Today I want to share with you a little guide on how to start with the academic groundwork… Just follow my steps and guidelines below and please ask if you have any questions!
What do I need?
When I work with horses in the academical groundwork I always prefer to use a proper, well-adjusted cavesson. I do so because the cavesson gives me the possibility of affecting the horse directly through the nose and thereby give me connection to the atlas as well as the whole spine through neck and back. The great advantage of the cavesson and its affection through the nose and the spine allows you to kindly shape the horse into bending and stelling. The reason why I would at any time prefer the cavesson above all other kinds of headpieces is that a regular halter for example will never be able to place the head in the right stelling and bending, but instead pulling on the halter will make the lower jaw go into to circle and make the horse tilt its head to the outside. The cavesson on the other hand will guide in the nose and make the lower jaw go to the outside which will make space for the horse to bend correctly on the circle and step underneath its point of mass with the inside hindleg.
Obviously you need something to attach to the cavesson during work and personally I prefer to use a leather rein of a decent length. I like it to be as smooth, light and soft as possible since I don’t want it to swing around, be heavy on the nose of the horse and lastly to make it easy for me to have in my hand. You can use whatever you prefer though. Some like to use a rope and others a lunge line, but my favourite is a 3,20m leather rein which I also use for riding and lungeing. In this work it is not necessary with a long rein though as you are walking rather close to the horse all the time and thereby does not need a lot of rope. It can be practical with a longer rein though if you wish to shift between groundwork and lungeing later on during the same training session.
In the academical groundwork the whip works as a tool of guiding and is used for putting attention on a specific part of the body. In the groundwork where we walk backwards it is used as a replacement for the inside and outside leg of the rider. Of course the work can be done without a whip, but it is undeniable that it makes it easier for you as the person to be able to point or touch firmly in the beginning to direct the horse’s attention to a specific part of his body. When the horse knows the work you can easily put the whip away if you prefer and simply use your finger to point with and the horse will respond to that instead. I rarely do it myself though as I like to be able to give precise signals and do not have a problem with the use of the whip as long as it is used as a guiding tool and not a forcing tool.
I prefer to hold the rein as in the photo to have the least possible things in my guiding hand. That way I am able to feel the horse better and guide with more ease.
How do I start?
When we work with the academic groundwork we always walk backwards which always us a great overview of the whole body of the horse. Often this is where people teach the horse the basics of what will later be used in lungeing, handwork, riding etc. What we wish the teach the horse first is to bend around the inside leg of the rider and be round in the body. Since we do not sit on the horse we use the whip as our inside leg in the area where the leg would normally give its cues in riding. What we wish to see is that the horse steps underneath the point of mass with the inside hind leg and bend the body so it matches the size of the circle. That means little circle = much bending and big circle = less bending.
- Stand backwards facing your horse.
- Put the cavesson rein in one hand and put the whip in the other hand. One hand for rein and one for whip.
- The side on which you have your whip will work as your inside if you (as me) prefer to shift hands when you change the lead.
- Start walking backwards and do at the same time ask the inside hind leg to step forward with your whip on the inside.
- You are now walking backwards facing your horse which allows you to see his head, inside shoulder, stomach and the inside hind leg.
- When you walk try to make his shoulders follow your hips and see that his head (on a loose line) is pointing in the direction of your stomach.
This is the beginning of what I often refer to as the ‘follow exercise’. The point of this exercise is to teach the horse to follow you while staying balanced between his own shoulders as well as changing the bending depending on the lead. In the beginning we do not focus on the head but mainly on the shoulders of the horse. The goal right now is not to have perfect bending or stelling, but simply to make the horse responsible for following, carrying himself off the inside and outside shoulder, but between the shoulders. Your job during this exercise is first of all to be aware of your own body. You should always have a feeling that your inside shoulder and hip is pointing towards the inside if your horse so your shoulders are actually parallel to his. When you have got that in place you ask are allowed to be creative with your patterns. It doesn’t matter if you walk on a circle in an 8-shape or something else, but the focus is on the horse to constantly follow you and changing his bending when you change the lead.
- Whenever you change the lead you also change the position of your own upper body. That means that whenever you change the direction you turn your hips and shoulder so that your “new” inside shoulder and hip are pointing towards the “new” inside of the horse. Besides you also change hands and make sure the whip is now on the inside again.
- The inside hind leg of the horse is a very good parameter to look for because if you do not see him stepping under himself and under the point of mass then he is most likely not round and thereby hanging on his inside shoulder. If that is the case you ask him kindly with the whip on the inside shoulder to lift it out a bit so that he has equal weight on both shoulders and can drop down his neck between the shoulders.
- If he manages to carry himself between the shoulders and step underneath his point of mass you will quickly see how he becomes round is his body and lowers the head by himself.
- Be creative with the patterns and allow him to simply and calmly follow you around changing his bending along with the change of lead.
- That is the goal for now!
It is common knowledge to must of us that the horse does not works properly in the body if there are a lot of tension or stress and therefore that is one of the things we do want to avoid as much as possible during our training. Some horses finds it strange that their humans are suddenly walking backwards in front of them and therefore this first step needs to be taken slowly even though it sounds simple. Without a good fundament nothing sustainable can evolve and therefore it is so important to make sure you do not stress your horse or make to many demands. Always praise him for relaxing and following your slightest hints and cues to make him feel comfortable and safe in the task. Some horses understand the follow exercise in not time and others need many session before really being confidential with it. Therefore please take your time instead of rushing and don’t forget to praise and thank your horse for his effort!
All equipment is from Klassisk Dressur.