Whenever I do an evaluation on a horse, it always starts with groundwork.

And usually, if there are issues, these 10 items will flush them out really fast.

99% of the horses I deal with cannot do all 10 of these.

Many of them can’t even do 2 or 3 of them.

I believe it is absolutely critical that your horse can smoothly, calmly, and consistently do all of these.

If he’s lacking in any of them, it means there are holes that can and will lead to bigger issues (if not now, then later on down the road).

Here is the 10 step groundwork checklist…

  1. The horse backs up when you lightly shake the lead rope.
    When you face your horse and shake the lead lightly, does your horse back up with ease or is he really heavy and refuses to back? If he is heavy on the lead, this would be a good one to practice.
  2.  Then 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 is something you should work on.
  3. The horse’s speed matches my speed.
    When you are leading your horse around, can you slow down to a slower walking pace and have your horse do the same? If your horse cannot slow down with you and match your walking speed, then he is not paying attention to you.
  4. The horse stops when I stop.
    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 are stopped? Your horse should not continue walking while you’re stopped or start to walk while you’re in the process of trying to stop.
  5. When asking the horse to yield his shoulders, he backs away from you instead of coming forward in your space.
    When you are asking your horse to yield his shoulders, does he move forward towards you or does he back away? If he’s moving towards you, then this is not ideal.
  6. The horse can yield his hind end while keeping his shoulders away from your space.
    When you stand by your horse’s hip (on the left and right side) to move his hind away from you, does your horse pivot on his front-feet while keeping his shoulders still or does he move his shoulders towards you at the same time as moving his hind-end? He should not be moving his whole body towards you to move his hind-end.
  7. 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 hold the lead rope out to the right, does he turn to the right and start to walk a circle out away from you or does your horse start to walk towards you and then walk to the right? Your horse should not walk towards you before he starts to lunge.
  8. The horse stays out of my space when changing direction.
    When you’re lunging your horse, and decide to change directions, does he stay back away from you or does he come forward into your space? It is never good if your horse starts coming into your space.
  9. The horse willingly gives you his back.
    When you’re on a stool, fence, or mounting block and use the lead to bring your horse over for you to mount, does he willingly come underneath you and stay there, or does he keep walking and/or turn in circles while you’re holding the lead? Your horse should willingly and easily give you his back.
  10. The horse stands still.
    When you groom, saddle, and mount your horse, does he stand patient and calm without bother or does he move around constantly? If he’s moving around a lot and acting uneasy, he’s telling you he’s not comfortable and is unsure.

(All 10 of these steps are part of the Horsemanship Fundamentals Series on Horse.TV. Click here to get a free 7 day trial to Horse.TV and watch the entire series!)


Carson James
Carson James

Carson James' background is in Vaquero Horsemanship. For the majority of his career, he worked on cattle ranches where he rode horses all day, every day. He was often in situations where he either had to figure out how to help the horse understand, or it could easily turn into a life or death situation. Carson now travels the country putting on training clinics teaching people the fundamentals of Horsemanship. He has a unique way of breaking things down where they're easy to understand, both for the horse and the human.