A lot of people have asked about groundwork. What do we do? How long do you work? Does it get boring?
All good questions. I use groundwork to build my relationship with Scratch. Being able to move him around on the ground builds respect. Groundwork also gives me confidence in a couple of ways. First, I get to see how he moves. Watching him move from the ground helps me see how he’s going to move under saddle. Secondly, it’s a way of determining if he is paying attention. Having him move off of my cues shows me he is paying attention.
The most difficult part of groundwork is deciding what to work on and in what order. I try to place a few exercises that Scratch knows well at the beginning of the session. Yielding the hindquarters and flexing work well for this. These exercises are easy for him to do, he does them well, and he gets a reward (a kind word and a pet). Then, I put in an exercise he knows but doesn’t like to do. Backing up fits this category. Scratch knows the backup, but it is a little more work and he can sometimes be resentful. For an exercise of this type I try to get Scratch to do it off of a light cue and at the very first sign, I end the exercise. So, if he backs up without resistance on the very first try, we are done with backing for the day.
Once we’ve warmed up, I like to work on lunging. Most of the time it is at the end of a lunge line. What I work on here are transitions. Getting Scratch to move from trot to walk, then walk to trot just off of my body language was a goal of one recent groundwork session. Using my posture, upright with shoulders back to trot, relaxed and shoulders slumped for walk, Scratch was able to follow my cues.
Usually, our sessions last no more than 30 minutes unless Scratch needs a little conditioning. I try to vary the exercises enough so he doesn’t know what next. And, I add a new exercise somewhere in the middle of the session to stimulate his brain. The final exercise is something he does well and likes doing. For Scratch, that’s standing still while I swing the stick & string. Scratch loves to stand still and watch me work for a change.
Have fun with your groundwork sessions!