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Teach Your Horse to Ground Drive, Part 1 of 2, by Lynn Palm



Lynn slide-12Ground driving is an “in-hand” technique where the horse is equipped with a saddle or surcingle, bridle, and a pair of long “reins” which are held by a handler who walks behind the horse and drives him forward. To an onlooker, it looks like the handler is driving the horse without a cart.

Ground driving is important because it teaches the horse to give to rein pressure while changing gaits at the walk, trot, canter, and through stopping and backing without a rider being on his back. After teaching a horse to longe, ground driving is the next step in his ground training.

Benefits of Ground Driving:

1. It is an ideal way to develop the horse’s strength, fitness, and coordination without carrying the rider’s weight

2. It is a low stress exercise

3. It adds variety to ground training

4. It prepares the horse for under saddle or cart work.

Start with the Right Equipment

To build the foundation for successful ground driving training, it is important to have the right equipment and to learn to use it. Equine catalogs feature a variety of apparatus for ground driving.   While much of it is useful, you can use equipment you already have at home to accomplish the same purpose without spending extra money.

You will need an English or a Western saddle or a surcingle, a bridle, two simple cotton longe lines with snap (not chain) ends, and some lightweight rope or twine. A snaffle bit is always the correct bit for ground driving. Never use a curb!   A surcingle, which resembles a wide leather belt that is fitted around the horse’s heartgirth, is a device designed for teaching the horse ground driving and bitting. It has a variety of rings and attachment points that I will explain later. If you have a surcingle available, the surcingle is preferable to use over a saddle since it is made for this purpose.   The horse should be outfitted with leg protection such as polo wraps or splint boots.

Conduct this lesson in a confined, fenced area so that the horse will not get too far away from you if he gets frightened and breaks loose.

If you are using an English saddle and bridle, use a piece of rope or twine to tie the buckle end of the reins to the breast collar rings on the saddle. Tie the reins so that they are loose and allow the horse to keep his head in a natural position. Do not tie them so loosely that they can slip down his neck towards his head. This will  keep him from stepping on the reins or bringing his head down too low. Raise the stirrups into the “up position,” and tie a simple knot in the stirrup leathers to keep them fixed in this position.

The longe lines are used as the reins when ground driving. They are attached, with the snap out, to each side of the snaffle bit below the point where the regular reins are attached. From the bit, thread the longe line through the stirrup on that side of the horse. The correct way to thread the line is to bring it behind the stirrup and then  pass it through the opening. The remainder of the longe line is extended in a straight line behind the horse.

If you are using Western tack, keep the stirrups in their normal riding position. To secure them, use a soft piece of rope and tie them together under the horse’s belly so that they hand naturally but cannot swing outwards. This will help maintain clear communication with the horse through the longe lines and prevent the horse being distracted by bouncing stirrups.

Do not use anything that is metal to secure the stirrups, and do not tie them tightly under the horse’s belly.   If you are using a Western bridle with “onepiece” reins, tie them with a piece of twin at their midpoint to the saddle horn so that the horse’s head remains in a natural position. If you are using split reins, bring them up through the hole in the saddle’s pommel, tie a knot with the ends, and loop them over the saddle horn. This is a more secure method instead of directly looping the reins over the horn. Make sure that there is enough loose rein to allow the horse to maintain a natural head carriage.

The longe lines are attached to either side of the sidepull or the Western snaffle bridle’s rings below the point where the regular reins are fastened. Thread the lines through the stirrups and extend the excess line behind the horse. If you are using a Western saddle, the longe lines that are threaded through the stirrups will be in a lower position than they would be if you were using an English saddle. This will limit what can be achieved with ground driving beyond the walk or jog because it places the horse’s head in a low position.

I prefer using a surcingle for teaching a horse ground driving. Put a protective surcingle pad or saddle pad on the horse’s withers and place the surcingle on top of it. Tighten the surcingle so it is snug but not too tight. Use either an English or Western bit with “one-piece” reins  and tie them to the ring at the top of the surcingle (near the horse’s withers) so that they are loose and allow the horse’s head to be carried in a natural position.   Pass the longe lines through the rings that are located on either side of the surcingle about mid-way between the horse’s withers and his belly. There may be other rings or attachment points on the surcingle that are used for bitting, but I will not address their use here. Snap the longe lines to the snaffle bit below the point where the regular reins are fastened. The excess longe line on either side should be extended behind the horse.

In the next article, we will continue this lesson on ground driving. Learn more about this subject with the section in my Longevity Training Visual Series, on “Ground Driving.” It is available with other fine Palm Partnership Trainingâ„¢ products at

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