Groundwork, anyone?

I love basic groundwork as part of my regimen. I think it serves a number of purposes – especially for a green horse. But nobody else in my big show barn does any at all (unless you count lunging for tiredness).

Anyone else incorporate groundwork into your riding/training/showing life? Curious to hear how often, what you work on, etc.

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Me! I’m a total noob at it, though. I just started learning about groundwork about a year ago. I have a young horse in full training, so groundwork gives me something productive to do with him on my non-riding days. I only do very basic things (backing up, proper leading, moving off pressure, transitions, changes of direction), but it’s fun. My horse is a total green bean and I feel like groundwork helps him learn to focus on me. He’s an inquisitive type, and he seems to find the groundwork interesting (based on his engagement and expression).


I teach face up first this is NOT join up. With join up they chase the horse away and use tiredness. I look at this as the same way as you view lunging for tiredness.

Facing up uses timing and the horse learns very quickly. I teach it in a small yard and once the horse is following from as little as 3 seconds to 15 minutes I praise and do it again the next day. That goes on for about 4 or so days and the horse now comes when its name is called. I teach them to halt a few feet from me, so as I do not have a horse sliding over me later in the mud!

The horse is taught to stand still from the second it is brought here.

Leading they are not taught to follow my feet, they are taught to walk with a single click, halt when I say halt and to step backwards when I say halt and place a thumb on their chest, later the word back and a small tug on the tail and after that back and waving my finger from side to side. There is always 2 signals for back. You don’t want the other horse to back when you are backing the first one out of the float with a gentle tug on the tail and the word back.

They are taught to be able to be touched all over and to pick their hoof up when I ask for it without touching it.

They are taught to yield to a halter. So if I put a lead around their pastern or knee, they pick up their hoof and put their muzzle down to their knee and hold it as long as I hold the lead. They also yield to that lead rope if it is around a rail, a post, etc, etc.

If being broken in they are taught to lunge correctly in side reins, only minutes a day as lunging is not that good for young horses. They learn the words halt, walk trot and canter for later under saddle. With side reins they learn relaxation, balance, forward, straight, contact and tempo. They are long reined as this teaches them how the bit works when you are on their back for turning and halt.

Once trust is established we go back in the yard and I teach Spooky Object training, which is not taught like desensitization. With SOT you do drop the pressure. It teaches them that when they get a fright they stand still. The same as facing up it takes a few days or so in the yard, only 15 minutes or so.

So after the initial training you will not see me training the horse on the ground. The horse learns much faster than the rider they do not need games etc on the ground. It leads to a bored resentful horse.

So if I was on someone elses property what you would see is me call my horse. He will come and put his head in the halter. You will not hear the click or the word halt, that is between my horse and me. You will just see my horse walk beside me, stop at the gate. I open it. The horse goes through and turns to me. I go through and close it.
The horse walks beside me to where I tack.

When on my own property I don’t use a halter. I call the horse comes they walk beside me, halt at the gate they go through and halt without turning, then I close the gate and I step to their shoulder and we walk to the tack shed.

I don’t tie, the horse stands to be groomed and tacked and I pick their hooves out with the horse lifting his hooves for me. They have a halter on if somewhere else. They do not need a halter at home.

I use a halter at other places as I am a role model and AI act like one. I do not want any kids thinking I am doing anything different or trying to copy me.

And people will be heard to say I am lucky that I have horses that are quiet.

I have ottbs and ride dressage.


I love groundwork! I do all kinds of stuff. When on the lunge (or in the round pen if I’m extremely lazy) I work on transitions and focus.

I work on checking out spooky objects and going over poles.

I am starting to get into in hand Dressage work, lateral work using a whip. That is really different and fun for me.

I haven’t done any real liberty work but my horses usually choose to follow me.

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Yep, I love it! For dressage work, you can teach them from leg yield, shoulder-in, & haunches-in all the way to piaffe, half pass, & pirouette, very useful! I have even seen people do groundwork with cross country jumps, pretty wild. You can also incorporate more fun things like Spanish walk & tricks! Some of my favorites are self-haltering, self-parking at the mounting block (No more having to move the mounting block around!), and ground-tying.
I honestly never lunge for tiredness, ever! Partially because my horse is pretty fit and I would get dizzier faster than she would run out of energy haha. It’s a nice way for to get them moving the way they feel is best. Don’t get me wrong, I love long lining etc but sometimes they just need to move loosely!

I would use groundwork before every ride so I could get a read on the horse I had on that day at that time.

I figured if I had bad days, so could she and groundwork helped me figure that out and maybe make a change in my daily riding ‘plan’.


I do dressage and trail riding, I’m in a self board recreational barn where some folks do various kinds of stuff on the ground, and others dismiss all that until they run into trouble with a new horse. So I’m not in a h/j world.

I should preface this all by saying that I still enjoy riding the most, that I’m a decent rider, ride almost every day, I am not in the lead and feed brigade :).

Anyhow, I do several different kinds of things on the ground. I do what I think of as Western based groundwork. That includes obstacles, manners, standing and waiting while I walk away, coming with a whistle, moving over from a light touch, backing. Idea is to be quiet calm and get the lightest cue possible, even a finger wiggle.

Then I also do a little longeing, but it’s not a big part of things and I do it to check energy level and obedience to voice cues. If the horse is flying like a kite they get turnout to burn it off. I don’t do rodeo longeing. Too much potential for injury.

I do like longeing square w/t and longeing up and down the arena. It gets out of wearing that little circle in the footing.

I have a lightweight longeing cavesson that fits under a bridle but actually end up just using a rope halter mostly.

I like liberty work. My main mare will not lock on and longe reliably with no rope, she tends to run to the other end of the arena, but the last two green horses picked it up right away and longe w t c halt on voice cues around me in a 20 meter circle in a larger arena. I prefer this to longeing since they can vary the track if they need to and if they do want to buck they don’t hit the end of the line.

I also do formal dressage inhand work with flexion, lateral work, first the shoulder in family and then the half pass family. I do this in a snaffle formally and in a rope halter mixed with other ground work.

And I do clicker training mostly for tricks.

Right now I have one really solid riding horse and one green horse we are starting under saddle. The riding horse gets attended turnout as she likes to have a big buck n run session about once a week. She loves her clicker tricks so we run through her repertoire every now and then. She adores the obstacle play night we have once a week and if I’m at the barn that late I take her in. I rarely longe her, but did when I started with her 10 years ago.

The green mare gets a full menu of groundwork, including long walks on the trails with other horses and alone. She is too wired up about treats to incorporate clicker in her formal training at this point, but she is learning to play fetch.

I think it’s also useful that we have self board in stalls with runouts, and no cross ties. We end up feeding, cleaning, and tacking up with the horse in the stall. So we are constantly asking the horse to move over, back up, etc. They all get used to it just fine, even OTTB!

I have found groundwork really easy with these horses, but it requires being fully attentive to the horse. When I went back to h/j lessons 15 years ago I felt like I was perhaps being a little childish (from the otherwise excellent coach’s perspective) in my attention to the lesson horses moods and posture and attention on me. But I decided to just continue noticing and channeling my inner 11 year old. I ended up after a while at this self board barn with an excellent coach and mentor for both riding and horse skills. She could see subtle lameness, the attitude shifts, etc and we could chat about them. My observational skills became really useful in developing good timing in groundwork.

Anyhow, good groundwork involves getting into a zone with your horse, and then expanding that zone so it takes on all your interactions with him. You can’t teach something in groundwork and then ignore it an hour later because you need to meet some outside expectation.


I bought my horse as a 2 year old so that first year it was all ground work. I don’t really do it anymore though just because it kind of served it’s purpose but if we were having problems under saddle that’s where I’d go back to.

I did play around with some liberty stuff this summer when I was saddle-less though. My young horse grew out of my saddle and I could NOT find one that would fit her for months. It was fun and it’s kind of nice that she can go around and still do trot poles and small jumps without me having to set up a shoot. I also think being able to move freely has helped her.

If nothing else it’s a nice flex for Snapchat :woman_shrugging:

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Groundwork is the basis of my program for all my restarted TBs (eventing / dressage) with emphasis on ground-tying and being able to reliably stand or go where I direct. Much like Scribbler my end goal is a horse that is a pleasure to handle for all - who is light and responsive to touch. A good ground-broken horse is such a nice thing to have – people are amazed I can dismount anywhere on a trail ride and move a fallen tree, a rock, whatever to the side while my horse stands – and then waits patiently while I get back on. Having a well mannered horse makes everything easier - from vet visits, loading, to riding.

I start by teaching them to ground tie where I tack up. Eventually it evolves into standing still while I am mounted while I do a whole bunch of stuff; open a gate, take off a jacket, open a bag, etc. For unmounted things, my horses learn to stand still while I set up a course, lead quietly while I am carrying poles or jump standards, and back up at verbal command versus touch. They also learn to STAND and not walk off while I mount - my pet peeve is a horse who instantly walks off the second you swing a leg over.

It translates handily to trail riding, where I will get off to move obstacles in the trail or, sometimes, lead by hand over something tricky. Having a horse that respects your personal space and does not crowd you is very important as well.

I am not much interested in lunging, since it is unnecessary for my program (my horses are out 24/7). I do make sure my horses can W/T/C on the end of a lunge but beyond that rarely lunge unless for a lameness eval for my vet.

I find the process of making a well-mannered horse is very rewarding, and they do tend to trust you much better than a horse with a more riding-oriented focus of work. While there’s a dozen ways to skin a cat, I really like starting it by clicker training since I find, at least with the OTTBs, that they tend to be mentally turned off to their handlers and not focused on “problem solving” – the clicker training really brings out their more inquisitive side and helps them learn quicker, in my experience.


Yes, a little bit everyday, every horse. Young and old, keeps them respectable.

They are either being ‘trained’ or untrained every time they get handled or ridden!


Yes! My trainer loves groundwork and we have done several lessons with a focus on groundwork. It has really helped my OTTB learn to slow down and use his brain. Right now I am working on ground-tying, aka “stay where I put you”, but would love to move on to teaching some of the dressage movements in the future.

I have used the “slow down and think” routine at new venues and shows and felt a little weird at first being the only one, but got over it pretty quickly.

Right now I dedicate one day a week to ground work, but use a little bit as needed throughout the rest of the week.

This! I just started to try a little bit of clicker training with my mare recently and it’s crazy how much personality and brightness has come out of her since then. She is definitely more of a shut down, unresponsive, plant her feet type when she doesn’t want to do something (rather than the horse who escalates the energy level) and I quickly learned that positive reinforcement was wayyyy more effective than anything else, plus she just likes me better when I give her a treat for going into the wash stall rather than beating her into it. Horses often have so much learned helplessness and this training method really makes them curious and engaged with learning rather than turning it into a fight. :heart: