Refining Groundwork with the Horse

Refining Ground Work with the Horse

Whenever I show up to work with a horse I go through a mental checklist assessing things such as:
Where is the horse’s mind today?
How is the horse looking/feeling in his postures, breathing, and movement?
What was the feeling or energy he offered when greeting me in his pasture or stall?
Does he seem mentally available as I ask to halter, lead, and stop at the gate?
If I ask for him to change his focus, "let go" of a mental distraction, decrease/increase his energy, step on/at a specific spot, or pause while I "fix" something else, is he getting defensive for my opinions or his he willing to try?

Different horses are at various stages in their education. But for a lot of folks, their "groundwork," which is a conversation opener for the upcoming ride, can be had while catching the horse, leading the horse, tacking the horse, and having the horse line up for the mounting block.

Nothing is a "means to an end," rather each piece is an opportunity for conversations, addressing what the horse is offering, and supporting getting him to a place of mental availability.


It does not require a round pen, running circles, or otherwise. Yes, the conversation can be had whether the horse is loose or on the lead rope, the communication can seem "different" because of various scenarios, but the tools and clarity in communication should maintain the same standard, or seek to improve the quality between horse and human.

Some days your groundwork may last a few minutes and your horse is ready, willing, and available; other days may be more challenging for you and your horse, and your entire session may just be groundwork. Is that a failure? No. It is a success that you can put your wants and ego aside and believe the horse, help him in his time of need, and improve the partnership by doing so.

These experiences decrease the frequency and extreme behaviors that arise as the horses begin to feel less bothered by life in general due to your support rather than critique.

There's a saying I frequently use, "Embrace the tantrum but help your horse through to the other side." Most folks leave their horse mentally and emotionally flailing about and then wonder why each time the horse falls apart it gets worse.
Without digging in and finding the route of any bother, concern, or resistance in the horse, you're only masking the feelings until later when you ask something that will finally concern the horse enough for him to show you all that has been pent up.

But by putting value to all the seemingly mundane moments of interaction, you're actually "fixing" problems before they ever escalate, which is the whole point of groundwork.

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