Ground Driving Horse Training Florida

by Jennifer on January 9, 2013

A thorough education in ground driving is a big help for horses, and I find this to be true whether they have been ridden up to that point of training, or not. The handler also derives a great benefit because it is through a knowledge of how to ground drive successfully, that his or her connection to that particular horse’s point of view can easily expand into a deeper, more reliable communication.

Ground-driving is one of the best ways to teach “whoa” and “back,” to teach a youngster to listen for your signals, and to turn right and left with subtle rein pressure. All this can be done before he’s mature enough to even carry a rider.

A young horse thoroughly trained to ground-drive is often a safer animal when the time arrives for that first ride. He already thoroughly knows the basics of impulsion and direction, and he’s been taught a positive “whoa.” He’s become entirely used to long reins rubbing his rear, to sounds behind him, to the slapping of stirrup leather and the press of the cinch as he moves.

Care must be taken to ensure that the horse you are preparing to be driven from the ground respects you, and has an interest in understanding what you mean by what you do. This will be evident from his responses. If the horse is fearful, or lacks a solid foundation in the basics, then time should first be spent with the horse to create common ground through feel-based exercises. This way, accidents related to misunderstanding can be avoided altogether.

The basics that need to be in place before you present ground school exercises to your horse with two long lines.

CHECKLIST:  In hand, on a lead, and also on the longe line, is the horse able to start, stop, go forward, backwards, left and right? Can he do these things easily and calmly when you ask, and not before, or too much later?  Can he raise and lower the root of his neck? Can he lift each hoof in your hand, simply for the asking? Dose he tolerate ropes behind him, can they touch his back legs? Can You swing a rope beside, all around and behind him? Can you stand behind him safely with no fear from your horse? Can you touch every Part of his body with no issues?  In short, does he understand you clearly and does he respond to your request for these maneuvers and transitions respectfully and confidently?

When these elements are in place, your student, the horse, has a much better idea how to integrate the small pieces that comprise ground driving into the results you hope for.  It is important to present each point slowly and carefully so that his ground driving skills develop in a logical order, as this will ensure your safety.

Tack You’ll Need
Your tack room probably already contains most of what you’ll need to ground-drive your young horse. A training surcingle is inexpensive and handy, but certainly not required. With many D-rings, the surcingle allows several options in adjusting the angle of the driving reins.

But a pack saddle, will do just fine, as will an everyday Western saddle. Driving reins, long straps with snaps on the end, are fine, if available. If not, two light longe lines will work as reins. It’s also easy to make up a pair with light poly ropes, perhaps 25 feet in length, a snap eye-spliced into the end of each.

You can either use a halter or a snaffle bit, but if you are going to use a snaffle bit make sure you prepare your horse to give to the pressure of the bit before you hook the lines on.

Driving Technique
A round pen is ideal for your youngsters’ first driving lesson, particularly if he’s already been taught to longe.

If you use a western saddle you can thread the reins through the stirrups, you can tie a cord between the two stirrups under the colt’s belly to prevent them from flopping around or leave them and let them flop around for exposure.  I’ve also threaded the reins through the D rings that connect the girth to the saddle, which works, though they’re not as free from friction as I would like.

When I first start to ground drive I start on the side of the horse, allot like lunging but with two reins. I use a clucking noise to ask him forward and touching his rump with my longe whip, if necessary. When he is comfortable with me on the side of him, turning left and right and moving forward I start to move behind him.

For safety, stay back out of the kick zone, and be extremely careful not to wrap the reins around your hand or let them entangle your feet. Move your horse around the round pen, keeping some rein contact, not allowing him to stop unless on your command.  Progress to turning, stopping, and backing when you have good forward movement.

I work to accustom my colts to gentle signals to move out. A clucking sound accompanied by picking up the reins is soon all that’s necessary. Earlier, I may have to snap my whip or (rarely) touch it to the colt’s rear.

Don’t be subtle when handling the reins on turns. One difference between driving and riding is that the driven horse needs to be given slack with one rein while the other is tightened. If you rein your horse left by gathering a certain length of rein, an equal amount of rein must be given back to him on the right side. Get used to a deliberate withdrawal of one arm, accompanied by an extension of the other arm, each time you turn.

Also, try to avoid excessive sag in the rein. Maintain some contact but stay soft and light on the bit. The reins will sag from their own weight, but don’t strive for a completely “loose” rein. For many reasons,  excessive slack can be dangerous.

With most young horses, there will be mishaps along the way. But if you’ve prepared your horse properly, they’ll likely be modest ones. He might step over a rein so that it runs back between his hind legs, but that’s no call for panic. Usually, you can stop him, let the offending rein rest on the ground, and get him to move his rump to the side, stepping back over the rein.

Occasionally, a frightened horse will whirl around, tying himself up with the reins. Let him figure out that he’s all tied up. Then reattach the lead rope to the halter, and straighten out the mess.

Just stay Calm, be as light as you can but as firm as you need to be and remember that your horse is learning something new and you both will get the hang of ground driving in no time:.)

Stay Savvy!

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