Ground-Tying, by Ken McNabb with Katherine Lindsey Meehan
Would you like to be able to drop the lead rope, walk away, and have your horse stand where you put him? This month, we will cover how to teach an exercise called ground-tying. This exercise builds on the ground work, especially longeing and leading exercises. For this exercise all you need is a halter and lead rope. Practice in an enclosed arena or pen where you can catch your horse easily until he knows the exercise well.
Have you ever noticed how well a ranch horse will stand after a hard day of work? How about the Amish horses, who plow all day? In these situations, the horse has been worked until he is tired and is thankful for the chance to rest. But most of us don’t ride fifty miles, or plow twenty acres with our horse in a day. We don’t have the time to make them tired enough to stand. Instead, we need to create the desire to stand in their head.
Begin this exercise by longeing your horse in a circle around you at the trot. By asking him to move his feet you will begin to create the desire to stand still. Change directions frequently, and try to engage your horse’s mind and get him focused on you. After you have worked your horse for a while, offer him the chance to stand. Pet him, and let him know that he is doing the right thing.
BEFORE he gets bored with standing, send him off to work again. It is very important that you anticipate him getting restless and make the decision to have him move before he makes it himself. Send him off while he is still focused on wanting to stand. Repeat this exercise a few times, letting your horse stand for a little longer each time. Keep in mind that your goal here is not to make your horse sweat and tire him out. Your goal is to improve on the ground work exercises that you have already taught, and engage your horse’s mind.
Now, you are ready to move on to the next step. First, pick a verbal cue that you will use every time you want your horse to stand without moving. Many people like to use “stand”. I frequently use “stay”. The important thing is that you pick something that works for you, and use it every time. Now, drop the lead rope on the ground, tell your horse to “stay”, and back one or two steps away from him. If he stands, wait for 15 to 30 seconds. Then go back and pet him, reward him, and let him know that he did exactly what you wanted. You don’t want to stay away for so long that he decides to move on his own.
If he tries to follow you or move when you first back away from him, move him back to where he was before and try again. If he tries to move more than once or twice, just put him back to work longeing for a while and then offer him another chance to stand. Once your horse stands for you and you reward him, put him back to work around you again. This is not a punishment, but rather a way to further reinforce your horse’s desire to stand.
Repeat this exercise, asking your horse to stand for longer and longer periods of time, and moving farther and farther away from him. Always try to anticipate when he is going to move, and go back to him and reward him before he does. You want to set this up so your horse can win again and again. With that in mind, start in an area with as little distraction as possible, and gradually move to areas with more and more distractions. If you are in an arena with other horses on one side of it, ask your horse to stop and stand facing away from them at first. You don’t want to set him up for failure by making it too tempting to walk towards the other horses. As he understands the exercise better, you can add more challenges. When my horse is ground tying, I allow him to put his head down to smell the ground or even graze, as long as his feet don’t move. One situation where I will let my horse move his feet is if he has stopped crooked. Then he is allowed to move enough to square up so he can stand easily and comfortably, but no more than that.
Once your horse seems to understand this exercise, you will need to give them the opportunity to make mistakes. As you go farther and farther away, and leave for longer periods of time, your horse may move. If this happens, just go back to him and return to the longeing exercise, then ask him to ground tie again. This is a fun exercise to teach and it is very useful on the trail when you stop for lunch, or even when you just need to open a gate. It can be used when you are grooming and saddling if you don’t have a place to tie your horse. It is also a great way to impress your friends!
Enjoy your horse, and until next time, may God bless the trails you ride.
[Written by Ken McNabb with Katherine Lindsey Meehan & published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 3, Issue 1.]
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