Work at hand – basics

Work at hand or groundwork makes the horse obey and cooperate with the rider. With groundwork exercises, the horse learns to respond to the aids and it develops proper muscles. This prepares the horse for longeing and riding. Groundwork is done using a cavesson and a lead rope or longeing line.

Cavesson 300x225 Work at hand   basics

The line is attached to the middle ring of the cavesson. In this way, the young horse is easy to control, without harming/disturbing the mouth.

Horse leading 300x225 Work at hand   basics1. Leading

The horse needs to follow you as its leader. You walk in front of the horse, slightly to the side (so you can keep an eye on your horse). The horse follows you based on respect and trust. When the horse tries to pass you or stops, you should change directions immediately. When your horse is pushy and gets into your personal space, you can create space by using the end of your rope as a tail and move it from side to side.

Horse halt 300x225 Work at hand   basics2. Stop

When you stop, the horse should make the same movement and stop as well. In the end, you should be able to do this exercise with your back turned towards the horse. If your horse does not stop immediately it is recommended to first stop while facing the horse while keeping 2 or 3 meters (7 to 10 feet) distance between you. Then make yourself bigger and if necessary lift your arms.

Horse backup 300x225 Work at hand   basics3. Back up

Put some pressure on the nose and chest of the horse and ask it to step backwards. If the horse moves away from the pressure, release and reward your horse. The goal is to be able to give pressure without even touching the horse so that it moves backwards, away from your energy. This exercise is good for your hierarchy: a horse lower in hierarchy moves away from you or horses higher in rank.

Horse forward down 300x225 Work at hand   basics4. Forward Down

In nature, a higher position of head and neck is linked to mental excitement while a forward down tendency is visible in relaxed horses. In this position (with the head down), the horse cannot make adrenaline. Ask the horse to move away from a slight pressure behind the ears. If the horse lowers the head you remove the pressure and reward your horse.

Horse bending head 300x225 Work at hand   basics5. Stelling

Stelling is a Dutch word, used to describe the bending of the head and neck to the left or right in relation to the spine. The lower jaw of the horse should move underneath the extensions of the atlas vertebra, the first vertebra in the neck of the horse. A proper stelling creates therefore a bigger space behind the lower jaw.

You can ask stelling bit by bit, while the horse should remain standing. If the horse takes the stelling and relaxes, you release pressure as well. You can then see that the stelling continues to work throughout the rest of the body in a bending of the spine, making the inner hip come forward.

Horse bending 300x225 Work at hand   basics6. Bending

Every horse has from nature a supple and a less supple side, because the muscles are uneven in length. To develop the horse symmetrically, you should ask the horse to walk circles to both left and right. You ask the horse to take some stelling, which makes the muscles on the outside lengthen and the muscles on the inside relax. At the same time, you ask the horse to bring his head forward down, to relax the back muscles and tighten the abdominal muscles.

Horse stepping under 300x225 Work at hand   basics7. Stepping under

Because of the horse’s natural asymmetry, the horse prefers using one hind leg to push, and the other hind leg to carry. When the horse takes a proper bending to both sides, it will also start using its inside hind leg as the carrying hind leg.  In this way, both hind legs develop similar carrying capacity. This is how the horse learns to step under his point of weight, which is important for supporting the rider.

The horse has now learned to walk in a forward down tendency, bend itself to the left and right and to step under its point of weight. This is when the longeing work can start.

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