Ground Skills

By Christine Adderson

Have you ever been pushed by a horse? What about bitten? What about stepped on? Kicked? It was just an accident, we may say. Or, maybe we reason that our horse is acting badly. Coincidence? What about the power of coincidence?

These physical occurrences (some of them dangerous) are all ways that our horses choose to communicate with us. And the better that we can learn to recognize these physical moves, or body language, the better we will be with our horses in general. The best place to start teaching ourselves about the equine language is on the ground. From the ground we can see what our horses are doing and what they are telling us. It's kind of like being an empirical scientist! When our horses say something to us, through their body language, we need to make observations, ask certain questions and make conclusions.

Make observations

When watching horses' body language we sometimes only see the most obvious like getting bitten or stepped on. There are always signs to look for that come BEFORE the most obvious. The signs might be ears laid back or cranking of the tail or even more subtle signs like a slight head raise or a look in the other direction or a frown! A great thing to do is to spend some time in with your horse or horses and watch them "talking" to each other.

Ask questions

When we play with horses on the ground some questions we might ask are: Was that what I asked for? Did I get something close to what I was asking for? Did my horse understand what I was asking for? What could I do better to help my horse understand? Why didn't it work? Why did it work?

Make conclusions

Now take a mental note of the question you asked and the response that you received. By comparing the response you did get with the response that you hoped to get, you can adjust for the next time. It's a constant fine-tuning of horse and human. You try to communicate to the horse what you want him to do, while he is trying to tell you how he needs to be addressed. That way, horse and human teach each other!

An excellent program to help people to learn what ground skills to do and how to do them with a horse is Parelli Natural Horsemanship. The Seven Games are used to help people get the knowledge they need. While playing the Seven Games there are some key things for kids (and adults) to remember. First, listen to your horse. Next, keep yourself at a safe distance from your horse by making yourself SO BIG that your horse thinks you are bigger that he/she is! How could you do this? Jumping jacks maybe. Or standing on something big, like a log or a fence. Always be confident and look like you mean it! Also, make sure that you know how to back your horse up. Once there is an understanding of the Seven Games an imagination is all that is required! Here are some ideas to try out.

Ask horse to circle around you.

Circle horse around you while you stand in a feed bin.

Send horse away from you while you are sitting or standing on a fence.

Back horse up by the nose.

Back horse up while you are sitting on a fence.

Stand your horse on top of an object.

Play ball with your horse.

Give each other scratches.

Jump horse over something.

Ground skills teach us to become more like a horse! We are scientists and artists at the same time as being a teacher for our horse! And it's fun for everyone!

About the author:

Christine is a PNH instructor and has given instruction in Canada, USA and Europe. She danced throughout her childhood and became a professional dancer with the largest modern dance company in Canada, The Toronto Dance Theatre. There she studied and performed for seven years. A lifetime of dance training, a degree in Physical Education, and ballroom and Latin American dance competition provide Christine with an education to read, analyze and break down movement. She has over 20 years of teaching experience and is home schooling her three daughters. She has studied and toured with Pat Parelli over the past six years of intensive Natural Horsemanship training. Christine has coached her daughter, Robyn, to become the youngest Level 2 in the world and her second daughter, Isla, to become the youngest Level 1 in Canada.