Training

Advanced Groundwork

Learn how to teach an advanced movement from the ground. This advanced groundwork exercise is sure to help you and your horse.

Learn how to teach an advanced movement from the ground.

While movements like flying lead changes often take place under saddle, that’s not where trainer and owner of Cohesive Horsemanship, Tessa Nicolet, has her horses start. Instead, she prefers to teach advanced movements from the ground before teaching them under saddle. Below, she discusses the benefits of advanced groundwork and gives step-by-step instructions on how to teach your horse an advanced exercise.

Learn how to teach an advanced movement from the ground. This advanced groundwork exercise is sure to help you and your horse.
Ask the horse to make a small circle around the handler. Photo by Kayli Hanley

From the Ground

Before a horseman explores teaching a horse advanced groundwork, Nicolet says both horseman and horse should master what she calls the four basics. They include moving forward, moving the hind, moving the shoulder and moving backward.

Once those four basics are mastered, Nicolet says a horseman can begin exploring advanced groundwork with their horse. She considers an advanced movement to be anything that requires a combination of the four basics.

“These advanced movements generally require a lot of body balance and awareness from our horses and a lot of understanding of a combination of cues,” Nicolet explains.

Horsemen who explore advanced movements from the ground first allow their horse to learn the movement without accounting for a rider, Nicolet says. She adds that teaching movements from the ground simplifies a horse’s learning environment and helps the handler understand what their horse needs to master the movement.

Teaching Shoulder-In on a Circle

Learn how to teach an advanced movement from the ground. This advanced groundwork exercise is sure to help you and your horse.
Use the stick to ask the hind to step outside of the circle. The inside hind hoof should track with the outside front hoof. Photo by Kayli Hanley

Nicolet explains that shoulder-in occurs when a horse’s shoulders travel at about 30 degrees off from the line of travel of the hind. The horse bends to the inside while moving toward the outside shoulder on three tracks. The inside hind hoof tracks with the outside front hoof.

Nicolet shares that the exercise benefits all disciplines, including Western horses and riders. It requires the horse to lift their thoracic sling, encouraging balance and promoting athleticism. It also prepares horses for movements requiring collection or preparedness to move in any direction, such as a stop-to-lope transition or the impulsion needed for chasing a calf.

Below, Nicolet shares how to teach a horse shoulder-in on a circle from the ground.

To perform the exercise:
Outfit the horse in a halter and lead rope. The handler will need a stick or crop. For the following examples, the horse will circle left. The handler will hold the rope in their left hand and the excess rope and stick in their right hand.

  1. Ask the horse to walk a 10- to 12-foot circle.
  2. Next, ask the horse to look at you by lifting your left hand toward you. The horse’s head should turn slightly to the inside of the circle.
  3. As you perform step two, lift the stick in your right hand to ask the horse’s hind to step outside the circle. The horse’s shoulders should continue walking on the original circle while the horse’s hind should transition to walking a bigger, outside circle.
  4. Aim your belly button toward the horse’s shoulder. Walk toward the horse’s shoulder, as needed, to keep the horse from traveling inward. Watch for the horse’s inside hind hoof to reach underneath their belly and toward the outside front hoof.
  5. When teaching this exercise, ask for one or two correct steps at a time. Reward the horse for any correct movement by releasing pressure and letting them walk a normal circle.
Learn how to teach an advanced movement from the ground. This advanced groundwork exercise is sure to help you and your horse.
The exercise can be done in a bit with an advanced handler. Photo by Kayli Hanley

Now, bridle the horse in a snaffle bit. (The horse must be comfortable in a bit before progressing to this step.)

The handler will put their left pointer and middle fingers through the ring of the snaffle bit on the left side. Nicolet emphasizes that the handler should not pull back but only gently lift upwards. The right rein is brought over the horse’s neck and held in the handler’s right hand on the horse’s left shoulder. The right hand also carries the stick.

Slowly and gently lift the left hand, asking the horse to flex their head toward you. Photo by Kayli Hanley
  1. Begin by walking a circle with the horse. Ensure they’re comfortable with your hand positions.
  2. Next, slowly lift the left hand, asking the horse to flex their head toward you.
  3. Then, lift the stick in your right hand to ask the hind to move outside the circle the shoulders are walking on. The right hand will maintain a soft hold on the outside rein.
  4. Ask for one to two correct strides and then reward. Work toward being able to perform the movement for longer lengths of time.

From Ground to Saddle

Teaching a horse advanced movements from the ground takes time, but it also creates a solid foundation that bolsters future efforts to learn the same movements from the saddle.

Who knows? What you and your horse learn from the ground today may be what you start under saddle in the not-so-distant future.

Leave a Comment

Recommended