KBR Horse Training Information

Exercising Body AND Mind

Why Ground Schooling is Important

Ground schooling is one of the most misunderstood elements of horse handling. People often ask, "Why do I need to ground school my horse? I don't want to tire him out. I want to ride him."

Yet these same folks are often complaining that their horse is hard to start, hard to stop, won't respond to aids and so forth.

Ground schooling is not only effective, but a necessary tool that the competent horseman applies to keep his horse tuned up and operating properly.


Establish the Chain of Command

As herd animals, horses need a chain of command. The very fabric of herd social activity and survival is based on who's the boss. Therefore it becomes disconcerting to a horse to be forced into an environment where there is no clear leader and oftentimes when he doesn't perceive a leader, the horse's natural instinct is to take charge.

Every herd, no matter what size
must have a leader / protector
Establish Communication

The handler and the horse must be able to communicate with each other. This means that each animal must be able to read the other's intentions, directions and emotions. It's usually not enough for the rider or handler to dictate to the horse unless he's going to be satisfied with the most menial of results. Communication can best be developed on the ground where both the horse and handler can most effectively see and relate to each other.

Communication is a
two way process
Define the Handler's Space

Space is a critical issue for a horse. It is that invisible bubble which surrounds a horse which is somewhat sacred. A subordinate horse does not invade a superior's space without an invitation. Establishing one's space is important for several reasons. First, you don't want to get run into or stepped on if the horse gets startled or distracted. Secondly a horse considers it to be an honor to be invited into a superior's space. You must have that space defined for these things to work.

Even youngsters have to
learn where the handler's
space begins.
Develop Yielding to Pressure

Just about everything a horse is going to do under saddle involves yielding to pressure. Whether it's responding to leg pressure or rein contact, a responsive horse is moving in response to the rider's pressure. You want a light handling horse? Establish the proper response to pressure on the ground where you have the greatest control over the learning environment, then apply those principles in the saddle.

The horse must yield to
direct and indirect pressure
Develop Stress Handling

Before you get in the saddle you need to know how your horse is going to react under stress, and your horse needs to be able to handle stressful situations and still pay attention to your aids and cues. Ground schooling should include "pushing the envelope" in a controlled environment so that the horse will learn to look to the handler for direction in unusual, unsettling and/or fast moving situations. This is much better handled on the ground than atop the horse.

The horse needs to
work things out in a
safe, controlled environment
Develop Transitions

The horse needs to be able to reliably increase or decrease speed, stop and reverse with minimal pressure. These transitions usually start out clumsily, but with practice and attentiveness by both horse and handler, transitions can become second nature. Developing a good response on the ground will provide a sound basis for lightness and responsiveness in the saddle.

With the transitions working well, you can ask the horse to adjust his weight for improved lateral work.

Even this 18 mo. old
draft filly could move
handily under saddle

We hope to have brought home the point that ground schooling isn't just sending the horse around in circles. It's a safe and sane preparation for more advanced work in the saddle and for bomb proofing.

The elements of effective ground schooling are presented in the various features in the training section.

Important Note: If you take on the project of developing an untrained horse, everybody will want to give you advice. Don't act on any advice, including the ideas offered in this site, unless it makes sense to you and fits your individual situation. Your abilities and the sensitivities of your horse(s) may differ from the examples given. Be alert and rational with your actions so neither you nor your horse will get hurt. This information is offered as illustrations of what we do and the reader must apply common sense since he or she is solely responsible for his or her actions.

Happy trails!

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The Results of Ground Schooling

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KBR Horse Training Information, 1997 Lamm's Kickin' Back Ranch and Willis & Sharon Lamm. All rights reserved. Duplication of any of this material for commercial use is prohibited without express written permission. This prohibition is not intended to extend to personal non-commercial use, including sharing with others for safety and learning purposes, provided this copyright notice is attached.
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