Horse Doing Groundwork

“Spooky Season” with Horses

By Gillian Warner, National Youth Board member

Fall is here, and with it, some chilly weather. I have had to layer up with an extra jacket almost every morning out at the farm now, and the horses’ coats are starting to fluff up a bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the fall season. Based in Central Pennsylvania, I get to enjoy some warm apple cider as I cozy up in big sweaters while the leaves change color. That said, it does make life more…interesting.

As the temperatures drop, the wind picks up, and the weather generally feels a bit more “doom and gloom.” The atmosphere is perfect for spooky season activities—and spooky horses. With the weather changing, the horses tend to feel a bit friskier, becoming a bit more kite-like in day-to-day situations. Turnout becomes a bit more exciting when the wind picks up as you exit the barn, or the crunching leaves result in a jumpy horse as you enter the ring.

While horses are bound to have some fresh days, there are efforts you can take to encourage relaxation in your rides.

I’m a big advocate for groundwork. Groundwork assists in directing the horse’s attention and focus to you, centering their mind on what is being asked of them, instead of what’s going on outside. Additionally, it’s a safer way to work on connection and relaxation than just hopping on and hoping for the best.

My groundwork routines emphasize energy and intention, encouraging the horse to feed off of my energy. Because I’m asking the horse to focus on my energy instead of pressure, by keeping my own energy calm and quiet, the horse feeds off of that quiet confidence to settle into work, as well. I work to have my horse walk with me on a long lead, stopping when I stop, turning when I turn, and going when I go. With more practice, the horse becomes increasingly aware of what you’re asking.  

To better understand connecting horses to your energy and intention, and how that can bring calmness to your work, take a look at Tik Maynard’s article in Practical Horseman at https://practicalhorsemanmag.com/training/tik-maynard-build-ground-skills-53127. In exercise 1, “Mirror Me,” he discusses how you can use body language and energy instead of pressure to connect with a horse. Increasing your horse’s sensitivity to your own cues will help decrease their focus on and reactivity towards outside influences.

As we get closer and closer to winter, we all are looking for ways to continue building the partnerships we have with our horses. Work to decrease the stress, drama, and spookiness of the fall by incorporating some groundwork into your life!

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