aids and understands cues; they know the “right answer” from the ground so it is a lot easier for you and the horse once you begin mounted training.  If you ask properly there will be less conflict when the rider asks properly because so they will respond willingly because trust has been established and leadership earned.  If they do not understand in the saddle refresh their memory by doing it on the ground.

  • Some behavior issue[s] is created by humans so if that happens we can go back to the exercise of Ground Training and fix the undesirable behavior patterns.

What is a solid Foundation of Ground Training?

The exercises used during the Foundation of Ground Training are not about teaching the horse tricks in so much as they are about getting your horse comfortable enough so you can ride and be safe!  There is no way that you are going to do your ground control to where you can 100 percent eliminate every possible situation that could go wrong but you will develop confidence in yourself and in your horse to where he will not buck or run away.  You seldom hear someone talking about following your feel.  When you are working with your horse I would like you to think; “Can your horse respond to what you are asking her/him to do without you driving it?  Without you applying direct pressure, calmly and lightly without fear? You would just as soon use indirect pressure but if it is a spoiled horse; if it is really sticky, if it is not moving; you may have to use direct pressure and tap her/him but you would rather not if you can avoid it!  This means your horse is not following your feel; this is not a word you often hear.  But by the same token you are not at the end because you are not operating on a feel yet.  You do not want your horse to operate out of fear so you need to educate you horse to your feel and hopefully that is the lightest possible feel you have!  At the same time you will establish your leadership with loosing the trust.  You want to present the lightest possible pressure ASK first but you may have to TELL by increasing the pressure so the horse responses to your ASK. 

 

If a horse doesn't respond willingly to its handler on the ground, it is never going to respond with confidence when that person swings into the saddle. A lot of horse people misunderstand ground work and skip steps only to experience issues in the future. The most important thing to remember is that groundwork IS NOT something you do with just a colt.  In some cases a lifetime deal and it is absolutely necessary to build the foundation with proper groundwork, you should continue refining its foundation throughout your relationship with the horse because you can always make it just a little more responsive or work on softness.  I use similar methods for both English and Western in the Foundation of Ground Training.  To prepare a horse emotionally, mentally and physically we use proper cycles. 

Younger and/or older horses can be high maintenance so that it respects you, your space and accepts you as its leader.  Foundation of Ground Training exercise teaches the horse to move its feet willingly when you ask, enables him to read your body language and posture, understands reward, approach & retreat, has your trust, and it exposes the horse to many situations using a triad of exercises that are 90% related to mounted schooling.  Not only do the ground exercises prepare the horse for work in the saddle they teach responsiveness and suppleness, they build trust, they provide you with a method should you experience a concerning situation in the saddle in order to communicate with your horse.  Please know that the most important progress and logical building blocks in this process being able to control the horses five body parts; the head, neck, shoulders, rib cage and hindquarters.  The better your horses foundation is on the ground the better you communication will be while riding and/or during driving sessions.  If we ask a horse to do something properly and he does not do it he is not trained; he is broke”! 

 

Is your horse an A Student?

Wouldn't it be great if your horse was an “A” student with the triad of exercises on the ground that parallel riding before you consider getting on his back?  If it were then when you do got on his back, you would have the tools you need to maintain control over its five body parts; the head, neck, shoulders, ribcage and hindquarters. The single most important aspect of horse training is control of the horses five body parts and on the ground first is where you need to start.  Control can mean many things when it comes to training your horse. The type of control that I am talking about is not the kind that uses force or causes fear and/or pain. Control is as simple as asking your horse to do something (something specific) whether he wants to or not and expecting him to do it. When asking your horse to do something, your cues need to be consistent, kind and fair. The horse will then understand that he is being asked to do something without force, he will respond rather than react out pain or fear. He will then learn to trust you. When you have trust you start to build a relationship with your horse. I start this relationship from the ground.

 

Control without Pain or Fear = Builds Trust + Respect +Leadership= Develops into a Relationship

 

Training to quick, too fast results in holes in the Foundation Training

Many people are in a hurry to ride the "Green" horse.  Some riders traditionally believe that they can gain more control from the horse when mounted.  Actually is the horse is not prepared properly and does not understand what you want that is breaking the horse and not training it!. If the horse is not focused on you and accept you as the leader he will not listen to you when you are on his back. Although you can train your horse something new from his back, it should be based a progression of exercises and skills that he is familiar with that you have done from the ground first. You do not want to find yourself riding through a compromising situation or end up in a middle of a wreck because you did not take the time to train the horse from the ground first. Never put yourself or your horse in a dangerous or compromising situation. To avoid this as much as possible, I will do a great deal of bridle work from the ground first, along with essential ground lessons to get the horse prepared for riding.  Although it is the desire of most, if not all, horse owners for their horses to have a good Foundation on the Ground, I have experienced that there are two common areas that contribute to the horse not being ready to be ridden. The first is that the handler/rider needs to know how to develop a lesson plan using consistent cues to teach the horse what it is you want them to do. The other common area of concern is that not enough time is spent on the necessary exercises or skills in order for the horse to really learn the lesson. Whatever the reason, ground control should become a priority. Why? Most importantly – SAFETY for you and for your horse! 

 

Next Step Foundation of Mounted Training

Establish leadership on the ground and transferring it into the saddle is a critical part of your relationship with your horse. You may become quite efficient at controlling your horse on the ground, but if you have a sensitive, not confident, spooky or over-exuberant horse, you’ll need to understand all the Natural Horsemanship principles in order to move forward successfully and preserve your confidence. Horses need leadership both on the ground and in the saddle. Leadership is essential to them in the wild; if they don’t have a leader they will become one and make all the decisions as to when to go, when to stay and when to run. So if you don’t lead, they will because our leadership tends to be challenged in certain situations.  You will need to develop a progressive Step by Step Training Plan once you are in the saddle that parallels the exercises you did during the Foundation of Ground Training.

 

The bottom line

Body Control is the art of being able to Control the horse feet to get to his mind when we ask a horse to move each segment of his body; his head, neck, shoulders, rib cages and haunches.  These are separate entities that must learn to work individually or in unison as our riding commands.  Focusing on the displacement, flexibility and control of these separate entities is the mainstay of creating a rider and a horse that is confident, willing, soft, supple and capable of moving his body in any direction at any time, which in turn will help him to excel in any discipline.  Having control of the horse’s five body parts is more than a big deal it is everything. If you can control the five body parts, then you can pretty much teach your horse anything; avoid, prevent and fix issues should they arise.  Remember horses communicate with body language and express their emotions with movements!

 

Last but not least; “Lightness is the Foundation of Willingness, the hallmark of collection…..Bill Dorrence”!