New York State Horse Council ...NYSHC

Checking in with Groundwork

By Michael Canfield | Clinician at Pine Ridge Dude Ranch |
Pine Ridge Dude Ranch |

We have all heard about it, seen videos on the topic, and even practiced some groundwork exercises with our horses.

But we may also be missing a critical opportunity within our programs and that is "checking in" with our horses through groundwork. Here is an example: At Pine Ridge Dude Ranch, our "Cowboy Horsemanship" program promotes utilizing every opportunity from feed and groom times to leading from the pasture to round pen work to saddle time, to check in with our horses and create situations where the horse checks in with the human. By utilizing the Pyramid of Pressure - Ask, Tell, Demand and Correct and some foundation building groundwork exercises, we refresh the lines of communication and reestablish leadership every time we engage with our horses at The Ranch. Here are some of our favorite checking in exercises.

The Leading Exercise: When a Wrangler is leading the horse from the pasture, they use the Leading Exercise to get the horse thinking about the human and the safety zone around the human, which reduces crowding and improves confidence. This exercise promotes focus and communication as well as softness and respect by leading the horse from the front and maintaining a five-foot safety zone. When the Wrangler stops, so does the horse. When the Wrangler moves, so does the horse.

Backing with Steady Pressure: Asking the horse to back up by simply lifting the knot or clip, facing the direction of travel and using the Pyramid of Pressure helps the horse and human to refine their feel, timing and communication.

Yielding the Hindquarters with Touch: Asking the horse to move its hindquarters away laterally to a touch that simulates a leg cue while using the Pyramid of Pressure, helps keep the horse soft, engaged and responsive.

Round Pen Work: The round pen is a great place to check in, especially when we are short on time or the weather limits the ability to ride. When in the round pen working through groundwork exercises, the Wrangler can better evaluate the mood of the horse, see indications of soreness, nervousness or a lack of focus that can be addressed safely and in a timely manner. By doing so, the horse feels more secure in the leadership provided by the human. Through observation and listening to the subtle cues the horse provides in these moments; the Wrangler can address concerns and adapt the goals for the day as they consider the horse's needs.

By practicing a checking in approach to groundwork, the Wranglers at Pine Ridge Dude Ranch can improve their awareness of their equine partners, improve the subtlety of their aids/cues, and be able to more quickly offer the release and leadership needed to achieve a soft feel and supple mind.

So the next time you work with your horse, take the opportunity to check in, listen up and adapt your goals for the session as you focus on improving your awareness and the give and take within the structure of the partnership you share. Investing in this type of approach mentally and emotionally will pay off in huge dividends in the days and weeks ahead! If you would like to learn more about Cowboy Horsemanship or the exercises highlighted above, please reach out via email and let us get you checking in with your horses in a positive and productive way!

Thanks for reading!

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