There's a lot of very good questions aroung Groundwork. Why do we do groundwork? And why shall I walk backwards all the time?
But foremost, how do I start doing groundwork?
Groundwork is a huge topic. And depending on who you’re asking what groundwork is, the answers will be extremely different. For some, groundwork covers mainly some basic handling. Others are including lunging and walking out in the terrain by it. Again, others are seeing horsemanship in it. All of that has it own importance. But therefore, you need to come clear what groundwork is for YOU.
In academic art of riding, we want to go beyond. Already on the ground, we work with bending, stellning and framing. We would like to explain all secondary aids to the horse, work with side movements, collection and forward. We want to build up communication.
The horse should as well be at least 3,5 years (I personally prefer 4 years) old before you start the bending work.
If you think that is old, consider that a horse is growing until the age of 8. Traditionally, the young colts were started in between 4,5 and 5 years – when the stallion teeth had changed.
Because the groundwork is so complex, a good preparation and a good horsemanship before the bending work is essential. It is not only smart, but fun too to use the younger years of a youngster for building up exactly that: the work before bending and stellning.
So, where to start?
When starting groundwork, I like to teach 3 basic positions to the horse.
1. Leading position
2. Groundwork position
3. Lunging position
Usually, I start in the leading position – because that is the position the pony already knows from before. When I take it out to the field and back in to the stable, I have to lead it. When we go out on walks, likewise. So, why not keeping it simple and use what we can already?
Here, I am teaching my horse to follow my balance point. Make sure that the lunge line is only decoration, and the distance in between you and your horse is around one meter. You know Dirty Dancing? That should be your mental approach. Stop, start, slower and faster shall ideally work only by a horse following the human body language.
From here on, I make a smooth turn to get in front of the horse. Tada, and here the famous backwards walking enters the stage.
Be careful, if you just start groundwork, you’ll find out that walking backwards is quite difficult. Keeping track of your speed, coordination and simply knowing where you are can be quite a challenge. For a start, I simply do repeat what I taught to my horse before: Stop, start, slower, quicker.
Managing that, the next challenge is to go towards lungework. Actually, when you did the leading work above properly, increasing the distance from one meter to two, and than to three in the next step will not be a proplem. Here I’ll repeat of course the basics: stop, start, slower and faster.
And when you managed that, than you are ready for the next post about groundwork.
Enjoy the Journey!