I’m reading a great dressage training book that I will fully review for you once I’m finished, but I thought I would share some groundwork exercises from it that I experimented with today. It was cold and windy, so my friend Maryann and I decided to try these in our stalls. The book’s author recommends that these exercises be taught to all horses in the beginning of their training and should be reinforced before every ride.
The first one involved teaching the horse to flex to the bit. I started by standing on PJ’s left side and taking the outside rein over his neck, holding it near his shoulder with light pressure, as if I were holding the outside rein. The inside rein I held in my left (inside) hand, which I rested against his head, right above his cheek. Then I rotated my hand so it put upward pressure on the bit back on the inside corner of his mouth. When he gave to the pressure, I immediately released and told him what a good boy he was. Once he did that correctly I moved on to holding the contact a little bit after he gave and then releasing. It was very telling that he gave to the bit much easier on his right side than his left – it reflected what I noticed under saddle, which is his right side is his hollow side and his left side is his stiff side. You could also see the gears in his head turning as he figured out what I was asking for. Each time I asked, he responded a little quicker.
The next exercise involved encouraging him to stretch his head and neck around as if he were going to scratch an itch on his shoulder. It was important not to pull his head around. Instead I held the outside rein as in the exercise above and teased the inside rein until he brought his head around. He did this one fairly easily both directions.
To teach him to engage with his inside hind leg, the book says to hold the reins similarly to the exercises above and to tap his inside hind leg with a whip until he picks it up and places his foot ahead and crossing his outside hind leg as he moves in a circle around you. The first few steps, PJ stepped out, meaning he just swung his hind end and didn’t cross, but then he got it and did it correctly every time I asked. Lastly, we tried to sidepass by tapping his hind leg with the whip at the same time as gently pressing his neck right in front of his shoulder. I got the crossing in the back but not in the front. I think it may have been because we didn’t have a lot of room in his stall or I was doing it incorrectly. I’ll try again the next time I see him.
Maryann did the same series of exercises with her horse, Ransom. It was interesting to see the different reactions between PJ, who is at the beginning of his dressage training, and Ransom, who is a confirmed second level schoolmaster. Similar to PJ, he had one side where he flexed easier than the other and it mirrored what she experiences under saddle. But for all of the exercises, even though Maryann didn’t quite ask correctly, Ransom did what she was looking for him to do immediately. He even crossed both his hind and front legs for the last exercise. This tells me Ransom was taught good basics.
Maryann admitted that this groundwork was training her more than Ransom! For PJ, I think it will help both of figure out what we should be doing. If you’re interested in checking out the book, you can find it here: http://mikeschaffer.com/.