Starting Groundwork

I bought a book about schooling in hand a couple of weeks ago; the reason behind it is obvious now, and last week I started putting the theory to the test.

With the mare I lunged, who can be a bit stuffy and reluctant to use her hind legs efficiently, I warmed her up on the lunge in side reins, establishing the rhythm and getting her to trot with impulsion.

After a canter to help improve the impulsion and length of stride, I brought her back to walk and began playing with the inhand work.

Initially I just worked on getting the mare to halt and walk on when asked. It’s a simple concept, but it’s worth checking that you and the horse have a mutual understanding to begin with. It took a couple of goes for her to instantly stop when I stopped, and to wait until I walked on.

Next up, was some turn on the forehand. Once the mare was standing still, I stood near her near shoulders facing her quarters. I flexed her neck towards me with my left hand, and with the right hand tapped her left hind leg, just above the fetlock, lightly with the schooling whip whilst saying “round”. She lifted that leg in response to the tap and brought it slightly under her tummy.

Placing her hindleg under her body caused her to bring her right hind forwards and out, so swinging her quarters around her forehand. We’ve done this movement under saddle, so the mare is familiar with the procedure, but I felt it was important to work on things that she was confident with so that she could transition smoothly between work under saddle and work in hand.

As soon as I had a quarter turn on the forehand, we walked straight on and I patted her. We repeated the exercise a couple more times until she moved evenly and with bigger, more confident steps. Then I sent her out on the lunge in trot. The turn on the forehand had an instant effect, because the inside hind leg was more active in this trot.

After repeating turn on the forehand on the other rein, I kept her trotting on the lunge whilst spiralling her in and out. In a similar way to the turn on the forehand, the inside hind leg had to adduct to the body on the leg yield out, so improving the suppleness and strength of it.

With the mare looking a lot looser and working over her back, I decided to take a look at the rein back in hand. We do it under saddle, but this mare isn’t always very giving over her back as she steps back, so it would be interesting to see her rein back from the ground.

Because of her resistance to the rein back, I wanted to remove any rein aids. The lunge line was attached to the centre ring of the cavesson, so using that to help push her back will cause her to step back crookedly. Instead, I deviated from the book, and placed the schooling whip horizontally across her chest. Rocking the whip gently, so it pushed first her left shoulder then her right shoulder, so easily encouraging her to take symmetrical steps backwards. My right hand could tilt the whip so my left hand could keep the head straight. Because of the lack of pressure on her head, she relaxed into the movement and started shifting her weight onto her hindquarters and lifting her back as she went.

A quick trot on the lunge to find the forwards gear, and we tried again, this time she was more responsive to the pressure on her shoulders and took bigger strides backwards.

I wanted to progress to leg yielding against the wall, but when I started leading her, positioning myself by her shoulder, facing the quarters, left hand near the left side of her head and right holding the schooling whip, the mare rushed her walk and got tense. Obviously walking like this was strange to her, so I settled for just practicing the walk and halt transitions against the wall, with my body in the new position. When she accepts this and relaxes I’ll introduce the lateral work.

To finish the session, I did some walk on a small circle on the lunge, asking with the lunge whip for her haunches to move out on a bigger circle almost a shoulder in on the circle. So continuing the theme of the inside hind leg moving forwards and under the body. The side reins supported her shoulders so she couldn’t fall out through the outside shoulder. A few strides of this and then we had this fab, bouncy trot – she looked like she was floating! Again, I repeated this on the other rein before finishing our session.

I felt we’d covered a lot of different things, but as the movements are all in her repertoire, albeit under saddle, there wasn’t too much new information for her to process, just the concept of me standing on the ground. I could see how the in hand work improved her suppleness, which will help her ridden work.

And once I’ve read the next chapter, I’ll have a play at those exercises. You’ll have to wait for the next installment.

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