Recently I have been putting a lot of time into doing ground work with Dante, from a few de-sensitizing exercises, to very basic lunging, and also to the dreaded Mounting!
Personally I think ground exercises should be continuously done with your horses regardless off their age. Have a read below & Remember to always reward your horse after he does something good!!
In the lunge arena, always in the lunge arena(or an enclosed sand arena) The last thing you want is for your horse to take off in a spook!! Dante has quite good ground manners, some may say impeccable for a 5 yr old!
I decided to have a go at some de-sensitizing techniques, as he had always been quite petrified of whips! Well this is where it started, and to be honest there is no harm in trying out a few of these exercises, it will help you see where your horse is with‘spooky’ things & how well they trust you in guiding them.
Using the lunging whip, he was quite sceptical of it at first, I began to start de-sensitizing him with it. Using my voice, always using my voice I spoke to him, and slowly began to rub the end of the whip on the side of his neck, gently rubbing it back towards his hind end.
Tip: Be sure not to start aggressively tapping the whip as this could end very badly.
After repetitively doing this several times he began to relax, it did take him some time but he quickly realised that it wasn’t going to hurt him and near the end he started to take no notice of the whip and began to enjoy the rubs he was getting from it!!
Another desensitizing exercise we done, one that did take a bit more time, was putting a plastic bag at the end of a schooling whip and desensitizing him around his body with this, he did not like this one bit at the beginning, he backed away from it, quite abruptly but once I started to use my voice to assure him it was okay, he settled into it. Flaring nostrils & excessive sniffs of the bag later that’s for sure!!
Lastly I placed empty bags on the ground to seeing if he would walk over them, which he did, but to be fair we have done a lot of TREC which included walking over footbridges and doing things he wasn’t used to, while trusting me to guide him through things. It has really improved our teamwork together!
Tip: Always have a lunge line on your horse, and keep these exercises to a confined space. One wrong move and your horse will be gone!! and with that it will only make doing these exercises and gaining your horses trust a lot harder.
Dante gets lunged for approx 10 minutes everyday before I ride, sometimes it can be very tedious and annoying, sometimes I even skip doing it but when you see the outcome of lunging him before, it really is well worth it.
I use draw reins on Dante when I lunge him, without them I can get no work done or I spend 15/20 minutes if not longer trying to get him to work himself properly. I wouldn’t say he is well voice trained, or that he has done an awful lot of lunging in the past, I remember the first time I ever lunged back in October when I first bought him, he freaked out with the lunge line on him and took off out of the lunge arena, but he is getting there now and that’s all that matters!
Techniques I use:
Using the word‘Woooahh’ to transition downward, or to bring him back to a halt, I sometimes use my hand to stop him, I hold it out and up in the air pointed towards his face, I do this when saying‘woooahh’ sometimes doesn’t work, I combine the two.
Exaggerating the word‘Trot’ when getting Dante to move up a transition pronouncing it more like‘teee-rot’.
When moving him up to canter, a great trick I learned from Sue, instead of using my voice to move him up into canter, I simply turn my outside shoulder into him(as if I’m doing a 360 turn) this pushes him up into a canter, without using my voice, it’s as if he runs into my forward movement, Its actually pretty cool! Otherwise I make sure he is moving forward in his trot and use the word canter again in an exaggerated tone like ‘kkeeeannter on’.(I will try add videos of me using my body to push Dante into a canter, so you can see what I am trying to explain!!)
Dante’s attention span is very minimal, there are times where you can actually see his head turned looking out of the lunge arena trying to see what is going on around him instead of him focusing on the work I am trying to get him to do. He is very expressive with his ears, when I say the word listen and give a light tug of the lunge line(that’s attached to his bit) I can instantly see his ears flick into me, he is slowly realising that looking around the place whilst I am trying to get him to work is not what he is supposed to be doing!
Pole Work in The Lunge Arena:
I use a lot of poles in the lunge arena when I lunge him, not only does it keep Dante’s brain constantly thinking and anticipating what’s going on, but I have found it also really helps me translate the exercise into riding when I am on him in an arena! If he is difficult with certain things in the arena, I bring him into the lunge arena doing the same exercise in there! In a more confined space, (less space for him to run) it really does help!!
Canter poles, and trot poles are two of the main things I would work on. As in the arena when he sees them, he gets quite excited and rushes towards them, especially canter poles!
An exercise I love to do, you should all try giving it a go! Place three poles around the lunge arena (See picture below) I get Dante to trot around over the poles, counting his step in trot, its great to see him do it when he keeps a steady rhythm! I count the steps he takes in between each pole, and my aim is to make sure he gets the same amount of steps each time! In other words, keeping him at a steady rhythmic trot! I can work on pushing him forward in the‘teee-rot’ if I want to push him on and also hold him back to a more collected trot‘woooo’.
Using the same exercise, minus the middle pole, I do a lot of canter work also. I only tend to use this in a canter if I find Dante is full of energy or is simply not listening to me. It’s a great one to use to get him to concentrate properly, not just having him aimlessly canter around the lunge in circles!
Do remember though, keeping things interesting and keeping your young horse thinking & not anticipating every move really gets them working well. If you feel like there getting bored in the lunge arena, try all the same techniques out in a field see how they get on, sometimes a change of scenery is all they need, it will really pin point their progress for you!!
I often bring Dante into the lunge arena to let him stretch his legs, instead of doing proper work, again its letting him know that every time he sees me it doesn’t mean he has to have a gruelling work out!
Tip:Make sure to work your horse evenly on both reins in the lunge arena, also when you bring them back to a walk or even to a halt, don’t let them turn into you in the centre until you instruct them to do so! Remember, you are the boss!!
To Say Dante is a dreadful mounter would be an understatement. I dread it. He was never good to begin with, and being brutally honest I have been putting off that day I have been saying I would spend with him working on the issue! Recently we had bit of an incident, one that could of been fatal, but I am quite used to falling off him at this stage that my body seems to of adapted. I had one foot in the stirrup, two hands on the saddle(if I hold the reins he tends to start walking backwards) not sure if he spooked at something but the chair I was mounting off did fall over, and he took off down the arena with myself hanging onto the side of the saddle. Letting go and falling to the ground was probably the best option considering he took off in a tiff after I did!
I have learned with Dante that he is quite the sensitive horse. When he gets worked up it takes a while for him to settle down and forget about what had just happened, so with this I lunged him for 40/50 minutes out of the arena and into the lunge arena to try get his mind of what had just happened! Getting him to relax did take some time, but he eventually settled down. With this I hopped up on him in the lunge arena so that we at least finished on a good note! Safe to say we need to start working on our mounting skills ASAP, I don’t want to end up stuck somewhere not being able to get back up on him!
Note:Dante has no Back/saddle issues, it is one of those things I have been putting at the end of the to do list since I bought him, my patience isn’t the best, and good patience is exactly what you need when working on getting him to be a good mounter.
To say I was petrified to get back up on him the next day was an understatement, but he surprisingly stood still for me to let me mount. Which kind of surprised me! Maybe it registered in his head that if he doesn’t let me mount he will get worked in the lunge until he does! So something good did come out of it.
I will be trying continuously to do certain exercises to get him used to being mounted, and not having him walking away or walking backwards when I do!
Practicing getting up & down in the lunge arena more so that he realises it is ok, and if he acts up, keep working him until he realises that if he doesn’t stand still to let me mount he will be worked twice as hard until he does.
Try mounting him in different areas, he may be easily distracted in certain areas such as the arena or near the stable while mounting, see if there is any difference in his behaviour.
Mount in Stages. Start off on standing on the mounting block, reward him if he stands still. Move onto putting one foot in the stirrup and again reward him when he stands still. if he moves, start again from the beginning! Continue this technique until you are fully mounted, keeping in mind that when I am on him he must stand still until I instruct him to walk on.
In the arena, (this tends to be where he is most sceptical of being mounted) If possible get a reliable person the hold him still while I mount, letting him realise & figure out that standing still is what I want him to do, eventually not needing the person to hold him at all.
Tip:Do not loose the plot if he really starts to act up, I have learned(maybe the hard way!!) that patience is absolutely key. Any slight hint of me getting thick or angry, he feeds off it straight away and gets worse!!
As you can gather, I am quite new to a few of the things mentioned above, I had to learn quickly having a young horse! There were days he was so fresh it would of been dangerous to ride him!
Please do feel free to share any tips/exercises you use with me in the comments below!!
Please also note that these exercise are based around my horse, & his training to help him progress, they may not suit your horse!
But What’s the use in knowing things if you cant share them!!
Enjoy a quick video edit I done of him below, you will see what he like to be lunged! Check out our YouTube Channel No Bucking Way Blog where you will find loads more progress videos!
11 thoughts on “Dante’s Diaries – Ground Excercises”
This is great insight into how you work with Dante on the ground. I want to use of few of these with Delight. He’s also 6 and while incredibly balanced for an OTTB, he is so long that he has trouble with impulsion.
We all get so bogged down in riding, we forget how valuable groundwork and lunging can actually be, and what can really aid our ridden work progression. Great post – I enjoyed the tips throughout! 🙂
Thank you! Ground work is something I think that should be a constant thing with horses regardless of their age!! You get to see them in a hole new perspective!
This is really good! Thank you for sharing this! My horse is very good at mounting, but we definitely need to work more on the lunge line! He tends to be very slow and wants to “leave” the circle, keeping the lunge line tight at all times..
I do exactly the same voice and moving outside shoulder for canter commands as you! It makes lunging so much easier
It saves so much time trying to get him to transition up! Takes them that bit longer to realise the word canter!!
I definitely need to work on de-sensitising especially with paper when ever my mare sees a piece of paper flap you can see the whites of her eyes! Great insight into how you work with your horse! 😊🐴
Really interesting post. Love all the different exercises you do. I too have mounting issues with my horse who thinks it is amusing to step away to the side just as I’m about to put my foot in the stirrup. He’s pretty clever and knows I can’t reach. I have found the best way to deal with it is NOT to get cross (hard) and turn him in tight circles a few times and try again. He soon realises that is more boring/hard work than just standing still!
Totally agree, staying calm & relaxed is key! but at times it can be so hard with time we will get there, hopefully! 🙂
Thank you for sharing. These tips are very useful! I like horse riding, but my horsemanship is terrible. I’m always so scared when I’m riding on a horse. Yes, I must forget about anything.
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