Whenever I do groundwork for horses, I always start with these essential exercises. Because if your horse can’t do these things, then anything else you try to do could be a waste of time.

Plus, these will carry over to simultaneously fix many common horse problems. 99% of the horses I deal with cannot do all of the items below. Many of them can’t even do 2 or 3 of them. It’s absolutely critical that your horse can smoothly, calmly, and consistently do all of these.

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Here’s The Groundwork For Horses That Makes All The Difference

Note: If you’re reading these items below and wondering “how do I do this?” (or for more clarity on how it’s done) then I recommend getting my 7 Step Groundwork Checklist. It’ll show you how to do each of these steps.

Groundwork Exercise 1 | The horse backs up when you lightly shake the lead rope

Imagine you’re in the arena doing some groundwork. When you face your horse and shake the lead lightly, does your horse back up with ease or is he really heavy or refuses to back? If he is heavy on the lead, this would be a vital one to improve. This exercise the bedrock of having refined control of your horse’s feet.

Groundwork Exercise 2 | The horse stays at least 6 feet behind you as you lead him

When you lead your horse, does he stay behind you at least 6 feet or does he creep up on you without your permission? If he creeps on up into your space, then this is definitely something that needs to be corrected. Your horse needs to be in the habit of respecting your personal space.

Groundwork Exercise 3 | The horse’s speed matches my speed

When you’re leading your horse around, can you drop down to a slower walking pace and have him automatically do the same? If your horse can’t slow down to match your walking speed, then he’s not paying attention to you. The best thing to do in this situation is turn around and shake the lead rope. Then begin again and help your horse learn to hold his position where you put him.

Groundwork Exercise 4 | The horse stops when I stop

This groundwork is a must-have step for all horses. When you are walking in a straight line (leading your horse) and then decide to stop, does your horse stop with you and then wait for you to go again before he continues to walk? Or does he continue walking while you’re stopped? He should not continue walking or start to walk off until you do the same. If he keeps moving, immediately go back to Exercise 1 and correct that.

Groundwork Exercise 5 | The horse can easily lunge at a walk and trot

When you are standing in front of your horse holding the lead rope, and then raise your arm and hold the lead rope out to the right, does he yield his shoulder, immediately turn to your right and start to walk a circle out away from you? Or does your horse start to walk towards you and then turn to the right? Your horse should not walk towards you before he starts to lunge. If he does, then you have not yet established good front end control.

What is the actual purpose of lunging your horse? Everybody seems to do it. But why?

Find out here: The Purpose Of Lunging Your Horse

Groundwork Exercise 6 | The horse stays out of my space when changing directions

When you’re lunging your horse, and ask for a direction change, does he stay on his circle or does he come forward into your space? It is never good if your horse starts coming into your space. This causes you to yield your feet away from the horse and sends the message that he is the leader.

Groundwork Exercise 7 | The horse willingly gives you his back

This is one of those groundwork exercises that not many people seem to do with their horses, but it’s really important. Plus it helps avoid bucking, bolting, and other potential horse wrecks. When on a panel, fence, or mounting block and using the lead to bring your horse over to mount, does he willingly come underneath you and stay there? Or does he swing his butt out, or keep walking and/or turn in circles to avoid being in this position? Your horse should willingly and easily give you his back before hes considered ready to be ridden.

There’s a lot more groundwork for horses that you can do, but these are probably the top 7.

And, as I mentioned before, you can grab my Groundwork Checklist (it’s free) to see how to do all this.

Carson James
Carson James

Carson James' background is in Vaquero Horsemanship, and for the majority of his career, he worked on cattle ranches where he rode horses all day, every day. His knowledge comes from real life experience using traditional Buckaroo horsemanship to train horses and fix problems. He is now taking all of this knowledge and experience and sharing it with horse owners through his blog, his Insider list, and his Buckaroo Crew. He has a unique way of breaking things down where they're easy to understand, both for the horse and the human.