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Ground Training, Golden Rules 1 & 2, Lynn Palm

lynnpalmNo matter what your horse’s age, ground  training will make him a more responsive,  obedient partner. Ground training is a must for  young horses; and with older horses, it adds  variety to your schooling and provides another  opportunity to spend time together. Ground training  is not mentally or physically fatiguing for a  horse so, if you keep the lessons short and  interesting, you can do it every day.

Start with the proper equipment: a properly  fitting halter, longe line with or without a “stud  chain,” leg protection, and a three- to four-foot  dressage whip. (I prefer using a longe line  instead of a lead when ground training horses.)  

Carefully select the training location. No  matter what the horse’s age, I recommend  starting in the horse’s stall or another small,  familiar enclosed area. This will help him stay  focused and relaxed. As a lesson is mastered,  your horse can graduate to repeating it in a  slightly less secure area, such as a paddock or  round pen.   Also, it helps to have a lesson plan on  paper for each training session.

Golden Rule #1:   Respect Your Position  

Make sure that your position in relationship to  your horse gives you safety and control. 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 his head, is unsafe. Even if a horse  is very quiet, a handler standing too far in front of  a horse can be trampled if the horse spooks. Standing too far forward will cause you to lose  control of the horse’s head and neck. Always stand a minimum distance of one arm’s  length away from your horse. The most common  fault is standing too close. This unsafe position  increases your chance of being hit by the horse’s  legs or stepped on.

Your hand position controls the horse’s head,  which is the most important part of the horse to  control. Whether you are 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 you are standing on the horse’s near  side, this will be your right hand; if standing on  the off side, this will be your left hand. The hand  holding the line 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 line no closer than five inches  from the halter. Your arm should have a slight  bend at the elbow for flexibility. Holding the longe  line too tight or too close to the bottom of the  halter and steering the horse from underneath his  head are common problems.

Golden Rule #2:   Make Straightness a Goal  

Straightness in ground training movements is  the key to getting quick and correct responses  from your horse. Learn how to evaluate if your horse is straight. Start by standing at your horse’s side and ask  him to stop. When he is stopped and relaxed,  move at least 10 to 15 feet in front of him. Evaluate his top line to determine if his body segments  are aligned so that his spine is straight. His  poll (the point between his ears which is the  beginning of his spine) should be in a straight line  through the crest of his neck,  withers, back, loin, croup (top  part of the hip), to his dock  (the top of his tail, which is the  end of his spine). If he is  straight, his shoulders and  front legs will line up straight  to the hip and hind legs. You  will barely see his hind legs  while looking at him from the  front.

Straightness comes first by  properly positioning your  horse’s head. Handlers can cause a horse to  become crooked. One fault is pulling on the longe  line or lead shank, which swings the horse’s head  out of alignment. Another is standing too close or  “crowding” the horse. Handlers with the habit of  looking down at their horse’s feet while asking for  a maneuver also have difficulty. They are not  focusing on the right body parts to evaluate  straightness, nor can they see what position  changes need to be done to achieve it. A horse that is standing straight can give you a  lighter, quicker response because he is in  balance. He can respond more easily than a  horse that is out of alignment.

Visit my website at www.lynnpalm.com where  you can sign up for our Palm Partners e-mail  training newsletter and shop the on-line store for  educational tools like my Longevity Visual Series  or my Longevity Training Book, both of which  cover ground training.

[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 2, Issue 12.]

 

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