A Good Grounding

Part 2: The Yin & Yang of Ground Work

There are two basic types of ground work exercises; sensitizing and desensitizing. With the sensitizing exercises you will persuade your horse that you have control over his feet and head, and he will become soft, flexible, and attentive. Desensitizing exercises, in contrast, teach your horse that he has nothing to fear from you, your tools, or anything else you expose him to. He will learn to stand quietly, even when ropes, plastic bags, whips, flags, etc. are whirling around his head or twining around his legs.

It is vital that you use both these types of exercises. Using sensitizing exercises alone will lead to a hyper-tuned horse, very sensitive to cues, but jumpy and nervous. Using desensitizing exercises alone will create a very calm horse, but one that is dull, paying little or no attention to cues. So be sure to use both types.

Sensitizing exercises tend to be more physically demanding; depending upon his level of physical conditioning your horse may become short of breath. Give him a break as needed, and while he's getting his wind back you can do some desensitizing work.

The navigation bar at the left of this page lists both sensitizing and desensitizing exercises in increasing order of complexity. Introduce and master these exercises in the order in which they are listed, since the more advanced exercises frequently require skills which should already have been learned in the more basic ones. For example, you and your horse should master Yield the Hindquarters before tackling Yield the Forequarters, just as Sacking Out logically precedes Tarps. Once you've both mastered these exercises however, you can mix them up in your regular workouts.