Conversations about poles - why groundwork isn't an end in itself

I have to confess: I don‘t always have a plan when I come to the arena with the horse. Sometimes it isn‘t even decided whether I ride or work from the ground. Usually, I prepare for riding from the ground  - and if something‘s wrong or I feel that the time is right to teach something new or to improve something old, I will do that and forget about riding. My plan evolves being with the horse. The same often happens with communication. 

A few weeks ago I wanted to do groundwork and use some poles that were already set up from previous lessons. 
The gelding knows a variety of exercises you can do from ground, and so it can be a challenge not to ask for the same maneuver for the hundredst of time and bore him to death but change the task and make it more interesting. 

groundwork, being with horses blog, conversations
You can do a lot with just 4 poles.
Image: Nadja

The poles were layed out as an L and this is what we did with them:
  • I was standing some feet away from him and asked him to yield his forehand for quarter of a circle. From this new position I sent him forwards or backwards. 
  • I sent him through the poles and played around with his speed: walk inside of the L, trot coming around it, walk again entering it. Or trot inside it and canter outside. Or trot outside and coming to a halt inside.  
I really liked the session because he was fully engaged mentally. He connected the different gaits to the L and he reacted faster and faster. I am a bit of a fanatic when it comes to not only exercising the horse‘s body but also his mind. The conversation about the poles achieved the latter: The gelding responded immediately and precisely and I could lessen my cues more and more. 

How precisely can you influence your horse‘s feet?

Something similar I experienced with the frisian few weeks ago: Groundwork is no end in itself. But a test how clearly your message is understood by the horse. Can you direct his feet precisely standing several feet away from him? Can you deliver a feel for the speed and the direction you want - with your body and the rope ? 
The frisian for example was worried about sidepassing with a pole under his belly. He wanted to cross it in huge steps. Also, he wasn‘t sure of being able to move forehand and hindend seperately. So I shortend the rope and asked him step by step to move over. I tried to help him understand that he was capable of sorting his legs and there was no need to rush. 
Working on the details, when precision is necessary, reveals the quality of our foundation. In our case it showed me that I still needed to work on separating front and hind clearly. 

groundwork, being with horses blog, conversations
It doesn't get any simpler. Image: Nadja
With the frisian, the set up of the poles was as simple as it gets: just two parallel to each other building a lane
I was standing some feet away and tried not to leave my spot. 
I asked him to sidepass behind the pole furthest away from me.
Also, I tried to send him to the outside of the faraway pole, between the poles and between me and the nearest pole by using rope and energy and not the stick. My aim was to deliver a feel for direction and space where I wanted him to be.  
We also worked on coming to a halt from all gaits in different positions: behind, between or in front of the inner pole. Plus backing up.  

I find that we can use simple layouts and poles to have quite complex conversations with our horses.

Do you like groundwork? What to you usually work on? 


  1. Cool new ideas for some ground poles! We can for now do a bit of long lining, work in hand (shoulder in, haunches in, half pass sort of in walk and trot), double lunge (a course in April will reveal Hafl's talent for that)...and some jumping on the lunge line I use for engaging his back!

    1. How cool is that! We are struggling with the haunches in. Paledo's hip is really stiff and he has trouble to step under his point of weight with the outside hind leg :( For me it's a never ending story. But we need to have goals :) I love long lining. It really gives a sense of subtle communication.

  2. Hi ridingwitheyesopen. Yes, I like groundwork. I usually like to work through creeks and over lumps in the ground. Most of my groundwork that I do is just to see how my horse is responding to me; checking for problems and resistance. But, truly, I should do more groundwork with them.

    1. I'd love to do some stuff in the open with natural obstacles. But possibilities are limited here. I think it's important what you write - this thing about looking for resistance in the horse. Groundwork can really help to learn to feel for the horse and where he is at.