New to Horses...ground work - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 11 Old 11-29-2012, 01:19 PM Thread Starter
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Question New to Horses...ground work

After a couple months of riding lessons I decided to lease the lesson horse my 6 year old daughter and I have been using. I did this for a couple of reasons. My lessons horses kept being sold and I was spending more time learning each new horse than the skills. I am completely new to horses and with each horse having different quarks, I was unable to learn those quarks and then move on and focus on the basics. Finally we started on a really nice Pain Mare, 9 years old. She is really great with my daughter, and I was very comfortable with her. I also decided to lease her because I felt that 30 minutes a week with her was not doing me any good on achieving my goal of learning to communicate with her. I have been a small animal practice certified vet tech for more years than I can count. We finally moved to the country and decided to take riding lessons as I always wanted to. I'm used to being in an atmosphere with animals, and training, directing etc. Now I work from home and realized that being at the stables was the right thing. Seeing as I know nothing about horses (although now I know a little), I did not want to buy, but I wanted more than 30 min/week to spend with the horse. I have had her on lease for 2 weeks now, with learning how to do the basics at each lesson. I have not spent any extra time with her other than the lessons. I want to spend more time with her to establish respect and familiarity with her, and let's face it...that is why I am leasing her. I am not ready to ride her without my instructor yet as I am super uncoordinated and am needing redirection with the signals I'm giving her. I do want to do ground work with her though. She is constantly testing me when I am on her, and I really need her to respect me. My questions:
1. How often should I got to the stable to work with her?
2. How long should I spend working with her?
3. What should I be working on with her?
She is a very well trained horse, with a very untrained handler...I have been watching youtube like crazy and reading articles etc.
Should I lunge her each time? Walk her? I have no idea what else to work on. I do not want to undo her training, nor do I want to create a rude horse, nor do I want her to figure out (which I'm sure she already has) that I do not know what I'm doing. I do not want her to walk all over me. I know she can sense my lack of confidence (I'm not afraid of her, I'm just afraid of giving her mixed signals and rewarding the wrong behavior). Everyone at the stable is always very helpful, but very busy, I do not want to work with her on their schedule, I want to work with her on mine.
Also, yesterday I did go to just walk and groom her, this is the first time I did this alone. I noticed Leagum spent the first 15 minutes or so looking for Jo (my trainer) and paying attention to everything but me...she was very nervous that it was just me there. She eventually calmed down as I just kept making her listen to me and focus on me, but I want to work with her often so she immediately looks at me for direction, not the staff at the ranch.
Does this all make sense?
Thank you so much for your advice!

Oh ya....when I do eventually ride her alone, how often/long should I do this. Does it make a difference if we ride in the arena vs outside, vs trail?
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post #2 of 11 Old 11-29-2012, 01:52 PM
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Almost all of your questions can be answered with "it depends" (helpful huh?)

I don't know the terms of your lease. Some leases set a maximum amount of days you can work the horse, some don't. So to answer this the best I can with this in mind by saying: the more time you spend with her, the better. You don't have to ride or work her everyday but bringing her in, giving her some love and brushing and going for a walk if you are comfortable with that are all great. You can vary the length of your visits to accommodate your schedule. As for what to work on, talk to your trainer for guidance. She (he?) will know your level of experience and skill and be able to suggest specific things.

Do not try to lunge until you've been shown how and have gotten the ok. Watch videos and take a lesson or two in how to do groundwork and work on that on your own. I recommend that you get your hands on some Clinton Anderson videos. His methods with the horses isn't new or revolutionary but they're fair and get results. What I like about him is his way of teaching you as the viewer.

When you get to riding alone again that depends on your level of work, your fitness and hers. MANY people ride literally for HOURS, plenty of people do just 30 minutes. Try to always end the ride on a good note.

Good for you for leasing and asking questions!
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post #3 of 11 Old 11-29-2012, 01:59 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you so much! There is no limit on the amount of time I spend with her on the lease. I have been shown how to lunge her a couple of times times, and do feel comfortable with the technique...I do not want to do it if it is not necessary. I understand why I lunge before we ride, but....not sure if it is even necessary if we are not riding her.
Your answers were A LOT of help!
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post #4 of 11 Old 11-29-2012, 02:16 PM
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"Ground Training" is everything you do working with the horse. Think of it as ballroom dancing where the lead dancer asks and the partner follows. YOU are the lead dancer. Expect your horse to do everything perfectly, every time. When she doesn't behave correctly, say "no", ask again, and reward correct behavior with praise. She obviously is looking for leadership, and will be more calm when she realizes you are the leader and that she can trust your leadership bc you will give her confidence.
You should know enough about correct behavior with a halter and lead, grooming and tacking to start there. Since you are leasing her, please realize that your good training will make HER a more valuable animal, and she might be sold bc of this in the near future.
Doesn't matter.
I always told my riding students that you need to learn how to train your horse, or else you will always need a trainer.
Keep your sessions short and keep a training notebook. Train her to perfect no more than 2 behaviors at a time. This is how WE learn best, and horses are smart enough to understand that you are controlling their movement, but they need to master the skills.
I am working my 6yo QH to understand and take my body cues for walk and trot transitions on the lunge. I work his feet manners in other sessions, like when I'm working around him in his stall, so I don't overload him.
I think you'll enjoy your time with her. =D
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post #5 of 11 Old 11-29-2012, 02:45 PM
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I would go to your instructor and ask for ground lessons. A lease doesn't mean you can do whatever, whenever you want. Have her show you exercises that you can do with her. It's more then do A and you will get B. You need to know how to think like a horse, deliver corrections/cues in a tiny margin, etc. What if you start lunging this horse and she starts rearing? Or she starts diving for grass? Or she starts dragging you out of the gate? It only takes a time or two horse a horse to pick up a habit they may take a while to break out of.

Don't get me wrong, its fantastic you want to do more then just ride. The "other side" of horseback riding is VERY important BUT its just as important as getting things right under saddle!

Also, as for changing horses every single horse has something to teach you!! Be open minded to riding others. Not every horse is gonna feel the same, go the same speed, some are softer to cues, some might be more difficult to steer, etc. I can get on virtually anything (bad horses, big stride, choppy canter, etc) and feel comfortable. I when I teach as soon as my students master posting at the trot (on a horse who has more of an average steady trot) I switch them between a smooth QH (who is very inconsistent, fast/slow) and a crotch busting (but consistent) appy. After several lessons they can pretty much ride any beginner suitable horse.
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post #6 of 11 Old 11-29-2012, 03:02 PM
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First of all, congrats on your lease!

1. How often should I got to the stable to work with her?
If possible, every day! (Of course that isn't always realistic, so just do the best you can.) Even if it's just for 5 minutes.

We can even relate this to your riding lessons. Would you learn better by having 4 hours of lessons once every 2 months? Or by 30 minutes once a week, like you have been doing? Obviously, short and frequent is much better learning than long and infrequent.

2. How long should I spend working with her?
Time really isn't so much the key, as your progress and her behavior.

For example: I have been doing a lot of ground work with my yearling colt. One day, I was going to load him onto a slant load horse trailer with rear tack, for the first time. (He'd been hauled on stock trailers before, but not this type.) My goal for the session was to at least get both of his front feet into the trailer. And that goal could take me 20 seconds, or it could take 2 hours. Time isn't the issue. The training is.

He's been a great colt and I actually was able to completely load him onto the trailer (I didn't not close the butt bar on that training day). Load him twice, actually. And back off calmly one foot at a time. It took a total of maybe 2 minutes, if that.

So I quit for the day! After 2 minutes. I had exceeded the goal I set, and he was a good boy and learned something. Great. We're done.

So when you go to do your ground work, pick 1 or 2 things you want to work on (and no more than that). When you consistently get the correct response, great! Quit. No matter how much or how little time it took.

3. What should I be working on with her?
If are you comfortable with lunging, you can do that for a few minutes a day. The point is NOT to make her go round and round and get tired. Rather, the point is to have her paying attention to you. So ask her to change directions frequently, change gaits often, and stop/go a lot. Make her constantly be focused on you to be looking for her next cue. Since this can be intense for a horse, that's why I say a few minutes of lunging is usually fine.

You can also just work on leading her around the stable/barn. Focus on making her stay right by your shoulder. If she crowds you, put your hand up in the air to move her over, or (with the exess rope you are holding in your left hand) swing the excess rope behind you to smack her and move her over. If she gets ahead of you, give her one jerk on the leadrope to say "hey! I"m here."

It's all about being consistent.

And of course, spend plenty of time grooming her and getting to know her. Grooming is also great to know every detail on her body so you know if something is wrong (bump on her leg, a cut on her belly, etc) that could be a health problem.

when I do eventually ride her alone, how often/long should I do this. Does it make a difference if we ride in the arena vs outside, vs trail?
Depends on the horse and depends on you!

My old horse Beau, I usually rode him about 4 miles and I tried to ride almost every day. The mileage was for conditioning, as I did barrel racing with him, and he needed to be in great physical shape.

When I have young horses in training (age 2 to 4), I usually keep the riding light and just a couple of miles. For the first few rides under saddle, I may only ride for 15 minutes in a round pen, or even shorter. Depends how they are behaving.

With my current 6-yr-old who is the Energizer Bunny, he gets ridden a very minimum of 4 miles almost every day, usually 5 or 6 miles, but 2-3 miles of galloping. He's very energetic (also an easy keeper) and he needs the miles and the work.

That said, most of my riding is out on the open trails. I think that is the best type of riding you can do the majority of the time. Because even for myself, **I** get bored riding in an arena. So if I do any arena riding, it's probably going to be only about 30-40 minutes tops. I know if I am bored, I can't imagine what my horse feels like.

And then there are some people who like to ride their horse on the weekend only and only walk their horse a mile or two.

There's not a right or wrong. Depends on what you want to accomplish and depends on your horse.
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post #7 of 11 Old 11-29-2012, 07:22 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you all so much! One of my main fears is that I'm going to "overstay" my welcome or come around too much, or be a nuisance to others at the barn. But I did go today, and I did very basic ground work. I am glad I did as Leagum does have an issue with manners with me. I watched youtube video after youtube video about basic manners and establishing them etc. She had a hard time standing still for grooming, but is still pretty good. She lets me clean her hooves and everything, just tests to see if I will correct her rude behaviors. She was a little defiant for the grooming so I took her for a walk around the arena a couple times until she stopped crowding me and walking in front of me. We just walked, stopped, changed directions, and did circles. I rewarded her with praise every time she did what she was supposed to. I feel as if we made good progress. Thank you all for being so understanding and not being judgmental of my lack of horse knowledge! I am so happy there is a place such as this to go for information!
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post #8 of 11 Old 11-29-2012, 08:11 PM
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Keep taking in new information. Develop an unquenchable thirst for more knowledge. Align your expectations of yourself and of your horse to a mindset of being happy with any small accomplishment. Realize that every time you work with your horse, you are investing in the growth of both of you. Don't get down on yourself for mistakes. They are inevitable. Cultivate a love for the journey of learning about horses. There is no real destination except the journey itself.
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post #9 of 11 Old 11-29-2012, 08:28 PM
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Before you spend all your time with your wonderful horse, spend some time at a library/book store. Read every book you can find on horses, remember it's all opinions so take what rings true and throw out the rest.

I'm not a fan of lunging a horse more than needed as it's stressful on their joints and boring for them. I like to engage my horses physically and mentally. Does the horse know how to line-drive? Can the trainer teach you to do that around the ring? You can also work on yielding exercises:
Yield the hind end, front end, teach the horse to side-step, back up, turn their head left and right, pick their head up and put it down. All these things are great for stretching and helps put you 'in charge'. Horses rely a great deal on the concept of 'who moves their feet more', the dominant horse works less - always. So if you're controlling her feet, you're controlling her everything and she knows it and respects it.

I'm not a huge Parelli fan and I'll advise you not to buy all his gimmicky toys, they aren't needed. But he has 7 'games' that are a great foundation for every horse and horse-human to be fluent in, check it out. Horse Training Games - the Friendly Game
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post #10 of 11 Old 11-29-2012, 08:51 PM
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I think that books are great but for me, videos are better. So much of our communication with horses is body language. I am on a budget, so I use giddyupflix to rent videos. For less than $10 a month, you can borrow a video. I like Clinton Anderson, as DancingArabian suggested. And there are tons of others. You can keep the videos as long as you want to, or check the same ones out again.

I have 2 important things that I try to keep in mind when I am working with my equine friends; balance and ending on the positive.

Balance: sensitizing to cues with desensitizing to tools and scary things, movement to stillness, arena to trail, etc. I think the arena is a great place to focus on communication, and the trail is for communion.

And Ian, your words are always an inspiration to me. It is the journey we must focus on and enjoy!
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