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Is Groundwork Necessary?

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Well, here are some questions to ask yourself if you are wondering about the necessity of groundwork…

  1. Do you want a good solid foundation before you get in the saddle?
  2. Do you want to have a loving and trusting relationship with your horse?
  3. Do you want to feel confident when you go for a ride?
  4. Do you want your horse to be happy going out on rides with you?

If you answered Yes to all four of these questions, then my answer to “Is Groundwork Necessary” is a resounding…

Yes!

I have to admit though that I learned this answer late in life. When I first started taking riding lessons as a child, I would go out to the barn, tack up one of the horses, go take my lesson, and then untack and go home.

This became a habit and one that I was taught was normal. When a few of those schooling horses ended up coming home with me and living in my backyard, that habit continued. I didn’t know any difference and hadn’t been taught any different.

I would go out, groom, tack, ride, untack, groom, and be done. Other than feeding or mucking times, I didn’t really do anything with the horses. They didn’t seem to mind. But that was from a child’s perspective.

Teddie and Jazz - Horse Welfare

As I grew up and was able to spend more time with my horses because I enjoyed it, I realized I also enjoyed just hanging out and playing with them. I didn’t have to always ride to have fun. I loved doing both.

Funny thing, the horses seemed to really enjoy it too. Now my perspective was changing about my old habits with horses.

This is when I learned about the importance of a good relationship with my horses…on the ground. I saw how doing things with my horses on the ground really helped what we did together in the saddle.

I used to think groundwork meant that I had to have a training program that I “worked” on the ground with my horses. That word WORK made me think it would be hard to do. Then I realized that groundwork was also hanging out and playing with my horses.

Ok, now groundwork was fun.

Jazz was always so high-strung and excited to go out riding that I needed to let him run around the arena and play before we went out. So that time playing together was our groundwork. After our rides, I would groom jazz and just spend time being together. I considered this part of our groundwork as well.

Then I saw a trainer working with her horse in the arena and was very interested in what she was doing and how she was training.

I thought, why is she training her horse to ride on the ground when she could do it all from the saddle?

She was kind enough to explain it and it made perfect sense to me. I just had never thought about it in too much detail before because I had never been taught its importance.

In a nutshell, this is what she told me…

She explained that it was safer to teach horses certain lessons on the ground before teaching them in the saddle, like:

  1. How to be ridden
  2. How to jump
  3. Learning voice cues and regulating their paces

She also explained that a lot of training has to be done from the ground, like:

  1. Haltering
  2. Ground manners
  3. Desensitization and floating (trailering)

At this point in my life, as a teenager, I had only had dealings with older school horses that had already been trained in the basics and were pretty much “bomb proof” as they say. So this was something new and interesting.

I have used groundwork so often and with so many horses that I can’t imagine my horse life without it. It has made working with and playing with my horses so much more fulfilling and interesting.

Groundwork covers a lot of areas from connection and communication to companionship. And it even includes spending time together hanging out and doing nothing.

I’ve learned how important groundwork is over the years and how it makes everything else easier if you do it first. Easier for both you and your horse. I’m very thankful to that kind woman who taught me how important groundwork is for both me and my horse.

If you haven’t done much groundwork, try it. I’m sure you’ll notice a difference in your riding and your relationship. It adds another dimension to your horsemanship skills as well.

Here’s one example of how I integrate groundwork into my training.

How to get your horse into a float (trailer) when they don’t want to?

  • Don’t force it
  • Be patient
  • Try to work in baby steps
  • Start with groundwork

Here is a video to show how I’m starting out with Merlin…

Merlin getting used to being around the trailer

And here is a video to show how I started with getting Apollo more comfortable…

Apollo working on my “Squaring Up” exercise

These are just a few things to do to get your horse comfortable with floating (trailering). I also add straw bales to the sides of my squaring up exercise as the next step to get Apollo used to walking into an area like the trailer.

Other exercises I do to help my horses be more comfortable going into a trailer are:

  • Walking over a bridge
  • Walking up a ramp
  • Walking through a tunnel or under an overhang
  • Stepping over poles on the ground
  • Walking into a stall with the halter on and the lead rope over the neck and adding a voice command

You can also add more exercises on the ground that mimic what is needed to go into and stay in a trailer.

Be creative and have fun. When you are happy, not stressed, and are enjoying the exercises, the more fun your horse will also be having. That will in turn lower his stress over getting into a trailer and will quicken your progress. Floating will become fun.

Please Share


  • Oh, I love the squaring up exercise. What a great idea. It’s so interesting what groundwork can achieve. Lovely to see a video of Merlin. Have a great week.

    • Thank you Sarah. He is such a big “baby” and so sweet. I just have to be extra careful as he is now a 16h, 1,200 pound, 10 month old, very athletic stallion. 🙂

  • BONNIE BERESFORD says:

    Teddie, this is a great column! I too have always enjoyed groundwork with my horse because we bond in a very different way than in the saddle. But your reasons gave me some things to think about that had never occurred to me, including a bunch more ground lessons that feed into the practicality of riding.

    This philosophy is also the one expressed by the great Alois Podjasky, who was the director of the Spanish Riding school in Vienna. He trained horses and trained his riders how to train horses, by starting with intensive and thorough groundwork. And these people were and are the most skilled riders in the world. Thank you!

    • That is good to know Bonnie. I’m glad to see what a difference it has made with others as well. It has been a game-changer for me too.

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