Groundwork; the ‘Bookends’ to Your Riding

Groundwork; the ‘Bookends’ to Your Riding

Groundwork; the ‘Bookends’ to Your Riding

Groundwork; The Bookends to Your Riding

What this episode is all about & how it can help you:-

  • Understand why groundwork is essential when working with your horse
  • Begin thinking about the importance of your position when on the ground
  • Realise that your horse might not know what you are asking or saying
  • Start becoming more mindful of your aids on the ground

Here’s a question for you…  Where do all of your conversations with your horse begin and end?  And where do you spend most time interacting with your horse on a daily basis?  The answer to both of these questions is ‘on the ground’.

Groundwork is a term which describes how we communicate with our horses from the ground. Standing beside them, rather than on their backs.

In this episode of the Daily Strides Podcast I want to get you excited about improving your groundwork!  If you think this is something that doesn’t deserve your time or attention; I urge you to think again!

Groundwork really is the bookends to every ride you have with your horse.  So it makes sense that improving communication there, will lead to clearer communication in the saddle as well…

Firstly, What Groundwork Is Not!

There is often a misconception surrounding groundwork that lumps it into the same category as natural horsemanship.  Great if you are into natural horsemanship.  Not so great if you are more focused on ‘riding’ and, possibly more so, competitive riding.

Now, before you get excited, I am not personally against natural horsemanship.  However I have met a lot of riders throughout the years who seem to be of the opinion that they can only enjoy one or the other.  Natural horsemanship or ‘real riding’ (their words, not mine).

I don’t believe this to be true. But, even if it was, groundwork is NOT natural horsemanship.  There are similarities between the two, but then everything with horses is related, isn’t it?!

The point I want to stress is that groundwork is essential for EVERY rider, regardless of discipline, beliefs or goals. 

Groundwork is also not something that you only consider before or during the ‘starting process.  I don’t know of many things to do with horses that you touch once and then leave.

Most things with horses require revisiting and refining.  Groundwork is no different.  As your relationship grows and develops, so too should your groundwork.

Becoming Clear on What You Want on the Ground…

When you go to ride, lunge, clip, turn out – insert appropriate verb – your horse, you meet your horse on the ground.  There needs to be a certain level of understanding present between both of you.  Clear communication is just as important on the ground as it is in the saddle.

Many riders seem to just assume that horses are born knowing all the ‘rules’.  They innately know how to handle themselves however the rider wants them to…

However, even if this was true (which it is not), every rider has different expectations when it comes to their horses behaviour on the ground.  Some people enjoy horses who ‘push the boundaries’.  A free spirit.  Other riders would much rather their horses act more like robots than living breathing creatures with minds of their own…

Luckily, the majority of riders fall somewhere into the middle ground of this spectrum.  They enjoy a well-mannered horse who can, if the situation calls for it, think for himself. 

Why I feel Groundwork is ‘Essential’ for Your Riding

How your horse communicates with you is how he has been thought to communicate with you.  He may have learned this from you.  Or from one of the other many people he has come into contact with throughout his life.

What is important to recognise is that the communication is a learned one.  He has learned to respond to certain things in particular ways.  

These can be, in your opinion, positive or negative.  To your horse, they just are the way he has been thought or allowed to conduct himself.

The onus is therefore on you, the rider, to begin working with your horse on the ground in a mindful way.  Focus on teaching him how you would like him to respond to you. 

Good groundwork leads to less stress.  It means that all parties understand what is expected of them.  Very often, it leads to a more productive and relaxed ride or schooling session.

Start with Your Position

So just like your communication in the saddle begins with a correct or good position, so too does your communication on the ground.  Your position on the ground will influence how clearly you can communicate something to your horse.

Communication is all about your message being ‘heard’.  Positioning will decide easy it is for someone to hear you…

A common mistake I see time and again with young and mature riders occurs when leading horses.  The rider will walk in front of the horse.  Now, depending on what someone has taught the horse, this can often work for them… Until it doesn’t.

Eyeball to Eyeball… A Big No!

If the horse becomes unsure of something, or just doesn’t want to go somewhere, leading from this position just won’t work.  The rider is standing in front of the horse, pulling the horse forward.  The horse is leaning backwards, stretching out his head and neck.  He has no intention of moving forwards!  A tug of war ensues and most often the 600kg horse will win the war.

Rather think shoulder to shoulder… (I know, if you’re Irish and you enjoy rugby, your smiling while humming the tune…!)

If the rider simply walked beside the horse, a few things would happen.  First, the horse would feel more confident.  Second, the horse actually has a space to move forwards into.  Thirdly the rider won’t find themselves squaring up, eyeball to eyeball with their horse.  A posture which is more aggressive than encouraging.

Very often with groundwork, just like in riding, the rider needs to become aware of the impact they are having on the horse, before they are willing to begin changing their behaviour. 

Does Your Horse Understand What You’re Saying?

It can be frustrating when you are doing everything ‘right’ and your horse just won’t respond the way you want him to!  It can lead to all sorts of judgements being passed on the horse because of his behaviour.  He’s naughty or misbehaving.  Maybe he is ‘ignoring’ you or inattentive.  You might find yourself, as was the case for me, muttering about him being downright ‘bold’.

However, maybe your horse has been thought something different.  Rather than being naughty, he simply might not correctly understand what you are asking. 

As mentioned, it is very rare to work with a horse that has never worked with another person.  Most horses will have experienced all sorts of different interactions with all sorts of different people.  Farriers, trainers, vets, riders…

If you find yourself trying to explain something and you’re being misunderstood, change something!  The onus is on you to explain yourself differently or better.  

It is not up to the person with whom you are trying to communicate with to change how they are listening or responding.  Your methods must become clearer.  You need to communicate in a way that you can be correctly understood.

Understand Your Basic Aids on the Ground

Just like when in the saddle, you have basic aids which you can use while on the ground.  Clear groundwork aids that you use while on the ground need to be clear and concise.  When you are riding and want to convey something to your horse, you do so through your aids.

You have similar aids which you can use when you are on the ground with your horse.  Becoming mindful about how you use them is key to successful groundwork.

It begins with you understanding your aids.  From here, you can successfully apply those aids in a way that your horse can begin to recognise and understand. 

Telling Your Horse When He Gets it Right

With all of the above in place, your communication will still only be as good as your horse understanding what you are saying.  You must tell him when he gets it right.  Each time you ask something, tell him when he responds correctly.

This is where I believe you can really start to bridge your groundwork communication with your aids in the saddle. 

How you ask and how you reward from the ground should be similar to what you do from the saddle.  That way your horse can continue the conversation from ground to the saddle.

Groundwork is a huge topic, but one that I feel is essential for all riders – regardless of discipline or goals in and out of the saddle.

Happy Riding


Other posts, episodes and resources that relate to this topic:-

The groundwork series is a full, 4 week series which guides you through groundwork with your horse.  Daily audio trainings which you can use to completely overhaul your groundwork with your horse – or just make little tweaks that will have a huge impact.

The groundwork series is all available in an easy to use ‘feed’, which will put all the trainings straight onto your phone.  Meaning you can use them where ever you want, when ever you want

All the trainings and the lunging series, the long line trainings and so much more are available for you immediately when you join Daily Strides Premium. Find out more HERE


For more information visit the links below



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