Groundwork Exercises for Horses

A better way to work with your horse on the ground.

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Successful groundwork relies on having numerous exercises and routines in your repertoire. No groundwork patterns should be practiced to the point of boredom, dullness, or excess. The following are my top tips for using gymnastic exercises from the ground, followed by an upgraded longeline routine.

Groundwork with a horse
Photo: Fotokostic/Shutterstock

Building Your Groundwork Routines

During any given week, rotate between five to 10 different exercises. Try not to repeat the same routines on consecutive days. Once a horse becomes familiar with a pattern, his neuromuscular system adapts to perform it more efficiently, meaning he no longer makes physiological gains from the exercise. The outcome of this is a dull response.

Be sure your patterns include plenty of straight lines. It’s critical not to keep your horse on a continuous curved line, as this strains his joints and ligaments once the surrounding muscles fatigue. Be creative with your groundwork to intersperse straight lines: This can be as simple as interrupting your circle work after two or three minutes to lead your horse around the arena in a straight line before resuming circles again.

Change up your terrain. If you often perform your routines in a sand arena, try working on grass one day, or get on some gradual inclines if you usually work on flat ground.

Plenty of exercises can be performed in various locations, including backing up, walking over ground poles, stationary bending exercises, turning on the forehand and turning on the haunches, to name a few. Changing terrain changes the stimulus, which allows your horse to continue to adapt his body in new ways.

Choose exercises that address your horse’s specific needs. Groundwork needs to be relevant to your individual horse, not only to hold his attention, but also to be purposeful in developing him physically.

A Better Routine for Longeing

This pattern is incredibly effective for improving a horse’s coordination, balance, and ability to use his body to move well. It’s far more useful than longeing a horse around a repetitive circle. The changing speeds ask for different muscular efforts and require him to make frequent adjustments to his balance, rather than moving around robotically.

Longeing exercises diagram
Diagram courtesy Trafalgar Square Books
  1. Longe your horse once around a 20-meter circle at the walk. You might choose to include cavalletti poles on this circle.
  2. Now, walk or jog beside him as you guide him to a different area of your arena.
  3. Now ask him to canter around a 20-meter circle. Return to a trot or jog.
  4. Again jog beside him to a different area of the arena.
  5. Now trot around a 20-meter circle. You might wish to include cavalletti poles on this circle.
  6. Return to the walk and repeat the entire sequence several times in each direction.

This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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