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sarahmccamly 07-19-2012 03:22 PM

Ground Work Techniques
I have been researching alot of different ground work techniques and there are so many options out there. I was raised with the old cowboy ways and I personally dont like the use of force or the idea of "breaking" a horse. This particular girl that I want to work is a 4yr old mustang who is broke but has had a bad experiences and has regressed basically to step one. I need to get her confidence back up in a fun and positive way. Does anyone have any techniques they use or recommend? She also has an attitude issue and no manners. She can be the sweetest thing when she wants to cooperate but if she decides she doesnt want to do it, she will throw a fit which she has learned gets her what she wants. She isnt aggressive but could be when denied what she wants, like returning to the pasture. She doesnt want to work at all either which is what makes me think that positive reinforcement and games are the way to get her interested in working again. She is very very smart too which makes working her more difficult also. I need a technique that will challenge her and keep her interested. Thanks!

DancingArabian 07-19-2012 03:33 PM

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I am a big fan of Clinton Anderson for groundwork. You can buy his stuff outright from his site . You can also check eBay. His videos are for rent at or you could buy a subscription to RFDtv's website and watch his shows.
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julianeAHS 07-20-2012 10:56 PM

I love Clinton. I definitely agree with anyone who recommends him.

I think round penning is the best way to handle a rude horse if you don't like negative reinforcement because you are working at a distance, which will keep you safe while teaching a horse manners. It's a very natural technique that the lead mare uses in the wild so your horse will recognize it and be comfortable with it.

This way, if you are working in a roundpen and your horse does something rude, you can unclip them and make that wrong thing uncomfortable by asking them to work.

This will get a horse to join up and once they join up, the respect eventually comes.

I do think it'll be essential to eventually teach your horse to back up and everything so that you can lead her safely outside of the round pen, but once she's established that respect from round penning it should be easier.

I hope that this advice helps make your training as stress-free and positive as possible! Let me know if you want any advice on round penning itself. Clinton is great at explaining the technique but his stuff isn't always very available for free :)


sarahmccamly 07-21-2012 12:45 AM

I would love any round pen advice I could get. We have a very small round pen but it works. A little background on My Dusty Girl is that she is broke and has hours on the trail, she will lunge, and she knows basic ground work. She has found out what herd life is like and everything has gone out the window. Last time she was ridden she freaked going past her pasture and she threw her rider, this seems to have turned a small case of herd bound into a disaster waiting to happen. She doesnt act aggressive except a week or so after she threw her rider. The rider took her into the round pen to work with her and she tried to barrel kick the rider. I dont know if she will get aggressive again cause I dont know what caused it. She is super smart too which adds to her problem :) She is only 14.2 but she is all mustang build, stocky and strong, can be intimidating. I want to be successful for her, I've seen so many horses ruined by inexperience. My expirence is western pleasure and trails, all in saddle, hardly any ground training so every little bit of advice helps. Thanks!
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sarahmccamly 07-21-2012 12:47 AM

From what I gathered her and the rider, dont like each other and the bad ride seems to have intensified everything
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julianeAHS 07-21-2012 06:10 AM

Ouch! That is a bad ride.

A small round pen is fine as long as your horse can canter around without much risk of slipping and hurting themselves, but she's pretty small so I hope it's ok. Be careful though! I've seen too many almost accidents even in decently- sized round pens.

Round penning advice:

I use Clinton's method of round penning - I actually learned it watching his videos and clinics. First, I establish direction and speed. I point in the direction that I want the horse to go, and most likely the horse won't get it the first time but eventually just responds from a point.

Then, I make sure I have my 4 ft stick with 6 ft string attached so that I can create energy while staying at a distance - which sounds important with a horse like yours. I increase the energy towards the pointed hand until the horse goes - then I release the energy at once. It's important to keep increasing energy until the horse realizes it has to move in the direction you want her to go. It's easy to be intimidated if your horse starts to freak out, but remember that you are communicating something to her, as it's likely she has never done this before. If you stop once she starts to freak out and do the wrong thing, that's what you are teaching her to do. Instead, teach her to move off of the pressure by only releasing at the right time. Be safe, though! If she starts to come towards you, focus your energy on keeping her out of your space. I always start this exercise with a new horse while wearing a safety vest and helmet, even on the ground.

Also remember to apply a tiny bit of pressure and work your way up, Don't release it at all until you get what you want, but start small so that eventually your horse will respond simply from a point. This will give her a chance to respond. Clinton has a great "rhythm" method - start with 4 rhythmic strokes tapping the air, then 4 rhythmic strokes flicking the air with the string, the 4 strokes smacking the ground, then 4 strokes REALLY smacking the ground while stepping towards your horse, etc...

In round penning, when you are applying the pressure, you must stay behind the horse's "drive line," which is the place where the girth goes, right before the shoulder. If you move in front of this the horse will think you are cutting them off, as the pressure shifts, and will try to turn around. A lot of my students do this without realizing it and then try to punish the horse for turning around. They're just doing the right thing, and it's easy if you're not used to round penning to let yourself get in front of the drive line in a small circular space.

I correct a horse, however, when they try to turn around when I don't ask them to. I also correct them if they do something rude such as kick out or pin their ears. I do this by flicking the whip, pointing, and asking them to go faster. Usually I say a vocal command like "NO" in a big voice so that they understand - after all, I am simply communicating to them what is right and wrong. My philosophy is that threatens my safety is worth correcting when working with a 1200 pound animal as long as I retreat when they change their attitude.

Once your horse has clearly understood that they need to be moving forward quietly and respectfully to one side, it's time to control their direction. Backing away should get her to come in towards you, then you shift to the other direction, switch your whip, and ask her to go. However, this is ideal, and usually only a very well trained horse will do this. If your horse is smart she will pick this up quickly but it might take some patience. Sometimes your horse just does not stop, or faces their hind quarters, not head, to you, in which case you can just cut them off to switch directions. Once you've got the horse changing directions and speeding up and slowing down at your command, congratulations, you are the "old mare" and leader of the herd!

Then, stopping and asking the horse to join up is a whole other art: the idea is to back off. Ideally the horse will stop and face you, and then walk towards you. You let them sniff the top of your hand (hold it out to them so that it's shaped like a muzzle) and stroke their necks (this is how I learned to do it, apparently the mare does this in the wild), and walk off. The horse should walk off with you. He will be joined up.

However, in practice, you don't always get this. The horse will face his hindquarters towards you sometimes, or not come to you. Here is what I (and I think Clinton) do: I make myself as un-predatorlike as possible by turning my shoulders away and looking down. I face their shoulder instead of walking directly up to them or behind them. I step forward 2 steps, and then back off 3 steps and call them to me. Most will look at me or take a couple of steps toward me at that point. That is a try, so I reward that and come to the horse. If the horse looks away or further faces their hind end to me, I send them off and round pen them again for a couple of minutes before I try again.

Once I have arrived at the horse's neck, I expect them to follow me, however slowly. If they don't follow me at all or randomly leave, I send them off again. So watch out how much you ask for the first time, when they are still learning - only one or two steps is usually enough. I usually just walk back to the lead rope, and then clip it on them again to start leading them regularly! Eventually ask for more and more as the begin to understand.

Don't give up until you get the pleasant reward you want unless your horse appears hot or out of breath. Remember, it's likely she's never done this before and you are communicating something to her.

I hope that this novel helps. I made this public so that people can share their experiences and opinions or maybe benefit from this. Does anyone do this differently?

However, you can private message me with any questions. Also, I'd love to know how she goes!

Let me know if you want any ground work videos! Sometimes you don't understand until you see it. I don't think we have a round penning one yet (but You Tube does!) but we have plenty of other respect ones.

julianeAHS 07-21-2012 06:17 AM

Ok, that was round penning. Now time for my separation anxiety novel...

Remember that horses are naturally herd bound and punishing them for it would be like trying to punish you for having friends or a significant other. Instead, use the separation anxiety to your advantage!

Try to have someone else ride or bring another horse with you when you ride. Go out together, ride together, etc...this will make your horse look forward to going out and make it a positive experience, therefore associating you with the positive experience and keeping you safe.

Then, take it one step further by having her associate the other horses with work when you're around. You don't want to exhaust or overwhelm her but get her to a stop where she is tired, and then ride her or lunge her near the other horses (or horses, or in the pasture if no one is there to help you) and let her rest away from them. Stay with her so that she learns that the association is the other horses, not you.

This might take some patience, but it is worth it! And remember that your safety is first. I would recommend doing this after the round penning and teaching her basic exercises such as backing up and Clinton's lunging for respect and sending exercises.

Anyone else have separation anxiety advice? In my experience it's not much of a quick fix if you've already got the respect issue down, but has anyone experienced differently?

loosie 07-22-2012 10:59 PM

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Originally Posted by sarahmccamly (Post 1605876)
She doesnt want to work at all either which is what makes me think that positive reinforcement and games are the way to get her

Yep, who wants to 'work', but if you turn it into 'play'....:wink: Look into 'clicker training' principles. I don't personally use a clicker or such, but the principles behind it are sound for whatever specifics of training you want to use/do.

But no. 1 advice again is that if you're not experienced with training horses on the ground, then learning from/getting help from a good trainer is an important step, especially when working with an already spoiled horse. Otherwise there's a fair chance you'll just spoil her worse & risk serious injury into the bargain.


She is very very smart too which makes working her more difficult also. I need a technique that will challenge her and keep her interested. Thanks!
What's the saying... For someone to be an effective animal trainer, one must be smarter than the animal in question. That's why some breeds are harder to train than others!:lol:


I would love any round pen advice I could get. We have a very small round pen but it works.
My round pen(or square, hexagonal...) advice is don't do it, at least not at this point. Read the 'Join Up' thread carefully. I wouldn't do it, especially in a small pen, especially as I now realise you were the one who started another thread on this & this mare's already had some bad training there.


The rider took her into the round pen to work with her and she tried to barrel kick the rider. I dont know if she will get aggressive again
That is NOT 'aggressive' behaviour. That is reactive. As you don't even know the details, I certainly can't, but whether it was fear based or her telling the other trainer to p*** off, I believe you're asking for trouble trying to persist in that exercise, especially when you don't sound experienced with it.

Saddlebag 07-25-2012 07:52 AM

What is the exact meaning of "barrel" kick. Was the rider riding? I'm not familiar with this term.

loosie 07-25-2012 08:19 PM

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I took it to mean 'double barrel' as in shotgun, meaning the horse kicked out with both feet.

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