Saturday, February 4, 2017

Relationship: Communicating on the Ground

by Mary Gallagher

I am always looking for a better way to be around horses—mine, my clients’, class and clinic participants’. Over many years, I have often heard people comment that they really prefer to just to get on and ride. So often the pressure we put on ourselves to achieve results and ‘get it done’ gets in the way of our relationship with our horse, which is why ground work makes so much sense.
Charlie and his owner having a conversation.

Ground communication makes going slow okay. It is all about the horse’s story, so going slowly and purposefully allows us to put our agenda aside, and begin to see and understand what the horse is telling us.

When approaching your horse from the ground, spend some time watching him. Really see him.  Don’t be hasty to judge, just give him time to let go of the show.  Let him impress you with what he knows. In his exuberance, he will most likely show you all his groovy moves.

Ask yourself: what does the horse notice?  Where is his mind today? How does he set himself up to use his feet and body? When you get ready to influence his feet (by asking him to move) you can use all he has shown you to get more connected to him.

When you can see where the horse is comfortable, safe, troubled, or even just a little stuck, you can search for ways to bring out the best in him, based on what you notice and remember. You want your influence to preserve and/or build confidence, as well as relaxation.

The more you know and remember about your horse, the better your influence will feel to him and the better your relationship will be.

From the ground you can:
  • develop the horse’s confidence for an upcoming schooling session, before you are mounted.  You can set up and practice a pattern that will benefit both of you during the ride, because the horse will already know what is expected.
Try this: set 4 cavelettis in a square. You will stand in the center, and have your horse walk on a lead around the outside. Inside the square is your space; he is not allowed to set foot inside. If he does, use a carrot stick or flag to gently shoo him out and back onto his track (with a bit more pressure if he steps in again).

With the right lead rope length, you can work on flexion as he rounds the corners without stepping in. Changing direction gives you a chance to communicate, and the horse a chance to respect your space while making the change.

Play with stopping, walking, faster walk, and the trot.

    Friday morning Ground Class at Freedom Farm gives us lots of time to learn new ways to play.

  • include stretching exercises, going slow and focusing on a specific area, making sure the horse gets as much of the benefit from the stretch as possible. 
Cysco and Vanessa share a stretch.
A simple stretch is head-lowering. As you stand together, ask your horse to lower his head by gently pressing between his ears while gently pulling down on the halter clip or knot. The instant he gives in, even a tiny bit, release the pressure and pet him. Repeat, lowering yourself, too, as he enjoys a nice lowered head stretch. 

(Other simple stretches include side to side neck stretches, and much more. But that's another blog post!)

Make it fun. A little time spent in an enjoying our horse’s company in an undemanding way can help horse and human unwind, while strengthening our relationship. 

Learn these and many more ground work techniques at our weekly class, Friday mornings from 10:30-12:30! Follow up with riding class at 1! Special rate if you do both classes. Or join us on the 4th Sunday of each month for more ground work in our Learning through Obstacles class, 12-3 pm!
As always, be sure to let us know you're coming. Call or email Mary Gallagher.

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