Tuesday, January 13, 2009

An Argument for Good Ground Manners

I was posting about ground work in Ground Work versus Riding....What to Do? and in

So Let's Talk about Ground Work....What Is It and When to Start!
There are those who believe when you start can make a big difference in how the horse turns out. Part of the argument that seems to support this thought has to do with Richard's work with my Arabian horses.

I have been saying that the horses I breed are different. They have a great work ethic and really want to please. I've always thought that was because of their particular breeding and I've always included this information as one of the selling points for these horses.

When I first began working with Richard, he commented about the "mind" of my Arabian stallion, Scandalous Legacy. As usual I responded by saying, "All of my horses are like this. It's their breeding." In the beginning Richard's response was something like "I don't know, I've only worked with this one." Then after he'd worked with two, the number increased to two. I don't know how many horses it took before Richard decided it was ALL of my horses but the fact is he did.

When he reached that opinion, it soon became clear that Richard thinks this difference has to do with me. I have clung to it being their breeding because I don't think I do anything special. And, there is the fact that I have chosen individuals for my breeding horses that had a particular affinity for the human/equine relationship.

But Richard claims he's worked with horses of similar breeding and not had this same response. If Richard is right and it has something to do with me and my program, the only thing I can think is it must be this early ground work and our consistency.

I have so many horses I don't get to spend much time with any of the young horses as they're growing. They get that first early exposure to training and that's pretty much it. Other than making them mind when handled and getting them ready for our open house once a year, the young horses just hang out until they're mature enough AND I have time enough to start them.

Dave and Lindsay are pretty good at re-enforcing the manners my horses have been taught when they work around these horses. Both are also known for loving on the horses daily. Any young horse showing signs of resistance to human contact seems to become a welcome challenge for that pair. There's nothing they like better than bragging about their accomplishments winning over skittish young horses. I'm sure their extra attention aids in building that instinct to search out human contact that Arabian horses have.

Still according to Richard these horses learn faster and are more willing than any other horses he has trained. For me I have no other comparison because these horses I've bred ARE the only horses I have trained under saddle. So I'm going to have to defer to Richard on this point that the early ground work makes them "better" to handle and train when they're ready to ride.

When it comes to my experience with other horses, I will say, however, that most of the horses I have worked with as a groom, have seemed the same to me. When I offered that up to Richard as proof it is the breed, Richard wouldn't budge. He thinks if those horses were just like my horses it is because I was the one handling them.

The reason I'm mentioning this isn't because I want to toot my own horn. I really don't think I do anything special. I just expect the horses I handle to have good manners and if they don't I insist on it. If that does indeed make such a dramatic effect on how a horse will deal with training, it certainly makes a good argument for the importance good ground manners.

I know that Harvey Jacobs will not even begin to ride a horse until he has the kind of ground manners he wants in place. It is Harvey's belief if a horse does not have total respect on the ground, it is dangerous to be climbing on their backs. I have to admit I agree with Harvey on this point.

I did a series about Harvey Jacobs and Arabian Horses that was totally his method of ground work with horses. Much of what I do with my youngsters is based on this information with some John Lyons thrown in for good measure.

Thursday's ground work topic will be long lining.

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  1. I'm like you MiKael...I just expect my horses to behave and for the most part they do. A quick reprimand every once in a great while and that is about it.

    Early work is important, but I have picked up some doozies from other people and before long, they act like the rest of my horses.

    Once the rules are set, it isn't always a matter of daily handling, just consistent expectations every time they are handled. This is often evidenced by some of our "pasture pets" who may or may not get caught once or twice a year. But whenever they are, they still behave better than some that I have seen handled on a daily basis.

  2. I agree with you completely about ground training and manners. All of our horses are trained first on the ground before anyone ever puts a foot in the stirrup. Our horses also have good ground manners. If a horse doesn't respect you or your space you are in for trouble. I'm not an advocate of harsh training but consistent firm training with a kind and caring hand is how we generally train any horse. In my opinion these animals are too big and too powerful not to have manners and respect for their human friends. So go ahead and take a pat on the back out of petty cash, you deserve it.

  3. Mikael -- I completely agree with Richard that it is your handling and your insistence on the horse's behaving. I think it makes a big difference. The incident that comes to mind was years ago I was standing in the aisle of the barn I was boarding at talking to the barn owner, another boarder and the boarder's 3 yo mare. As we were chatting, the other boarder was grooming the mare and the mare kicked at her. The owner did NOTHING! The barn owner commented on that and the mare owner just shrugged and said that if she did reprimand her it wouldn't make a difference, the mare would just do it again. The barn owner and I just looked at each other, totally aghast. You just can't let that kind of behavior go on. Not surprisingly, the mare was quite difficult undersaddle and ended up having to be sold because the owner couldn't handle her. I firmly believe it's because the owner never taught her respect. This mare was lucky, she went to a really good young rider who taught her manners and they did quite well at eventing. Other horses are not so lucky and end up down the road of one bad trainer to a worse one.

    That's one thing I've always admired about you. From your posts it's obvious you are kind but also firm with your animals. That's so important. I must admit, I'm not as consistent as I should be with the babies I've got here. I'll be doing a blog about that later today. Now I have to fix the problem I've allowed to develop.

  4. In my experience, Breeding...partly, that is one part. However I think it's more that you communicate with the horses - a conversation...talking AND listening. Some people "talk" too much others, not enough, some never "listen".
    I have had the occasion to work with new 4-H members who've NEVER worked on ground manners. Their horses are sometimes spoiled and unruly. I have had opportunity to demonstrate with their horse what they need to accomplish...in minutes the horse and I are managing these ground manners quite effectively. Various breeding, ages, experience - really a diverse group.
    What I've learned is that the horses are a mirror of our relationship with them. That relationship may be only minutes old, but the conversation has started, "talking" and "listening". When the horse goes back to the owner just minutes later, if their behavior hasn't changed by the demonstration the horse is back to his old ways in no time. Clearly a conversation/relationship break down.
    I agree with Richard, it's YOU, your relationship with them as their herd boss, your expectations, your listening skills...all of it (having nice horses really helps though). They have a good work ethic??? Huummm...I think they are a pretty good mirror! (look at your work ethics!!!)

  5. Just thought I'd add the total novice point of view to these insightful comments. I've owned my Arabian for 3 1/2 years. All I can say is, thank goodness I found a trainer who taught us groundwork! At first I didn't even know I needed it...I thought my horse was just "sensitive." My trainer pointed out that my horse was often just being a "butthead!" :) I now can understand the value of it in these simple terms: Groundwork=Mutual Respect=Safe.
    No Groundwork=No Confidence in Human=Accident Waiting to Happen!!

    Looking forward to the long lines info.

  6. Nice post, I have to agree, if they don't respect you on the ground, they sure won't up top! That's just from my own experience and opinion.

  7. Well, being prejudiced in favor of Arabians.... :-)

    When I got my mare, she was only two and I didn't ride her for a year, so I did a lot of work on what I thought was common sense manners. Things like "stand on your feet, not mine." I wouldn't let her use me as a scratching post, she was to let me pick up and do whatever I wanted with her feet, etc. Years down the road she became a school master for several young ladies and a Pony Club star. A trustworthy mount for beginners to work around.

    I applied the same philosophy to my gelding, who came with pretty good manners. Just established parameters and applied them consistently.

    I think you have the right idea. Good ground manners are priceless and an excellent foundation for future training.

  8. BrownEyed Cowgirls, I know what you mean. Sometimes as shows I can't believe the things that happen in the barn aisles because peope don't know any better. That belief that if you own horses getting stepped on or even knocked down is part of the territory. It's sad for both the people and the horses.

    Arlene, It surprises me how many people don't understand that you must get respect on the ground to have it in the saddle.

    AnnL, I have seen examples like this as well. You can only hope those people don't get seriously hurt.

    I knew a stallion that was like you described. It was a tough kid too, who got him under control and she did it in about two weeks. Next thing you know he was out there in the showring and she was cleaning up. He turned out to actually be a very sweet horse.

    Jeanette, I always thought 4-H was supposed to be about teaching the kids how to handle their horses but I have never been involved so don't know for sure. It sounds from what you're saying that's not the case. If that's so, that's really too bad for both the kids and the horses.

    Horseypants, I really like your equations. They're simple and so true.

    Sorry I didn't get the long lining post finished......too much time in the barn today. But it is coming next, I promise.

    Callie, well, I'm right with you on your opinion. It is mine as well, it all starts on the ground. And how Dave and Lindsay deal with the horses affects the picture as well.

    Oregon Equestrain, your prejudice towards Arabians is definitely welcome here! Sometimes I feel like I am the ONLY one that is so hung up on this breed. LOL

    I think good ground work really helps to debug the myth about Arabians being wild, spooky things, don't you?

    NuzzMuzz, the bay horse in the picture would be Percy. He's such a sweet boy but still isn't quite sure what to think about the camera. That eye is just a tad bit worried.

  9. MiKael, Yes, 4-H is about teaching the kids how to handle their horses, and it is a great program. I'm sorry I gave the wrong impression...really sorry. Sometimes teaching beginners is a slow process. Some of the families that I worked with bought bargain horses or green horses for beginners. After demonstrating with their horse I followed up with a lot of one on one coaching.
    What I was trying to point out is that horses rise to the expectation of their handler (I'm sorry that didn't come across)
    It seems that your horses mirror your high standards :)

  10. Jeanette, actually it was what you said that reminded me about an incident with a horse I had raised from a yearling. He ended up in a 4-H home and I went to a show to see him. What I saw there was not good.

    I remember there were many things that jumped out at me and I felt sorry for lots of those horses. In paticular the one that I had raised.

    The girl riding him was relentless on his face. The poor horse spent more time with his head in the air trying to find some relief from her hands than he did with it down where it belonged. Yet that was his only form of resistance.

    I remember seeing other horses bucking, kicking and running off with similiar treatment. Yet my poor gelding was still traveling nice and slow packing his kid around on his back. The expression on his face was concerned but he didn't do a thing to fight back. I felt so sorry for him.

    It was not a pleasant experience and probably contributed to me not wanting Rachel to participate in 4-H.

  11. Jeanette, I hit the wrong button and my comment posted before I intended.

    What I also wanted to say was, it wasn't you that gave me that impression about 4-H. After that experience it was firmly implanted in my brain.

  12. WELL YEA!!! I'd be SERIOUSLY frustrated and feel sorry for any horse that had to endure that treatment and yes, I've seen it in the 4-H ring, other places too, but yes, in 4-H. There are active clubs teaching good horsemanship skills, and there are the others.
    I can understand your view, I've seen it. These youngsters evidently are not being schooled or instructed through their club or, they are not teachable with the methods available to them.
    I hate the kind of treatment you witnessed too. I'd like to climb over the rail and show the kids what it might feel like!!!