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Alpha Natural Horsemanship

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

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Transfer Ground Work to Mounted 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 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 honor 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!  The purpose and most after of all in our equine teaching, starting, training, breaking or whatever term is used is to have the horse respond in a positive non-resistant way to all human requests while 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 him 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.

 

Another study of dressage horses in Germany that looked at rein length and tension revealed a surprising finding: horses that were regularly trained in ground work/in-hand work had lower heart rates during ridden work than all of the other participating horses. This wasn’t what the researchers were investigating, but it was clear in the results. From this, the researchers concluded that, “Perhaps horses trained by establishing a solid Foundation of Ground Training had more confidence and trust in the rider”.  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; they:

 

  • Are calmer and more relaxed because their trainers are calmer and more relaxed. It’s possible that humans who take the time to teach their horses from the ground are less goal oriented and more concerned with the process. They may be more relaxed in general and foster this same relaxation in their horses. ”As you are, so is your horse”.

  • Have trainers, handlers and owners who are more educated about a horse’s balance. Their horses learn to move in correct balance which allows them to be healthy and sound in their bodies and, therefore, more relaxed.  Mental and Physical balance is emotional balance.

  • Understand the trainer’s and the rider’s intent and body language better. They have mastered the response to an aid before the rider mounts and know the “right answer” already once under saddle. They don’t experience any conflict when the rider asks they respond willingly and not with undesirable behavior because the trust and leadership has already been installed. They are more relaxed about being ridden because they rarely have caused confusion for them.

  • Are allowed to make a mistake and taught how to do it correctly, rewarded and praised when they do.


During Foundation of Ground Training we connect our mind and the horses mind to ground exercises!  During Foundation of Mounted Training exercises we join our minds with our horses mind!

 

Establish a Solid Foundation of Ground Training

Ground control precedes body control in the saddle. 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.  Proven experienced tells me that it all begins with:

  • A proper evaluation to identify the desirable/undesirable traits of each horse and ultimately its personality.

  • Use a step by step progressive training plans for; Basic, Intermediate & Advanced ground and mounted training.

  • Adjust your training style to meet the horses personality and needs

 

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 isn’t something you do with just a colt. This is a lifetime deal and it is absolutely necessary to build proper foundations, 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 Natural Horsemanship methods for both English and Western in the Foundation of Ground Training.  If we are going to prepare a horse emotionally, mentally and physically using proper cycles based on the horses personality; these are some of the elements the exercises must contain; that I know are critical to address as part of a good foundation training [ground control]

:

  • Round penning

  • Ground Handling

  • Ground Manners

  • Ground Work

  • Yielding

  • Bending

  • Lunging basic, intermediate and advanced

  • Head, neck, Shoulder, Rib Cage & Hind Control

  • Trailer Loading

  • Ground Driving

 

Ground Work 90% related to mounted schooling

Establishing body control on the ground will allow you to transfer these skills into the saddle because you are connecting the ground work to mounted training and solidifying the foundation of your horse.  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”!

 

Ground Work is not about teaching tricks!

The exercises used during Ground Control/Ground Work 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. 

 

Wouldn't it be great if your horse were 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 have on his back, you would have the tools you need to maintain basic body control. The single most important aspect of horse training is control of the horses five body parts; the head, the neck, shoulder, rib cage and hind quarters; total control, 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.

 

Fallacies and Comment Issues

Many people are in a hurry to ride the "Green" horse.  Some riders think that they can gain more control from the horse when mounted with a proper foundation of ground training.  Most times this is a fallacy because the horse has not learned to accept pressure and a conditioned response since he does not understand our intent he will deal with it by reacting.  If the horse does not have it in his mind that you are in control when you are on the ground, he will not necessarily think that you are in control when you are on his back. Although you can train your horse something new from his back, it should be from a progression of exercises or 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! 

 

If we do not have Ground Control - How can you expect to have Body Control in the saddle:

Learn to connect Ground Control to Body Control in the saddle!  Control is the art of asking a horse to move each segment of his body; his head, neck, shoulders, rib cages and haunches they 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 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. 

 

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