By: Lynn Palm
No matter what your horse’s age, investing the time in ground training will make it a more responsive, obedient partner. I’d like to share with you my “Golden Rules” for ground training any horse.
Before beginning any ground training lesson, make sure you have set the foundation for success we discussed in the “Beginning Ground Training” series. Go back and review them if you need to. Here’s a quick summary.
Start with the proper equipment: A properly fitting halter, longe line with or without a “stud chain”, leg protection, and a 3-4 foot dressage whip. I prefer using a longe line to a lead when ground training horses and will use that term rather than “lead” throughout these articles.
Carefully select the training location. I recommend starting lessons in the horse’s stall or another small, familiar enclosed area, no matter what the horse’s age. This will help your horse stay focused and relaxed. As each lesson is mastered, your horse can graduate to repeating it in a slightly less secure area like a paddock or round pen. Finally, create a written lesson plan for each training session.
Now that we have you and your horse properly equipped, here is my first “Golden Rule” of ground training.
Golden Rule #1: Respect Your Position
The first golden rule of ground training is: You must make sure that your position in relationship to your horse gives you safety and control. The most common problem I see are handlers not positioning themselves properly. Always stand with your shoulder at the middle of your horse’s neck. Never position yourself further forward than his throatlatch (the area where his head and neck meet) or behind his shoulder.
Standing too far forward, at the horse’s head or in front of its head, is an unsafe position. Even if a horse is very quiet, a handler standing too far in front of a horse can be trampled if it spooks. This position will cause you lose control of the horse’s head and neck. You will not be able to encourage the horse to stay forward, but will use a pulling action to stay in control.
A handler should always stand at a minimum distance of one arm’s length away from their horse. The most common fault is standing too close. This unsafe position increases the handler’s chance of being hit by the horse’s legs or stepped on. I’ll never forget my first instructor telling me: “If you get stepped on by a horse, it’s your fault for standing too close.”
The handler’s hand position controls the horse’s head – and this is the most important part of the horse to control! Whether the handler is standing on the near (left) or off (right) side of the horse, the hand closest to the horse holds the longe line attached to the halter. If the handler is standing on the horse’s near side, it will be in the right hand; if standing on the off side, it will be in the left hand. This hand should be positioned at the middle of the horse’s head, below the jaw and above the mouth. The other hand holds the excess longe line in organized, loose coils.
Grasp the longe no closer than 5 inches from the halter. This arm should have a slight bend at the elbow for flexibility. A common problem is holding the longe too tight or too close to the bottom of the halter, and steering the horse from underneath its head. As an instructor, I have found that the hardest thing to teach people is that that they do not need to stand underneath the horse to control and force the horse with a lot of pulling action.
As your handling skills advance and your horse’s training improves, the further away you will be able to hold the longe to still get the desired response. Your goal should be to successfully execute basic ground training movements with at least 3 feet between your contact on the longe and your horse. This takes time and practice, but it is great test of responsiveness and obedience.
While working on achieving this distance, your horse may try to come toward you, crowding your space. If this happens, use your arm in an action to shake the longe toward the horse to encourage it to maintain the desired space. I’ll teach you more about this training technique in upcoming newsletters.
From a reader:
I received this e-mail message from April, a newsletter reader. With her permission I would like to share it with you.
My name is April. I have ridden since I was 5 years old, owned and trained my own horses since I was 12. At 20 years of age I thought it would be great fun to raise and train a young horse. I figured I had plenty of experience retraining my older horses, so how hard could it be to start from scratch? SO I dove in….trading my best AQHA mare for an AQHA colt I had only seen via the Internet.
I began the ground training at 2 years old. My horse excelled at ground training so fast that by the time it was 2.5 I thought I could ride it easy enough. So I climbed aboard and was surprised to find a totally different situation. This is when I realized I needed help. I sent my horse to sixty days training at a local barn. But when I got it back it was not the willing and eager horse I knew from before.
That night I went through all my old horse magazines and ran across Lynn Palm’s Longevity Training series. I became immersed in the articles and read them over and over until I knew exactly what to do. I began a thorough retraining of my horse. Immediately I saw its willingness to learn come back to life and a total enjoyment of working.
Lynn’s series has helped me so much in training my horse and I owe her a great deal of gratitude for it. Now I am working on improving my seat so I can ride and train better using her techniques. It just keeps getting better and better! —-April
Thanks April for your support of Palm Partnership Training. Your willingness to learn and your positive attitude tell me that you and your horse will achieve the long lasting partnership we all want with our horses. I look forward to the day that you can come and ride with me!
Your Next Step…
Be patient. Ground Training takes time. You may spend several days or weeks on one lesson. Make your sessions short to keep your horse’s attention and try to end on a positive note. Rushed or impatient handling now will affect future training sessions.
Ground training is not mentally or physically fatiguing for a horse so it is something you can do every day – if you keep the lessons short and interesting. It is a must for young horses. For older horses it can give good variety to your schooling and give you another opportunity to spend time together. So practice!
Reward your horse whenever progress is made. Give praise with your voice. If your horse is not used to being petted, start with gentle touches. Once your touches are accepted, begin stroking its neck, then along its back in the direction that the hair is growing. Graduate to gentle petting. Horses usually love to be stroked on their foreheads! A carrot treat and brushing after the lesson will make your horse look forward to the next lesson. That’s the most important “Golden Rule” for success in building a partnership with your horse.
For more information, please call 1-800-503-2824 or visit www.lynn palm.com.
Royal Palm Ranch, LTD.
9445 NW 60th Ave., Ocala, Florida 34482
352-629-3310 – Phone/Fax 800-503-2824