No matter a horses’ age or experience, groundwork can increase respect, connection, and safety for both horse and rider.
Since horses are living, breathing teammates, they experience changes in energy and mindsets as they live their lives with us. Because of their dynamic nature, groundwork gives horse caretakers a chance to slow down the normal routine and establish meaningful boundaries for our animals.
Here are some common pieces of groundwork equipment you can use to take your training sessions to the next level.
Soft Rope Halter
Rope halters have been a staple around the world for centuries. Their simple construction makes them widely accessible and their light feel provides an advantage over other kinds of halters. While nylon and leather halters have their uses, their wide nosebands mean a horse can easily brace and resist groundwork cues.
Rope halters commonly feature two knots on the sides of the nose and can include up to four knots. These knots lay on nerve channels in a horse’s face, and when pressure is shifted a horse will interpret a clearer request.
Purchase a rope halter with a removable lead so you can select the best lead rope for the occasion.
You can add BeneFab’s Smart Poll Pad to your rope halter, encouraging relaxation and creating a gentle buffer on the poll for horses who are more sensitive. You can buy a BeneFab Smart Poll Pad HERE.
Weighted Lead Rope
A lead rope is often the only direct line (no pun intended) of communication between you and your horse on the ground. Choosing a lead rope that suits you and your horse in length and thickness is important.
Look for a lead rope with a double braid. A double braided lead has an inner core surrounded by the outer rope, giving a nice weighty feel. A rope with more weight will fall away easier, giving a horse the release they’re looking for as soon as possible in training. In contrast, a light, flimsy rope may kink and give less-clear signals to a horse on the ground.
Choosing the lead rope snap and length is a personal preference. Natural Horsemanship businesses sell lead ropes in lengths varying from 14-22 feet. Consider the kind of work you’ll be doing and what length will best suit your needs. Sometimes, more than one lead might be necessary.
Training Stick with String
Because horses are long and humans aren’t, reaching the back end of the horse when standing at the shoulder can be difficult. The training stick is meant to be an extension of the arm, not something the terrify a horse with.
A training stick can be used to entice movement in our horses, gaining their respect by moving their feet. The stick should be at least four feet long with a comfortable grip. The string on the end should be at least four feet long.
Consider this piece of equipment a more attention-getting version of the training sticks with strings. Often used on unstarted colts, these flags encourage movement with very little effort and can be used to desensitize a horse to flapping objects. Look for a training flag that is at least four feet long.
Activity balls are essentially sturdy yoga balls. They can be used to teach horses bravery and encourage playfulness. Horses lower on the pecking order may be initially afraid of these balls, but with work most horses’ ‘cow sense’ will kick in and they will herd the ball.
It should be noted that aggression towards the ball is not acceptable and horses should be monitored closely.
Groundwork improves both horse and rider, honing skills that increase responsiveness and safety.