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Groundwork Exercises to Improve Your Riding

Groundwork! We've all heard about it. We probably even know it's a good thing to do with our horse... but where do you start?

Here are three exercises you can do with your horse that will translate directly to riding.


I know what you're thinking... Really? Just lunging? Hear me out...

Lunging is a great way to start introducing more advanced ground work. I don't want you to just let your horse run around like a chicken with his head cut off. I want you to lunge your horse with thought and clear intentions and expect him to act like the same gentleman you'd expect under saddle.

Lunging like you're riding. When you ask your horse to go from walk to trot or trot to canter, how quickly does he respond? Do you have to "chase" him to keep him going?

Practice your transitions. Decide ahead of time what your vocal cue is going to be. If you're going to practice trot/canter transitions, are you using the "kissing" sound or the word, "can-TER"? Or my favorite, "gall-UP!"

Give your cue. How quickly does your horse respond? If he's slow or lazy to respond, use your whip to make a sharp correction. See how many transitions it takes for him to respond more promptly.

For more about advanced lunge line work check out THIS POST about equipment and THIS POST about a lunging work routine.

Walking with Soft Contact

This one takes some coordination, but you can do it!

Stand next to your horse, facing forward with one arm over his neck, holding the reins like you would if you were riding. Start just at the halt. Ask him to softly flex a little left, then a little right. Go slow and wait for him to yield. We're NOT looking to "see saw" his head down. We want to teach him to be soft. When he yields to your contact, make sure you release and praise him.

When you're ready to walk on, give the same cue you use on the lunge line and walk on. It may help to carry a dressage whip or your lunge with you, so you can tap a little behind you to encourage him. Be patient, as this may be confusing for him if you've never worked like this before. Stop and reward him after he takes even one or two steps forward. Repeat until he gets the idea. Going slow and steady is key with this exercise until everyone figures out what they're supposed to do.

Once your horse understands what he's supposed to do and you're able to keep your position organized, you can "ride" the walk on the ground. Practice keeping the walk forward yet, rhythmic. Practice walk/halt transitions. Practice flexing left and right as you're walking. Eventually you'll even be able to school leg yields and other lateral work! (We'll tackle that in another post!)

Moving Off Pressure and Yielding the Hindquarters

Start standing at your horse's shoulder, facing him.

Pick up your inside rein and take it up to your horse's withers. Wait for him to yield. Release immediately when he yields to the rein and praise him.

Once he understands how to yield to the rein, we're going to add asking him to yield his hindquarters.

Pick up your inside rein and take it up to your horse's withers. Wait for him to yield. As he yields to the rein, use your fingers on his side (in the same place you'd use your leg when riding) and ask him to step over. You're looking for his hind leg closest to you to step up and under his body, in front of the far hind leg.

This movement is a key building block for turn on the forehand, leg yields, and the oh-so-important "one rein stop" - a tool that I think EVERY horse and rider should know. We'll talk more about that one in another post.

Give these a try and let me know how it goes!

Seriously, I love hearing from you guys about your horses and your training journey! Make sure you comment or send me a message!

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