The Magazine January 2019

From the ground up

Posted 13th November 2018

Training your horse to be responsive, supple and sensitive doesn’t have to be limited to ridden work. Olympic eventer Rebecca Howard shows you how to instil these qualities before you even get on

groundwork exercises with your horse

Yielding away from pressure might be a concept you only associate with lateral work but, in fact, everything you do with your horse can be boiled down to this simple idea. If you put your leg on to ask him to go faster, that’s an application of pressure. When he then picks up the pace or performs an upward transition, he’s yielding to it. Likewise, if you sit deep, activate your core and close your reins, you’ve applied pressure to his front end and he’ll yield to it by slowing down or stopping. These are the most basic applications of the aids and cues that make up the entire language you share with your horse.

If responding to pressure is this fundamental, it stands to reason that you want your horse to be receptive to it at all times. You can – and do – school these concepts when you’re in the saddle, but there’s plenty you can do while you’re working with your horse on the ground, too. You likely spend just as much time – if not more – hanging out with, and working around, him in his stable and his field, so why not make that time as productive as possible?

All about respect

The foundations of pressure-and-yield training are based on respect. Without it, your horse won’t feel the need to listen to your cues, nor will he give you the personal space you need to work safely around him. The great thing about training him from the ground, though, is that it develops and solidifies that level of respect, and you can chart its progress – the more he respects your space and leadership, the easier it’ll be to work through the exercises.

Under pressure

Horses are ‘into pressure’ animals, which means they naturally want to push back into any pressure they feel. In training them, we’re working to override that natural instinct and ask them to quietly move away from pressure. Overcoming what’s natural takes mutual trust and respect, so while it’s important that your horse respects you, it’s also important that you respect him by being patient, consistent, and keeping calm in your approach.

For more expert advice on how to make your horse a dream to handle with groundwork training exercises, pick up a copy of January Horse&Rider, on sale 15 November

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