Although there are many different ideas, methods, and techniques for training a horse, there are a few imperative elements to start with that should never be neglected.

Start Your Horse Training Here

Most agree that doing groundwork is a good place to begin. But the question remains, “How much groundwork should be implemented into your horse training program?” Some spend months and months doing every conceivable type of groundwork you can imagine, and then some. These horse owners enjoy just spending time with their horse and love the challenge of teaching the horse to do things like play with a large inflatable ball. And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. It can be a fun way of enhancing communication. But, in reality, there are only a few groundwork exercises that are absolutely essential when you train your horse.

Using Feeding Time To Start Your Training Lessons

The first one is not typically considered part of groundwork, but should actually be where your horse training starts. Remember that every single interaction you have with your horse is a learning opportunity. These opportunities span across feeding, catching, haltering, grooming, lunging, bridling, saddling, mounting, and riding. It will begin at feeding time. 

When you go out to feed your horse, don’t do it haphazardly. Never allow your horse to come all up into your space and even push you out of the way to get to the feed. As you approach the feeding area, use a flag to have the horse hold his position away from the feeding area while you pour the feed or put out the hay. Then you will allow the horse to come to the feed. This procedure begins training your horse to always pay attention to you and respect your personal space. If your horse does not respect your personal space, he will never see you as his trusted leader.

The question that often arises, “If my horse is taught to respect my personal space, will that make him hard to catch or not love me anymore? Shouldn’t my horse also be my buddy?” If you have ever wondered the same thing, go here: Should My Horse Be My Buddy?

Essential Groundwork Horse Training

There are actually only a few additional groundwork exercises that are essential for a horse’s training. They all center around being able to control your horse’s feet on the ground. He should lightly and quickly back up when you face him and shake the lead rope. You should be able to move his front and hind ends independently. The horse should be able to lunge around you while staying out on his circle and change directions without invading your space. If those few things are in place, you can be pretty sure that his feet are untracked enough to move freely and that your communication is clear. You have an idea, you relate that idea to the horse, it becomes his idea and is executed. Grab my free groundwork checklist here.

Fencing Your Horse

With this in place, the next thing that should not be neglected in any horse training efforts is fencing. This is where you get up above your horse and make sure he is okay with a human being above his back. Even though you may have ridden your horse many times, that does not ensure he likes you being up there. Doing this one simple exercise has cured more horse ‘problems’ than I can count. 

Bridling And Saddling Your Horse

Next you would introduce the headgear and saddle. Break the bridling and saddling down into small pieces. Use proper bridling and saddling techniques that will prevent future problems from creeping up. Only do as much as he can handle at a time. When he is brave, stop and reward that, then continue. In just a few minutes, it should no longer be a big deal. Be sure to not tip toe around your horse. This is a great time to make sure he can handle some commotion. Move the stirrups around a little and rock the saddle back and forth. Mash on him a little to help him learn to handle activity. For more help with bridling, click here.

Ready To Ride Your Horse

Following this horse training sequence, your horse should now be ready to ride. Using the proper mounting technique, get on your horse. The first thing you will do is untrack his feet. He may be standing still because he is not anxious, or he may be standing still because he is frozen in fear. Bring one rein out to the side and hold steady pressure until he takes a step. Then do the same thing on the other side. If the horse easily moves his feet, he should be ready to travel. Encourage him to move forward by putting some life and energy into your body. If you are in an enclosed area, don’t attempt to steer the horse. The first objective is just to get him moving with a human on his back. To make sure your mounting technique is good, click here.

Foundation First Horse Training

Whether your horse is a colt or much older, going through the above progression will establish a good foundation or fill in any missing gaps in his training. Make sure all the above elements are in place before you begin working on turning, slowing down, stopping, backing, or any other maneuver. The foundation must come first.

Even when your horse is amply prepared to be ridden, people can get bogged down with the question of what they should actually teach their horse. Find the answer here: What Should I Teach My Horse?

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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.