All too often we, as humans, underestimate the value of solid ground work with our horses. Most people will make sure a horse can lead properly, or will follow when led, and probably some work on standing still while grooming, making sure the horse understands not to step on the humans feet, those kinds of things. I want to talk about the things that get overlooked. These important "rules" or guidelines we set when working with horses on the ground have direct correlations to the work and respect we get from the animal under-saddle.
First order of business: (as most people agree) is leading. [if this is a horse who needs a lot of work, leading will come second to lunging or round pen work- but how will you get the horse to the round-pen or lunging area?-- food for thought.] A well mannered horse should be willing to follow his human wherever they want to take him. He should pay attention to where he is walking so as not to invade the human's space, and pay attention to the speed at which they are traveling. This is done primarily with body language. When teaching a young or green horse these commands, it is usually exaggerated, but once a partnership has been formed, the cues become more subtle. My basic cues are to point with my hips and shoulders in the direction we are traveling, and if my feet are moving, the horse's should be too. If my feet stop, his feet should. to exaggerate this I make a noticeable, almost "stomp" with my feet together, with a voice command "ho". if the horse does not stop right away, I face him and make him back up. He should want to rest with me and stand still, if he doesn't, it creates more hassle.The moral of most of my training tactics is to make the right choice easy and the wrong choice difficult. If he does stop, lots of praise and affection, and on occasion, a treat or two. It is obvious that this simple command can easily transfer into the saddle, the voice command "ho" should be ever powerful and permanent in the horse's mind as "Break time, stand still".
Next we should climb the hill that is grooming. Most horses are capable of standing stock still while being groomed. Thin skinned or sensitive horses may have issues with this, and it is important that the human recognize the difference between honest discomfort and naughtiness. A well mannered horse will stand until he is asked to move, and accept the human's touch with objects like brushes, clippers, etc. it is important here to recognize fear of the object versus naughtiness and disrespect. If the animal is fearful, it should be fairly introduced to the object(s) to show him nothing to be afraid of. This process should take no more than a few sessions for normal horses under normal circumstances. If we have handled leading properly to this point, standing still for grooming should not be an issue. Sure, horses are animals and may have an off day here and there, and we are humans after all, we have our bad days too.
Part 2 coming soon!!!
All in all we have to remember we are the horse's leader, he looks to us for boundaries, to tell him how to behave and also to give him praise and help him learn and grow. We can easily relate aspects of horse training to dog training, even human children learn in similar fashion as horses in some aspects. We cannot be too firm nor too lenient.