Kevin Meyer and Annette Coker demonstrate how their groundwork exercises develop suppleness that translates to the saddle.

Groundwork exercises, whether used on a young horse or seasoned saddle mount, can develop a high level of lightness and suppleness. In addition, they can greatly enhance how a horse performs under saddle. Douglas, Wyoming, horsemen Annetter “Netty” Coker and Kevin Meyer of Mantz Creek Horses work as a team in hosting clinics throughout the United States. Groundwork has become a key aspect of their teaching and in how they work their own horses.

“The groundwork helps these horses get in a yielding frame of mind,” Coker says. “They learn self-carriage on the end of that lead rope. And, as a result, we’re able to develop refinement under saddle so much quicker.”

Coker says that the key to building softness and collection is applying firm and consistent pressure with the halter and lead rope. Whether the lead rope is cuing the horse to move forward, backward, right or left, she doesn’t want it to ignore or push through the pressure. As soon as it yields, it finds release.

“We don’t turn loose of our horses; they turn loose of us,” she says. “They figure out how to do that without us letting go.”

The focus is on getting the horse to follow pressure from the halter with the lightest of cues. Later, she begins using a flag to direct the horse’s movement. 

“The predominant feel is in the hand,” she says. “The horse has to come off that lead rope. Where so many people make the mistake in groundwork is they hold the lead rope, but there’s slack in the lead rope. They just drive the horse forward. Well, the horse never learns to get soft that way. It isn’t truly following a feel.”

Coker says that once the horse learn to bend its frame, lift its back and balance during groundwork, it understands pressure from the rider’s leg.

“It’s very easy for the horse to connect the pressure of the flag to the pressure of the leg,” she says. “The horses has learned to follow the feel of the shape of our body [in the saddle]. If I look to the left, my left shoulder rolls back, my left pelvis rolls back, which presses my left leg back, and the right side of my body goes forward. Well, I’m shaping my horse in an arc between my two legs, and it gets to the point where we don’t have to add pressure. They feel that.”

Meyer adds that when a horse moves with self carriage—maintaining a collected frame without constant prodding from the rider’s feet and hands—any job becomes easier, including cutting, reining, roping and especially working on a ranch.

“If you are out working somewhere, you can’t hold that horse up all day in that frame because both of you are expending a lot of energy to maintain that,” he says. “But if you can teach a horse to build the strength, he is comfortable in that self carriage. He has developed the muscles to where that’s just the comfortable and athletic position he’s in.”

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