Ground Work With the Horse

Dealing with horses used to be limited to riding on horseback. Nowadays, however, working on the ground with the horse has become a matter of course. In this post we want to bring this method, working with the horse from the ground, closer to you.

Groundwork with the Horse – in General

With the help of the groundwork, the equilibrium, serenity, and rhythm of the horse should be promoted. The main goal, however, is to teach the horse to give in willingly and in a controlled manner to any light pull or pressure. This means that the horse’s sensitivity should be strengthened. In addition, working with the horse creates respect and trust. Respect especially for horses that behave as defiant towards you and trust for horses with a strong instinct to flee.

But is the groundwork a kind of equestrian substitute? No! Working on the ground with the horse can be an exciting change from riding. It prepares the horse for riding and enables you and your horse to learn new tasks faster and easier.

The First Steps

The first form of groundwork with the horse, which usually begins with young horses, is simple leading. Here you put a halter on your horse and lead it with the help of a lead rope. Depending on the training style, horses sometimes learn to be led from the age of foals. Others only systematically get used to leading once they have started to break in.

Leadership should be the first step in any groundwork. If your horse cannot be obediently led by a rope, further exercises, such as working on the hand and special leadership exercises, make little sense. If you want to start with the leadership exercises, you can try the following exercises:

  • Stopping: the horse should stop next to you at the command “Stand!” And stop until the next command
  • “Come with me!” Now your horse should follow you again immediately
  • If your horse already listens well to the first two commands, then you can also train to retreat.
  • On the command “Back!” And light pressure with the flat of the hand on the bridge of the nose, your horse should turn backward.
  • And sideways pointing can also be a leading exercise for you and your horse. To do this, stand to the side of your horse and give gentle driving aids with the help of the whip. Every time your horse crosses one leg i.e. moves sideways, you immediately praise it. It goes on like this until the sideways step becomes a fluid movement.

Each exercise should be repeated a few times. But not too often either, so that there is a learning effect but not boredom for both of you. It is also an advantage if you do the exercises on a cordoned-off area such as a paddock or riding arena. A lateral limitation is an advantage during the exercises. In addition, especially with young horses, there is sometimes the danger that they will tear themselves away. You can catch it again immediately on a cordoned-off area.

Build a Course

As soon as the basic commands are in place and you have your horse under control, you can even start building a whole course with different stations that you have to go through with your horse. In this way, you can strengthen trust in your horse and specifically reduce fears and unrest. A course could look like this:

Station 1 – Poles: Here you put several poles one behind the other with a distance of one meter. At first a few, later more. Your horse must correctly estimate the distances during the exercise.

Station 2 – Labyrinth: The labyrinth is built from two round pieces of wood with a length of approximately four meters for the outside and four round pieces of wood with a length of two meters on the inside. The two-meter poles are placed across the long outer poles so that alternating passages are created. Slowly and carefully guide your horse through the corridors so that it has to bend left and right.

Station 3 – Slalom: You can use tin barrels, plastic barrels, or makeshift poles for the slalom, which you set up in a row with large gaps. The horse is then led around the barrels and between the barrels. If the exercise goes well, the barrels can be arranged at different distances (closer, further) to increase the difficulty and to make the exercise more varied.

Station 4 – Tarpaulin: At this station, you only need a tarpaulin. You can get this at the hardware store. Guide your horse over the tarpaulin or carefully try to lay it on the horse’s back.

There are no limits to your imagination on a course like this. You should be calm, relaxed, relaxed, and attentive during these exercises so that the work is successful. You can talk to the horse, cheer it up, show it, praise it, be patient, and most of all you should give your horse time. If your horse is unsure, give him enough time to get used to the unfamiliar tasks. Step by step you will reach success.

Lungeing: Gymnastics and Training at the Same Time

Another great way to deal with the horse from the ground is lunging. To put it simply, lunging is letting the horse run on a long leash in a circular path. It is used for compensatory gymnastics, as the horses move without the rider’s weight and still receive effective training.

In addition, when lunging you have the opportunity to watch your horse closely as it moves. So you can better assess the development over a longer period of time. Many aspects that play a major role when working under the saddle can be better grasped by the eye, especially when lunging, for less experienced riders. Training on the lunge accompanies rider and horse through the years, across all levels of training, and has a positive, complementary influence on training.

Freedom Training and Circus Exercises

Circular exercises and freedom dressage are very popular when working on the ground with the horse. In this type of groundwork, the horse is taught smaller tricks, such as kneeling, complimenting, sitting, or laying down. Through the lessons on earth, dominant horses, very young stallions, and geldings are shown a playful way to subordinate themselves. In addition, restrained, insecure, or anxious horses can gain self-confidence through exercises such as walking over a tarpaulin or stepping onto a pedestal.

The aim is that you can steer your horse with the help of body signals and your voice. At the beginning of the exercises, you can of course use a halter and a rope. In order to be able to lead the horse without aids, it is very important to know his horse very well. Not every circulatory and freedom training exercise has the same purpose and is suitable for every horse. With horses that are already dominant, you should avoid climbing, for example. However, the Spanish step or compliment is quite suitable and improves the quality of the gait when working under the saddle.

Intelligent horses in particular, who get bored quickly with “normal” work, benefit from circus exercises. And lazy people are also activated. Most of the lessons are unsuitable for horses with joint problems and other weaknesses in the bony or muscular musculoskeletal system. Because most of the circus lessons also have a gymnastic effect at the same time.

With the lessons Compliment, Kneeling, Laying, Sitting, Spanish Step, and Climbing, a large number of muscle groups are trained, which are also used in riding and driving. Regular training prevents injuries to ligaments and muscles by stretching and strengthening tendons. Targeted training can also prevent tension or relieve existing tension. Exercises in which the horse goes to the ground also train balance, which is an ideal addition, especially for young horses before breaking in (from approx. 3 years) or of course for horses whose problem lies precisely here.


So you can see that groundwork with the horse, in addition to classic riding, is an important component in the work between horse and rider. Whether Parcours, lunge, circus exercises, or freedom dressage. The possibilities of groundwork are numerous and yet pursue the same goal! To create a bond and blind trust between you and your horse. No matter whether you want to reduce fears and strengthen your horse’s self-confidence, or whether you want to put a stop to dominant animals. The groundwork enables you to train your horse in a targeted manner. Relaxation, gymnastics, and variety are nice side effects.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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