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How do I get good Ground Manners?
By Kelli Paulson, Mid States Ranch Horses, LLC
Horse owners want a respectful, responsive horse that is a joy to be around. The question is: How do I get good ground manners? The key is being the consistent confident leader of your horse all of the time whether you are feeding, grooming, leading or riding.
Horse behavior problems on the ground lead to dangerous situations in the saddle. When things go wrong horses do what they think they need to do in self-defense unless they have a leader to turn to. You want your horse to see you as his confident and dependable leader to look to for guidance when things go wrong. After all, the horse you lead is the horse you ride.
Expect your horse to respect your boundaries and be responsive. You need to be confident. You need to be the leader of your horse. You need to do what it takes to get their attention. Make yourself large by bringing up your energy and intensity. Horses communicate with body language. Communicate with your presence. You are the one in charge.
The goal is to get your horse to do what you ask by simply suggesting it, creating mental and physical softness. At first, your horse may not think this is a good idea. Apply increasing amounts of pressure until he does what you request. Appropriate pressure may be bumping him with the lead rope or swinging the tail of the lead rope. Use as little pressure as necessary to get the desired result starting with a slight suggestion, then increase pressure as necessary to get the desired response. The goal is to get the result with the slightest suggestion.
Start with correct leading. Webster’s Dictionary defines leading as: 1. Coming first, 2. Providing direction or guidance. So…if you are leading the horse it should be following behind and following your guidance. The horse’s throatlatch should not pass the handler’s shoulders. Horses use body language to communicate. If the horse passes you, he is taking the lead. It may not seem to be a big deal at the time but it is the horse asking permission to take over. A small correction now will prevent a much larger problem later. Teach your horse that if he passes you, you will pick up the lead rope and request he place himself behind you. It’s all about respect. If he respects you, he won’t bump into you or run you over if something startles him.
When leading:
  • Hold the lead rope 12–18 inches from the halter. You want to control the horses’ feet, not his head.
  • Practice walking, stopping, backing, walking, stopping, and backing repeatedly.
  • Get and hold his attention, insist on precision.
  • Get a response on a loose rope.

Once proper leading is established practice moving the hindquarters. Think of the hindquarters as the motor of your horse. Hindquarter control is vital. First, drive your horse in a circle around you, tip his nose slightly towards you and step towards his hip. The horse should move his inside hind leg (hind leg closest to you) over and in front of his outside hind leg as his hindquarters move away from you. As you stop asking for the hindquarters he should continue a step or two until he is facing you. Second, move the front quarters (shoulders) by tipping his nose in the opposite direction of the previous circle and step directly to his front shoulders. He should move his front shoulders away. It is important to do these exercises well on both sides.
Finally, ask your horse to back up. With your horse facing you, put a little energy down the rope by jiggling the rope. Slowly increase the energy until the horse takes a step back. Immediately stop when your horse moves back. Keep trying until your horse will take several steps back with a light jiggle of the rope. Release of pressure communicates to your horse that he has done the right thing. Timing is essential. The action happening at the moment you release pressure is what the horse is being rewarded for. A second or two delay makes a difference.
You should be able to do less and get more from your horse, when your horse can complete these exercises and is paying attention to you. Your horse will see you as a true leader and will be happy to follow and respect you. Learn to recognize and correct problems on the ground before they turn into disasters in the saddle.

Check the web site for ground manners classes this spring. Contact Kelli Paulson, Mid States Ranch Horses, LLC, training, camps, clinics, lessons and sales. or 402-427-5515