Enhance your bond
How working your horse from the ground can better your relationship
CONFIDENCE AND familiarity work wonders for a nervy horse, which is why putting the time in to bond on the ground is so worthwhile. It means your horse will fully trust you whatever the situation. Diane Thurman-Baker, a classical dressage trainer, specialises in groundwork. She spent years in Portugal training with the ‘Masters’ before returning to the UK to participate in the first British working equitation team and compete in grand prix dressage. Groundwork is a set of simple exercises done on the ground and is also an opportunity for your horse to work muscles not usually used. “Groundwork means he can use all his back muscles without the weight of a rider on board,” explains Diane. “You also get to see the range of movement he has on the ground.” Watching how your horse moves his feet helps identify any stiffness on one side and how he looks when he moves. Crucially, working together in this way helps fine-tune the bond between you and your horse. “Part of creating a responsive horse is the method of pressure and release,” says Diane. “If all the horses are at a water trough, they move out of the way when the alpha horse goes over. To have got to that point, the alpha horse will have nipped them on the flank first.” Holding a schooling whip during your session enables you to recreate that pressure and release situation. Gently lay the whip on your horse’s neck to stop him moving, and remove it when you want him to start moving. Use a voice command, or a click, at the same time so your horse associates the physical aid with a voice aid. Aim for him to start working forward from behind, swinging through his back to create engagement and lightness. Do Diane’s exercises for five minutes on each rein, three times a week. Before you start, lunge your horse in side reins (loose to begin with, gradually increasing their pressure as he becomes used to them) so that he can expel some energy and work on lifting his core. For the best results, you need a bridle on your horse, plus a Portuguese cavesson, side reins and a lunge line attached to the cavesson’s front ring so you can manoeuvre him on the ground.
Just a few basic groundwork tricks will improve your ride and enhance the bond with your horse
DIANE THURMANBAKER has over 30 years of working and training horses using classical training methods. She has competed to grand prix level in British Dressage and her daughters, Samantha and Joanna, compete internationally.