Training From the Ground Up
Happy Monday everyone!
Every week I’m going to share a story of what I’m up to with training or lessons. This week I’m going to talk about my progress with my own horse, Baxter.
We bought Baxter in 2016 to be my personal show horse. While he is amazing in the show ring, he is the world’s biggest chicken in “real life”. His answer to uncomfortable or nervous situations was to rear and spin. For a couple years I just dealt with who he was and embraced the killer show horse I had. But the spooking and unreasonable answers (i.e rearing) to new challenges were becoming frustrating.
In the past few years I found myself getting burnt out and frustrated and not wanting to ride. I decided to go back to basics with him and build a new bond. It all started with ground work and teaching Baxter to be more confident in himself and to trust that I wouldn’t put him in a bad situation. I taught him “touch”, which simply means if he’s afraid of something that we must approach it and touch it. I started this by adding new scary things to our ground work training and encouraging him to touch it and then rewarding him with lots of positive reinforcement. If a horse is afraid of something the worst thing you can do is turn them away from it. It’s best for them to figure out what it is and that it is not something to be afraid of.
Other things we have worked on in our ground work are leg yielding side to side and change of direction in our rope halter and long lead. With the changes of direction also came lead changes, which he found significantly easier to learn on the ground than under saddle. For those who don’t know, Baxter has a history of SI issues so a lot of these exercises also help him stretch and use himself more correctly. When he returned to under saddle work after his SI injections he was able to then complete a trail pattern with leg yields, lead changes, backing, tight turns and scary objects. We even got high point trail at one of the Arabian shows this year! The lead changes also came in handy for our new favorite class, ranch riding.
While he is not perfect, he has improved greatly! Not only physically but mentally. We continue to work on his ground work and I look forward to venturing out on our first trail ride this year!
Side note: A majority of my trainings were influenced by Mark Rashid. I highly recommend his books for anyone looking for new approaches with their horses. I thank him for reminding me of my “natural horsemanship” beginnings.
Picture: Baxter ground tying while I teach a lesson. He stood there for approximately 10 minutes without moving a muscle.