Thursday, December 29, 2016

ground work + trotting update

It feels fitting to wrap up 2016 with a few of these 'update' posts showing Charlie's progress in his first three months as a riding horse. Seems like a good way to summarize where things stand now, looking forward to a brand new year together.

For whatever reason, I've suddenly found myself super motivated to do more ground work with the horse. We've done weekly sessions since our lesson with the horsemanship pro a couple weeks after Charlie came home, but lately we're doing 3-4 sessions a week. Often before I ride, or sometimes instead of a ride.

charlie recently discovered that, in fact, his back is flexible and he can lift it. good pony!
We work on a couple different skills during these sessions - with an aim to balance the physical and emotional work.

Emotional skills include: 

-     Accepting the whip rubbing over both sides his entire body, even in ticklish spots. And I'm purposefully a little sloppy with the whip. Recall this was a big weak spot in our first session, and he's basically a pro at it now.

-     Giving to pressure on the rope halter. I'll stand on one side of him and gently bring his head around by pulling on the halter. Softening when he gives, but not if his feet are moving. He's figured this one out pretty quickly, but we're careful with it anyway bc he's honestly not super flexible yet.

-     Turns on the forehand, aka disengaging the haunches. Neither of us are very good at this one haha, and we only just recently started practicing it. It's also a little confusing to Charlie bc this asks him to move his feet (in a specific way) whereas other exercises ask for him to be immobile.

-     Carrot stretches. Fairly self explanatory lol. Also, Charlie's FAVORITE.

trying to find his balance with a rider, and fairly earthbound in the process

Physical skills include:

-     Lunging. Another self explanatory one haha. The primary focus of our ground work has been to install a 'go forward' cue by tapping with the dressage whip. As Charlie's response becomes more confirmed, lunging is a natural byproduct. He's gotten quite good at it, tho he's weaker tracking right. He's simply less comfortable with me on his right side and doesn't want to let me over there. So the 'go forward' cue is stickier, but it still works. And he lunges in both directions reliably (just with more sass to the right haha).

-     Ground pole work. I really like lunging him over ground poles bc he treats them differently without a rider. He doesn't rush, and is better about experimenting with his body and balance. And, as you can see in the video below, he's starting to lift his back through the poles all on his own. This is great practice for him physically, and a good way to develop strength.... Now to get that same feeling with a rider!

-     Changing directions on the lunge. Charlie is SUPER at changing from tracking right to tracking left haha. I just back up to invite him in toward me, then change the direction of my hands and whip to send him off in the opposite direction. He initially got offended at the moving whip - but figured out to just move off away from it. He's..... terrible at changing directions from left to right tho. Bc he doesn't want to let me on his right side lol. Practice practice.

-     Backing. Charlie is surprisingly bad at backing. Fairly resistant to it. We practice tho bc A) he needs to respect my space and back out of it when I ask, and B) backing is a good low-impact way to build strength in his hind end. We often back (slowly) down half the long side of the arena (going along the wall to help with straightness).


This ground work is great for seeing the changes in how he uses himself without a rider, tho the biggest improvements have more to do with how comfortable he is in his body. Charlie's gone through some phases of foot and body soreness since coming off the track - both of which give him a tighter, more stuck way of going. If left to his own devices, he either kinda shuffled along or speed raced around high-headed and hollow-backed.

figuring out how to set his shoulders free!
But he's slowly figuring out how to loosen up and experiment more with balance. Especially since starting lessons with dressage trainer C, we've definitely seen some big breakthroughs in how he goes under saddle. Riding him more forward has made all the difference and he's actually beginning to figure out how to get his massive shoulders up and out of the way of his hind end (sometimes haha).

charlie 1 month post-track: kinda stuck lol, but airborne all the same
Obviously there's a lot of work to do in 2017 haha. Charlie has to build more strength to hold himself and a rider in a better balance. Especially since that rider is me lol, as I have my own work cut out for holding my own self in a better position to help Charlie.  

I like where he's going tho, how he's developing. It feels like he's figuring it out and trying hard. And I feel fairly confident that the picture in another three months will be different still, and I can't wait to see where we are in six months. 

Do you do a lot of ground work with your horse? Or lunging? Are there exercises you use for building strength? Or for building a stronger mental capacity for pressure? Does your horse need lunging or ground work in order to start focusing? Or to burn off extra energy? 

46 comments:

  1. Most racehorses are not inherently amazing at backing up, it's not something they do with any consistency at the track so the concept is often foreign to them. But it'll come with time and patience.

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    1. Where on earth do you get this stuff???

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    2. Just to clarify Jenn - backing is not something that ANY horse does with consistency. Mustangs out west or fancy schmancy WBs in Germany, I promise NONE of them are just backing up with abandon on their own. In fact - basically nothing we do with horses is anything they would naturally do on their own. Race horse or no. That's why it's called horse training.

      The key here is yielding to pressure. And it is not bc Charlie is a racehorse that he resists it. It's bc he is an individual horse with his own individual brain and ideas and experiences.

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    3. I 'get this stuff' from my trainer, who has a wealth of ex-racehorse training experience, in addition to speaking with various other racehorse trainers and professionals who work at the track. I can also speak from my own personal experience with Roger and the multiple OTTBs I rode while living in Texas. That's why I said 'most racehorses'.

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    4. Just adding my .02 here, but I think Jenn was trying to be encouraging and not bitchy. You specifically said Charlie was inherently bad at backing, and Jenn isn't wrong, most racehorses are not exceptional at it from the get-go. From what I read it just looks like she was trying to inspire positive thoughts about the difficulty in training versus butting heads with you on this :) I've trained my two TBs myself, and ridden countless others and its just different and more difficult for them versus say a QH or another breed that might have had more training on it from a young age under saddle. Regardless, backing is a lovely tool for working that booty! My equine massage lady is always Rx it for B and his hips and butt. Always a good tool to have!

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    5. Monica - my experience with TBs is different. Some give to pressure more easily than others. Some are actually highly reactive and overly sensitive to pressure. I don't see the physical activity of "backing up" as something that's any different for racehorses than it is for a different breed.

      Jenn - I will happily take your trainers advice when I pay her for it, and not a day sooner.

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    6. Valid points Emma, just sharing experiences over here. I just haven't met an OTTB that backs well, sadly. Then there's B who, once he learned, used that as an evasive tactic for a while. Whomp whomp and lol

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    7. charlie will absolutely run backwards if he thinks there's a peppermint in it for him. the physical action is a nonissue. rather, the singular consistent finding in all things Training Charlie is that he's not so great about pressure. in this instance, he doesn't really want to give in to the pressure, doesn't really see what's in it for him. thinks it's kinda stupid, and maybe a little hard. "but why do i have to keep going??"

      i think it's really useful for us to consider our horse's history when introducing new skills, and there are a lot of ways that charlie's racehorse history plays out in training him. but i think it's a disservice to any horse to expect them to be "inherently amazing" at the outset of any skills introduction, or to say, "eh well, ya know, it's a racehorse so it probably can't do this one simple task!". (and i hope, in case it wasn't already fairly clear, that my reaction to Jenn's comments stems from something a little more personal than just those few words she wrote above).

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  2. I started out doing a lot of ground work with Stinker but then it became quite apparent that the issues under saddle were things that working on the ground were not going to fix. I still use the walking around the farm as a reminder to respect my space and we will walk hills together sometimes.

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    1. Yea I definitely know what you mean about having some things that can only be addressed while riding. Charlie is like that too for sure. The ground work I'm finding helps establish the conversation and communication so that when I have to work harder on something in the saddle, I have a better sense of how to be clear to him

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  3. Stamp because of his back problems really does well gaining strength without a rider on his back and I'd imagine this would be helpful for a young horse learning their body in a new scenario. I found that using a pessoa knock off (the stretchy version from Schneider's) helps him immensely because it reminds him to use his butt. I also taught him the term head down (he needed it to fit through the door into the barn with the indoor originally, lol) then later stretch where he would trot long and low on the lunge with nothing on. Both ways of going really help strengthen his back and hind end.

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    1. Yea Charlie definitely need all the help he can get gaining strength through his back. He's never really carried a rider like me before!! (Im no jockey lol).

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  4. I do ground work for obedience, patience, learning to give to pressure, y'know, all the basic stuff. I tend to put it away after the horse rides reliably but maybe I shouldn't.

    Lunge line work is nonexistent in my world -- my horses are on 24-7 turnout and don't have any fresh-from-the-stall silliness. They come out of the field ready to work, starting with a fifteen minute gradual warmup. (Not much happens in the first fifteen minutes. We tack up and walk across the road, up to the pear tree, down in to the hollow, up out of the hollow, and then there is trotting. It takes twelve to fifteen minutes, depending on ambient temperature and number of sudden appearances of the Unhelpful Border Collie.)

    I'm dealing with frozen/muddy ground (and will be for the foreseeable future, lolwinter) and I think ground poles could give da Bird things to do when we can't really jump stuff. Probably I should drag the poles out and give 'em some more work... canter poles, trot poles, whatever. (Also, video of Charlie and Poles is adorbs and I am now inspired.)

    Work on our downward stretchy continues. We're now pretty reliable on downward-on-demand, working on holding it at a given level for like ten steps, working on holding it through transitions (walk-trot-walk, no downward in canter yet), working on holding it while doing circles, etc. If we have no snow cover and temps in the 20-30 range for the rest of the winter, I think I can have this on line for the spring. Fingers crossed!

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    1. Sounds like Bird is really figuring it out!! Stretching is hard, stretching while turning or changing speeds is harder haha but with so many horses it seems like once they grasp the basic concept, everything else comes more easily!!

      And yea I never did much ground work with Isabel beyond the little basics involved with grooming and trailering, but it's really making such a big difference for Charlie right now that I expect it to stay in the arsenal.

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  5. I really think that groundwork and lunging is so great for green horses. It has to be easier to change balance without also thinking about the rider on your back!

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    1. That's really the key I think - for such a big horse he's easily unbalanced haha, and he's sensitive too! But the lunge has really helped him experiment and it shows when I ride him. Very exciting!!

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  6. I did a TONNNNN of lunging with B in the beginning. It is difficult for them at first to carry a person that isn't a jockey and do THINGS. B was so hot too that when he felt unbalanced he legit freaked out. I probably spent 4/7 days lunging only or before a ride. That being said it was not to "get the sillies" out, but to build strength and balance and responsiveness to voice cues without the weight of a rider.. Hands down my fav tool when used in moderation--aka not an hour at a time!

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    1. yea the strength and balance is where it's at with charlie too. he's a completely different type of animal from B - aside from the fact that they're both registered with the jockey club, you'd almost not recognize them as the same breed haha, but he definitely benefits in the same way for building up those muscles

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  7. I did a decent amount of groundwork with Max outside of the one day where it was too hot to ride. Baby was less, but most of it was concentrated towards the end of our time together. Whatever I happen upon next will likely get more groundwork since prior to now I often used it as a cop out when I didn't feel like riding.

    The benefits are near endless in my opinion.

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    1. lol sometimes i wonder if i'm using it as a cop out instead of riding... but honestly at this point, it can sometimes have a more positive effect than riding bc there's no *me* muddying the waters of understanding with poorly timed releases or whatever.

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  8. Aw look at his little gears turning as he figures out the poles! I love groundwork for teaching new skills or getting the horse in a 'working' frame of mind without the added physical exertion of being ridden. For Dino, lots of lunging, round-penning, and in-hand work was really helpful in getting him to work with me instead of resisting and saying "NO", which was his default response under saddle for a long time. It's also just fun, and I love using it to develop our human-equine communication skills!

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    1. oh man i loved watching him think through those poles - and he really figured it out too, making the striding work even when he got there underpowered or not quite right!!!

      good point about working through the "NO" response too. i should have included that in the post - but the ground work has been instrumental in working through charlie's resistance bc it's given him opportunities to get the answer wrong (either by accident or by resistance), be corrected for the mistake, and then, ya know, move on with life. one of his biggest weaknesses early on was that he would get upset or defensive when he thought he was in trouble. but in the ground work, he's learning that, actually, being wrong or getting in 'trouble' isn't the end of the world - and as soon as he gets the answers right everything is smooth sailing again. that's been a lot easier for me to do from the ground than when i'm on his back for sure!

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  9. I am just so greatful for learning some ground work training techniques. It changed everything for me. We all have our own go-to training ways which is great - but for me I like how you can directly address the mental aspects with good ground work.

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    1. yea i mean, that's the real story here, right? a lot of this stuff we're learning together - and kinda just by trial and error. this isn't something i've worked on holistically with a lot of horses - really with isabel it was fairly limited to the trailer training. but it's making a world of difference for charlie - esp, like you say, in the mental aspects

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  10. I used to do oodles of groundwork with Griffin -- I couldn't ride him so what else to do? We did a lot with ground poles for a very long time, and this work continued into our early riding days, too. I love the horse physio exercises the most of any I've discovered. These types of things still help cement Grif's brain and body when he's feeling particularly flighty or worried about unseen monsters. Their exercises can often be utilized on the ground or ridden in so many different ways. My favorite thing about them and the reason I keep going back to them is because of their utility for someone like me who spends most time alone without help. I can set up one design and then with little to zero modification, it can aid my work on the ground or under saddle for days at a time. I believe you can see their facebook without an account - check it out! https://www.facebook.com/horsephysio.ch/

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    1. Oooh interesting, thanks! Exercises that are easy to set up and versatile enough for work on the ground AND under saddle are definitely preferable haha!

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  11. I can't believe it's only been 3 months! I feel like you've had him longer lol

    I'm doing a lot of ground work with TC these days and it's helping a lot. We do lots of hand walking in the chambon which has packed muscle on behind his withers, and then I've been having him do a bit of pole work and backing for his stifle. And omg TC is also the WORST at backing. But Rico was too at this stage of training (and er past second when you have to back in the show ring), I think you're right that horses just inherently don't go backwards on their own very often. Or they do it at speed and then spin. That's a good thing for me to remember when I'm annoyed at how long it's taking for him to understand the concept!

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    1. ha i feel like i've had him longer too.... right up until we get into a new situation and i get all first-timer nervous again lol.

      i actually talked to my dressage trainer about a chambon for charlie too based on convos with you and others, but she doesn't think charlie is ready yet bc he's still figuring out how to carry that long neck of his *out* and *forward.* so asking him to put it *down* would maybe be premature (and also quite possible end up with him kung-fu flipping me right out of the saddle lol - that neck is one LONG lever!!!). maybe one day tho! and yea. ugh. backing haha. they'll figure it out eventually i guess! (probably!)

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  12. I hate ground work but I understand its importance to a good foundation. So when I have to go back to it, I do because it's necessary and frankly, ground work can fix so many under saddle issues.
    I think I'll enjoy it when I do it with my foal because no one will have done any training yet which will make the process quicker!

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    1. haha yea..... i actually kinda hated doing it with isabel too. i didn't feel like i knew what i was doing and like she was pushing my buttons. it felt unproductive and frustrating. charlie has been a totally different experience tho - the progress feels real, and the developments are sticking. so my opinions on the matter have shifted entirely. funny how that works!! hopefully you'll feel similarly when you set out with your foal!

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  13. I love that you're doing all this groundwork with Charlie. I realize now, (hindsight and all), that a major gap I had with my previous horse came from not establishing really good groundwork early on. I think it's benefits are so vast, and it's such a great learning tool for you, or the rider, to see how your horse figures out the answers to the questions you're asking. I'm excited to instill lots of these techniques with my new guy! Yielding to pressure is such a great skill for them to learn!

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    1. agreed - i'm learning SO MUCH about him just through these silly little sessions. and he gets the benefit of learning how to answer questions without the added extra pressure (or, um, confusion, lol) of having me in the saddle. especially bc he's still so green and weak, just going through these motions is just as beneficial as riding right now, it seems

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  14. I love the difference in his shoulder in those last two pictures! :) I'd say I'm medium in the level of groundwork I do. A good ride will typically fix any attitude problem, but if he's feeling pushy and not respecting my space, I grab a dressage whip and have a ground work day, just to reboot the ole processor ;)

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    1. thanks!! i see the biggest differences in his shoulders too... probably bc they're the biggest thing on his body lol, and he can be SO STUCK with them omg...

      but yea it's funny bc i don't typically base whether we do ground work or not on his attitude - at least not at this stage in the game. we kinda just do it or don't based on whether i feel like it. EXCEPT. i can kinda notice slight differences on days when i didn't do it. like, "oh wow he's really not paying a lot of attention to me right now"

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    2. Oh yeh! Ground work days I feel like freaking Buck Brannaman (I guess you could say I'm mildly delusional ;)). They can be so sensitive to cues when they know we're looking for that sort of reaction.

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  15. Ramone was terrible at backing, and definitely not a racehorse.

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    1. but see, isabel WAS good at it and she wasn't an ottb either ;)

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  16. I wish I had done more ground work - perhaps I still can. One of my goals for this year is to stop taking shortcuts and start doing ALL the things right - if it means I spend my entire day doing groundowrk instead of riding, I ASPIRE to be good with that. Charlie's progress makes me swoon. I adore him. Let me have him PLEASEEEE I WILL TRADE YOUUUU.

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  17. I like to free lunge Henry before I hop on just to move him around. I do a bit of inhand stuff (walking over tarps etc) sometimes. I think one of my 2017 goals will be to do more though! Charlie is so freakin handsome :D

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  18. Longeing becomes mandatory for Bobby in winter when his creaky old Lyme's body can't take the cold without serious loosening up first. I love, love, love ground work for all horses though!

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  19. Groundwork is amazing - to build up muscles and balance due to the absence of rider error (and I mean rider error in the sense of the rider being unbalanced and such).

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  20. I'm always tempted to skip or rush groundwork/in-hand work but it really does add value to my rides. So cool to see you putting in all the time with Charlie - it's so great for relationship building too 😊

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  21. Yup - Tess and I are big groundwork fans now :)

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  22. My OTTB has basically no topline so a lot of lunging to get into that. She's super smart and loves her stretches with cookies :) We've got a long way to go!

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  23. (I'm catching up on blogs, so late comment) I used to do a lot more ground work with Nilla when I first got her back from the Laura (trainer). She had a whole set of ground work were were supposed to do and it was VERY helpful. But I honestly don't enjoy doing it so I slacked off. When I took Nilla back to Laura she asked what we'd been working on and I talked her I'd been a slacker and she said that was okay. We have to enjoy working with our horses/mules and if groundwork isn't something I do before each ride, that's also fine. But I do think that work helped us a lot at the time and I am trying to incorporate some of it with Levi now.

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