Monday, January 5, 2009

Ground Work versus Riding....What to Do?

There's been some talk about ground work on the internet here lately. mugwump chronicles in Rant-orama and Ranto-rama 2
posted one of her pet peeves which appears to be people talking ground work instead of actually riding. I think underneath it all there is a very good sentiment there, ground work in and of itself will never break a horse to ride. The only thing that will do that is being on that horse's back.

The hard part, I think, is that many people tend to over simplify. I don't mean that just in regards to ground work and riding, but in pretty much everything. It's easier to pull a thread and make something out of it, than learn what is really behind the whole story.

Part of that is human nature. It's impossible for most to take everything in all in one sitting. It takes time to learn and learning is a process that never really stops. That is certainly the case with horses.

So when people see what the Parelli's, the Lyons, "the horse whisperers" of the world can do, it's easy to think those experts have all the answers. The next step is to think we can too if we can just get that horse hooked on....... because that's how we want it to be.

The problem is that just isn't reality. Getting a horse "hooked on" is only one step in a process. If you don't know the other steps, you're in for one helluva ride.

Is this the fault of ground work? Nope Or the messenger? Nope there either. The problem lies with us........we, humans, and our understanding. It's the way we took it in and the way we chose to use it. To complicate the matter each of us is different and so is our understanding. The solution is going to be as different as the people and their knowledge. AND it's going to be complicated...........because horses are complicated.

Now, I don't mean that every little step will be complicated.......that's the last thing I would say. Many times the solution to a problem can be quite simple......but only if you have the understanding to make it simple in the first place. THAT is what makes the Parelli's, the Lyons, "the horse whisperers" of the world so successful. They make something complicated LOOK simple. They open a door in our understanding that we didn't have before and we take it from there and run when we have little to no understanding of the foundation it was built on.

Whether or not we run right out and push that horse around the round pen or we take what we learned and keep looking for new doors for it to open in our relationship with our horse is totally up to us. Many will never get past that first understanding because they want it to be that simple. Others will make gains but get stuck in the belief their guru of horsemanship has all the answers. And still others will keep looking for information where ever they can find it including their horse.

How much or how little ground work a person does with a horse will never be the bottom line in how well a horse is trained. The quality of the training will be directly related to the understanding of the horse held by the person doing the training and their application of that knowledge and the horse's ability to process it.

I've know successful trainers who swear by a lot of ground work and others who aren't comfortable with ground work at all. Both types produced successful horses because it wasn't just the ground work or just the riding that produced the result in the horse. It was what the horse learned that was important.

Each trainer may have built on a different foundation but the horse was able to "get" what it was supposed to learn and the building was successful. And when it's all said and done, that's what matters. The horse must understand what we're asking. Without that it doesn't matter whether we did it in the saddle or on the ground. It'll all be useless.

So for me, I do some of both depending on the horse. I've spent many hours of ground work on one horse and practically none on another. I love to ride and that's what I want to do, but sometimes I find I need to get off that horse and do some more ground work. The horse decides which way it'll be.

That's one of the most important lessons I've learned with horses. I need to listen to what they have to say, make my decisions from there, and then things will be fine. We'll get things figured out sooner or later.

That leads to the other important lesson I learned about horses, that is I am never going to know everything there is to know about them no matter how hard I try. Anybody who tells you otherwise is a fool.......and if you believe them guess what that makes you. I think the last part of this lesson I learned from Harvey Jacobs, and I think he's right! LOL

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  1. AMEN MiKael.

    Just... AMEN.

    If you can not take the time it takes to read and learn each horse on THEIR terms, you are going to have a rocky time of things now and again.

    And the second you think you know it all about all horses, well.... sure sounds like something I'd sit back and quietly watch.. just to see the fireworks that are not far off in the future.

  2. I agree, MiKael. You have to have some of both riding and ground training to have a well trained horse.

  3. I know exactly what you mean MiKael, with my limited exposure to "breaking a horse to ride" I have had two types of personalities. We were lucky to have a crop out son of Sonny Dee Bar as our stallion for a number of years before we lost him to EPM. All the babies and grandbabies etc. from his line are sane, sound and need virtually no groundwork (I am too impatient for lots of groundwork which is not good because like you I want to ride and not round and round in a pen or arena either LOL).

    In the past few years we have bred our same mares to a few Quarter Horse stallions, and the foals' characters despite being out of the same mares, have been completely different. Quick learners as well but I dont feel as confident around them as I do the Sonny Dee Bar descendants. can see their different temperaments, not as laid back as the SDB babies.

    I agree, do as much groundwork as each horse needs, they are all so different.

    Hope things are improving your way although from the weather forecast it doesnt look as if it is. Be careful on that ice and I hope you are feeling better.

  4. What a nice "defense" of ground work! I admit that I am firmly in Mugwump's camp. More riding is the only thing that's cured my horse problems. And I've seen a lot of newbies to horses get stuck doing groundwork for years, or keep buying equipment, searching for that one magical piece of tack that will instantly solve their problems.

    I do think you're right, though. Riding isn't better than groundwork, in general. What you're trying to get is an understanding between horse and human. For me, personally, the easiest way to do that is by riding, but some people have an easier time on the ground.

  5. I've been following that conversation too, but hesitated to weigh in because it was obvious that everyone was primarily in agreement that groundwork wasn't helpful. I can understand the argument that it can be a problem if you are using it to avoid riding. At the same time, working on the ground with a horse is a great way to build confidence and create a relationship with that horse that will carry over to the saddle. That is a major benefit. I don't agree that the only way to lose your fear of riding is to get in the saddle. That is an important part of it, but working up to it is a good thing.

    I grew up mostly in the saddle. Outside of basic leading, grooming, and bathing, I only rode. Now that I have a new horse, I've been learning to do groundwork. And I love it! It's not that I'm afraid. I like the relationship we've created through our groundwork. And I like that my horse is learning how to respond to aids on the ground, which transfers to learning under saddle. A major misconception is that groundwork has nothing to do with riding. In my experience, that's very far from the truth. Ace has learned how to respond to pressure on the ground first, and then when I ask him from his back he has an idea of what I want. This has been incredibly helpful with my very green horse. Everything we do on the ground helps us when we are riding.

    Some people prefer to ride. Some people prefer groundwork. Some people like to do both. None of it is right or wrong, as long as we are building relationships with our horses. Like you said, our horses are our greatest teachers. And they are all individuals. What works well for one horse might not work well for another. They will tell us how they want to learn, if we are able to listen.

  6. Excellent post!!!!!
    I agree 100% that whatever "training method" a person uses boils down to that individual person and their horse and what is right for them. This is exactly how I feel about Natural horsemanship training. I LOVE Natural horsemanship -- some aspects of it anyway. I like to use a variety of techniques when working with my boy. Some of them are Natural oriented and others are more traditional. I am always in search of what works for US. I hate it when people ask me if I "follow" this trainer or that trainer (speaking in terms of the whole "horse whisperer" hype). I can never narrow it down and say yes, I like that one or no I don't like this one. The truth is, I have learned things from many people (notice I didn't say "trainer" -- because you can learn things from anyone regardless if they have more or less experience than you). I think it's important to approach things with an open mind and look at how something might apply to YOU and YOUR HORSE. Even if you don't like a particular person's advice per se -- they might just say something (about something else) that will turn a lightbulb on in your head and you think "hey, I like that might be worth trying for X problem." Neither us nor our horses are assembly lines and I think some people in the horse industry view it exactly that way -- with blinders on thinking only their way is best. I feel bad for people like that because they miss out on a lot. I ,too, have heard people bash groundwork -- but what about the person that had a bad experience and needs to rebuild their confidence (from the ground up). Are they bad because they have to spend more time on ground work?? A friend of mine once had a boarder who COULD NOT PHYSICALLY ride a horse comfortably due to car accident (and she didn't care for driving). This gal loved horses and had 2 of them. She was heavily into Parelli simply because it gave her so many options and ideas of things she could do on the ground. Is she a bad trainer because she is unable to ride??? Absolutely not! She could do some remarkable things with her horses on the ground -- things those of us that ride would never even think of trying. Your post says it BEAUTIFULLY ...everyone is an individual!!

  7. I agree with everything Jackie had to say. We find that training from the ground first helps the horse to understand what we want when we get in the tack. We tend to use both forms of training with each horse and it's pure instinct to know what each horse needs on any given day. So I tend to think that everyone has their opinions and that's fine, but don't close your mind to other forms of training. Give everything a chance, get to know your horse and what it needs and don't get stuck in one mode of training.
    As for me I think all the new crop of guru's who are horse whisperers and have new magical ways of training horses are a crock and each one has a gimmick or new piece of tack or a book to sell etc... There is no quick fix, everything done with a horse must be done slowly and methodically and then they will understand you and trust you. Just my opinion, I'm sure there are many who disagree with my system.

  8. I AGREE that ground work is a necessity to a good foundation. That time spent needs to earn progress that is practical though.
    It was amazing to watch my daughter train her horse. Because of the horse's slow growth rate, ground work was what she COULD do until the horse matured enough to ride. We had never spent so much time on ground work before, but the lessons were well learned. When she finally did get on, there was no fanfare, or fluroush (bucking or crow-hopping) the horse knew what was expected and accomplished it! The amazing thing...that horse was pretty darn aware of most cues save her seat cues and most of those cues were already very polished!
    I absolutely agree that the horse decides how it will be, that decision is daily. There were some days that we needed a kindergarten refresher on on a college level horse.

  9. Mrs Mom, it took me a while to figure out those trainers with all the answers were a problem. Once I got that done, it was much easier to find ones that were helpful to me and my horse.

    Katee, I know for me just getting up on a horse is not an option. I can't afford to get hurt. So I have some ground work I do before I get on. But it's not just about that kind of initial ground work for me. I've found sometimes it's easier for me to teach the horse something new starting on the ground and then bringing in to riding under saddle.

    Lori, for me ground work is not just about the beginning of starting a horse under saddle. Because of the amount of collection it takes for an Arabian western pleasure horse and the fact I don't want to bully my horse into producing it artificially, I find long lining to be quite helpful and much easier on my horse.

    Funder, I'm not saying that everything or every horse can be fixed on the ground though. It may very well be the thing needed to fix your horse required riding.
    And that really IS my point, it depends on the horse and rider together, what works for that pair.

    Sometimes that fix might be ground work and sometimes it might be riding........sometimes it will take both. And I think that is part of what mugwumps was saying as well. There is nothing wrong with using ground work to fix a problem.

    I think the problem comes in when people think that ground work will fix everything. If you just do "enough" (whatever that is) then there will be no problem. That even might actually work with a horse now and then, but certainly not all. As horse owners we need to be aware that each horse is different and may need different "fixes" for whatever it is we are trying to resolve.

    Also we need to know that just because Joe Blow trainer can make a horse look totally safe on the ground and even climb up on that horse for the first time ever in front of a huge crowd, BUT that does not mean that horse is broke. It has had one ride......and only one ride.....anything can and may still happen.

    Jackie, I totally agree with you working on the ground with a horse is a great way to build a relationship with a horse. I know, particularly working with Arabians, there is a big benefit in having that relationship before you climb on. That doesn't mean that Arabians can't be started without lots of groundwork, but with some individuals it can make a huge difference.

    A good example of that was when Richard and Jessica began working with my gelding, Percy. That horse required much more time to build trust before he was comfortable with a person on his back. Jessica couldn't get on him, but once I did (he already trusted me through my work on the ground with him) then the horse had no problem letting Jessica mount. And Percy continues to be a horse that learns new things easier with ground work first. It can be a very useful tool.

    Carol, you are so right! It is totally about building that relationship and finding whatever works for the two of you.

    As for the woman who could not ride, KUDOS to her for having the determination to still work with horses. One of of the safest horses I seen was trained by woman in a wheel chair. That horse was so aware and so responsive of people around her, even when spooked she was safe. Obviously that mare was not broke to ride by her disabled owner but she definitely knew how to put all of her attention towards doing what her handler needed.

    It's certainly been my experience that horses with those kinds of ground manners are really easy to ride.

    Grey Horse, I'm with you on all counts. And after having first hand experience with the BNT who is on RFD-TV, I've learned just because some know how to do impressive things with a horse does not make them ethical. Self-promotion, not what is good for the horse or owner, can be the only motivation. A big name reputation does not necessarily mean that they are to be trusted.

    Jeanette, I totally agree with you. Ground work in and of itself is not a solution. Everything depends on the horse, the rider/handler and their relationship. Ground work is just another tool in the process.

    Your daughter using ground work for a physically immature horse is a great example of the usefullness it can be in the training process. I started Dandy that way as well for the very same reason.

    By the time he was physically ready for me to climb on he pretty well had all of his cues figured out except for those from my seat too and he picked up those very easily.

  10. Oh i loved this post!! I do some ground work with my horses. I do about 15 days. Then it's time to get on. And sometimes 15 days is way too much. It all depends on how the horse is doing. I like some ground work, but you are right, nothing gets a horse broke but plain old riding. Ground work just makes that riding a bit easier!! LOL!! Sometimes.....

    I also think that sometimes too much ground can spoil a horse and a spoiled horse is naughty when you try to ride it. Well, at least in my experiences. Anyway, great post!! I loved it.

    And I have met a lot of trainers who don't do but a week in the round pen and they are on riding circles around a buch of those other folks still "playing" with their horses. So, anyway, great post, I will stop babbling on and on.

    Like what Mrs.Mom said, "Amen"

  11. This is a really excellent post! Bravo!

  12. Mikael.. your last note here is so on the mark.. i struggle between ground work/not doing it and then expecting it to be the "miracle"... it's ALL part of the journey with THAT particular horse

    Getting an amen from montana :)

  13. Thank you for this post.
    I read a lot about different kinds of horsemanship, and you express exactely what i suspected: it is not as easy as that.
    Perhaps they are able to solve problems that went unsolved with the other methods, but you cannot have a miracle every day. So in the end, it still boils down to hard day-to-day work, not miracles.