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Why Is Groundwork So Important?

By Jeffrey Rolo

A recurrent theme throughout the horse training area of the AlphaHorse site deals with the importance of groundwork, an aspect of training that too many horse owners overlook. Is it really that important?


Before we take a closer look at why groundwork is so important to create and maintain a horse-owner relationship, let's take a moment to see how the dictionary defines groundwork: "That which forms the foundation or support of anything; the basis; the essential or fundamental part; first principle."

Hmmm, that one phrase tends to say it all… perhaps we should just let those few choice words do the talking and call it a day! Okay… okay… I can see I'm not going to get off that easy. You can't blame a person for trying.

In all seriousness, that definition really does explain why groundwork plays such a vital role in any horse-human relationship. When a homebuilder decides to build a house he doesn't skip right to the most glorious part of home creation by slapping up some walls and a roof. He first takes the time to lay down a solid foundation to ensure future construction steps will progress more smoothly and the final product will better survive any small challenges in the future, such as settling, strong winds, etc.

Whether you are an owner or a trainer you should consider yourself a builder. Rather than skip to the glorious part of horse ownership by jumping straight into the saddle you should first lay the foundation of your relationship, thereby ensuring all future work with your horse will flow much more smoothly.

For those wondering what groundwork may be, it is basically a series of structured exercises performed on the ground with a horse. I am a strong advocate for doing these exercises within a round pen, but they can be performed on a longe line, in a paddock, etc. Although the exercises can vary from trainer to trainer, most of them are designed to establish your authority in a gentle manner by instructing a horse to follow your leads and requests.

Groundwork is not just for trainers; ideally it is for everyone that will significantly work or interact with a horse. As an owner or handler, you want to ensure the horse recognizes you as the alpha leader as such a recognition will inspire loyalty and confidence within your horse. Just as a home with a proper foundation can survive strong winds, an owner who took the time to lay out a proper foundation with his horse will survive those little trials of riding and ownership such as spooking much easier.

Whereas most horse owners derive the greatest joy from actually riding their horse, I'm one of those rarities that far prefer the groundwork to riding. I thoroughly enjoy creating a bond with a horse as I instruct, guide, reassure and admire him… just the horse and I and no other care in the world during those moments. And while this groundwork is actually a pleasure rather than a chore for me, when it does come time to saddle up the horse he's far more confident in my ability to lead him safely and I'm far more confident that he will not let me down.

As an investment, groundwork is a win-win situation that will always pay off in spades. Sure, you can skip the step, slap together that foundationless home and hope a strong wind doesn't blow it down… but really, considering you and your equine partner will likely spend many happy years together, isn't it best to come out of the starting gate with an unshakeable foundation?

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