Its fantastic that groundwork is being recognised as such a vital element of training now, we often see comments of “do groundwork!” in response to people having issues with their horses. But how on earth are we supposed to know what to do exactly? 🤔
Someone telling you to “do groundwork” is akin to me telling you to “do riding”, it doesn’t really give you any guidance and, just like with riding, there are many different methods, thoughts and opinions on what is best. Here are my thoughts on how to navigate this as someone who has tried many, many different things over the years.
The first thing to think about is how you learn, there are countless shiny, well-packaged online courses available but if you don’t learn well from videos and theory its not going to be too helpful for you. You also can’t replace someone having eyes on you and your individual horse. Please don’t take this as me being derogatory about online courses, I love online learning myself and subscribe to several patreons, it can be a really great, more affordable way to access training.
The second thing I think about when looking at a trainer is how do their horses look? What people choose to put out there is what they think is good, I’m not going to post a horse on my page that I think looks horrible to show my work. Do they consistently post horses that look relaxed, calm in their work and are working in healthy postures? Or do they seem to post reactive horses, dramatic transformations in one session or horses working with compressed necks?
It absolutely is a marketing tactic to post the dramatic moments, and of course we can all have a horse go over threshold from time to time, but if they are consistently posting horses reacting to their training in such a dramatic way, I would question if they are perhaps causing that behaviour and perhaps it wouldn’t occur at all with someone who uses less pressure.
Think about what you are actually trying to achieve and ask questions about how the work will achieve this. Beware the one-size fits all method. Is the training just achieving compliance and quick reactions or is it actually helping you to influence the horse’s way of going positively and support their physical development? Do they mention possible pain/discomfort and point out conflict behaviours?
I’m not going to talk about any specific method because I honestly don’t know a huge amount about most of them, but I will say that working horses to fatigue on tight circles and any harsh pulling on the head/neck may get quick results in terms of compliance but definitely won’t contribute to the longevity of your horse’s ridden career.
I strongly recommend doing your own personal study of learning theory, behavioural science and biomechanics where possible. You don’t have to go in deep but equipping ourselves with at least a basic understanding of these well-studied concepts sets us up on the right path to question a lot of the nonsense that is flying around in the horse industry and help us make informed decisions about the professionals we choose to use. 🐴