Groundwork is very important, but lots of people over look it. Without groundwork you can’t tell what kind of mood your horse is in each day; you’re taking the chance that he may buck, rear, or spook. Now I’m not going to say that those things are never going to happen they just have a much more unlikely chance that they will when you prepare your horse to be ridden.
Groundwork doesn’t have to be a long process taking away your riding time. Only 5 to 10 minutes works for most horses. A few simple exercises work best. Think of things you need to work on under saddle; say your horse doesn’t move off your leg as well as you would like, during groundwork you could work on snappy transitions. Everything that you teach your horse on the ground translates to under saddle work.
Backing Up From Steady Pressure: Backing is essential for your horse to know as it makes him easier to maneuver and teaches him to respect your space. Start by using steady pressure on the lead rope. Once he shifts his weight back or takes a step release the pressure. Slowly build on how many steps you ask him to take. As he progresses to taking many steps be sure to release when he is moving backward energetically. If he gets stuck and won’t move or is too slow use the end of your lead rope to smack him on the chest and speed up his feet.
Backing Up From Rhythmic Pressure: As soon as he is backing nicely off of steady pressure introduce backing away from shaking the rope. Stand about three feet in front of your horse and start moving your wrist back and forth to shake the rope. Do this for three seconds, if he backs up a step stop shaking the rope right away, but if he still hasn’t moved, increase the pressure to moving your forearm side to side. If he still won’t move smack him on the chest with the end of your rope or stick increasing the pressure of the smacking until he moves. If at any point during the phases he steps back instantly reward him by stopping and releasing the pressure.
Moving the Hindquarters: Start off by standing next to your horse’s shoulder. Bend at the waist and focus on his hindquarters, take a step toward his hind legs, start tapping him on the hip with your stick or the swing the end of your lead rope toward his hip. When he yields and takes a step with the hind leg closest to you across the other leg release the pressure. If he doesn’t move away from the pressure, increase the tapping with your stick or swing the rope closer until you smack him on the hindquarters. Keep tapping him, increasing the pressure until he takes a correct step. When he does, stop tapping or swinging the rope and stand up straight. The goal is to teach the horse the differences in your body language. When you bend at the waist and look at his hind end he should move over. When you stand up straight in a relaxed manner he should stand still. Let him stand for a minute while you desensitize him to the stick or rope so he isn’t afraid of your tools. Make sure you do the exercise on both sides.
Moving the Shoulders: Stand in the middle of your horse’s neck facing him about four feet away. Start swinging the end of your lead rope at his shoulder. Take a step toward him letting the rope get closer until it taps him on the shoulder. If he still hasn’t moved, tap him on the shoulder harder until he steps away from you. Don’t stop the pressure if he backs up or walks forward. Only release when he takes a step to the side crossing his front leg closest to you over the other one. If he tries to walk toward you use your other hand up by his eye to block him while you increase the pressure with your rope until he moves out of your space. Be sure not to walk toward the horse once he takes a step away. The idea is for the horse to create a distance between you. An easy way to fit in groundwork exercises if you have a limited amount of time to spend with your horse is to do them while grooming, saddling, bringing him to and from his stall or pasture, or just while doing chores around the barn.