Once my colts are desensitized pretty well and I am able to lead them and pick up their feet, I start focusing on preparing them for that first ride. Now I know there are cowboys out there who like to just hop on and see what they got. Not me. I want to know what I can expect from my colt before I even think about climbing on his back. That’s why I build my colts from the ground up.
Ground work is the foundation to all the colts I start. It lets me teach them what is expected of them. And if done properly, the foundation you put on your colts can make them faster learners.
Everyday Ground Work
What I consider “everyday ground work”, is work that you do with your horse pretty much every time to take him out of the pen. If you have a well broke horse you may not even thing of this as ground work, but if you are working with a colt this “everyday ground work” is a big part of his training. Tasks that I put in this category are leading, grooming, and standing tied. If you are having problems with any of these areas, they need to be fixed before you try to do any further training with your horse. Problems in these areas typically means your horse doesn’t respect you. Without respect a horse can be very dangerous.
How do I know my horse is being respectful? You want your horse to walk nicely with you when you lead him. If he tries to run you over or rush past you, he is being disrespectful. Both are potentially very dangerous behaviors and should be fixed as soon as possible. To remedy a horse trying to run over you, you can simply shove the palm of your hand into his cheek when he crowds your space. This will not make your horse head shy, it just gives him a clear message that what he is doing is wrong. It is very similar to another horse nipping at him if he crowds their space.
To fix the problem of my horse rushing past me, I start leading my horse and the second my horse passes my shoulder while being led, I give a couple of backward jerks on the lead rope to stop him then immediately back him a couple of body lengths. I’m pretty aggressive when I’m backing my horse I expect him to move freely and quickly. I don’t want to have to drag him backwards. The more energy you use the better the back will be. This may fix your problem after just a couple of times, or it may take twenty times. It just depends on the horse.
Disrespect while being groomed or tied up is moving around. The same process can be used to fix both of these problems. Basically we want our horse to move our horses feet so that he will decide standing still is the best option. I take my horse out to the middle of the pen equipped with a halter and lead rope. I give my horse the chance to stand still. If he stands nicely I praise him and let him continue to stand while I start to brush him. The second he starts to move around I trot him in a few circles then give him the chance to stand again. If he stands still great, if not run him in a few more circles. Eventually he is going to decide that it is easier to stand quietly than to have to run in circles.
If my colts aren’t doing well with the everyday ground work, I don’t go on with more advanced ground work. I just continue to perfect the basics.