Retraining Racehorses, Rehabilitation, Therapy & Schooling

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Groundwork Training - Schooling from the Ground 
Ground Control, Loosework, Lunging and Long Reining


Ground training, often termed groundwork or schooling from the ground, is exactly what it says - training from the ground .  In its simplest form ground training commences with all the initial handling that a foal receives but includes all the subsequent non-ridden a horse may have throughout the rest of its life - whether it be loosework, in-hand work, lunging or
long reining.

Thus ground training/ground work
 encompasses a huge range of activities and skills
from both horse and trainer.  



Ground Control - Ground Manners

THERE is not such thing as a short cut in the word of correct horse training.  Training is all about time and working consistently to produce the required mental and physical development of the horse - and it all starts with ground training

A HORSE should be sociable, polite and respectful whilst of course retaining his character and individuality, otherwise the most simple of tasks becomes difficult and when training proper begins there is little or no foundation on which to build. So it is important that certain ground rules and boundaries are put in place.  This is not done by way of domination but by letting a horse learn which behavioural options are the most comfortable to live with; a horse should be encouraged to follow the right path with correct, positive and confident direction from his trainer.

ESTABLISHING what we call Ground Control and Ground Manners teaches horses to give us their full attention, respond to the cues given, be respectful, builds their confidence, establishes us as the one to follow and is the foundation upon which further training is based.


IN REALITY training actually commences the day baby is born but we constantly see horses that are lacking in basic social skills (Ground Manners) both in the stable and the field - they will not tie up happily, they snatch their feet when asked to pick them up, they do not lead well,  they will not stand still, they cannot manoeuvre around a handler - the list goes on. These basic skills need to be in place and the horse confident in their execution before the real work can begin. 

AN ill-mannered horse has the potential to be a dangerous one. It is is so important that a horse responds to what is asked of him; his obedience and co-operation are vital in hazardous situations and could even mean  the difference between life and death -  for example in the case of a stable fire.

STALLIONS particularly need to have good manners as a matter of safety not only for themselves but for those around them as they can readily become a bit headstrong when the testosterone kicks in! 



WORKING with a horse to put the basics in place, or reinforcing them if the horse is already familiar with such requirements, enables the horse and us to become better acquainted and for the horse to build his trust and confidence in us, to realise that we are no threat and mean no harm. This we do by teaching horses to respond to cues from our body language and steps as well as working with the natural lines of influence and energy contained in the human and equine body.

ground training

THE filly pictured here with Fred is giving him her full attention.

SHE is totally focused, but most importantly relaxed, awaiting her cues. , Until being directed otherwise, a horse should remain stood with no attempts to move, leg lifting or looking anywhere else except towards the trainer.  

AS training progress training of this nature can be undertaken with a horse loose (no lead rope or lunge line).  

in-hand schooling

WHEN asked to do so, the filly moves to Fred and is appropriately rewarded.

HOWEVER basic or simple some ground exercises appear to be, for the young horse they require a lot of concentration so we keep "working" periods short to begin with. Also, young horses tire very quickly. 

DURING training sessions we constantly reward and reassure horses, whatever their age (remember ground training is not just the preserve of the young horse; often the older horse needs reminding of his manners. 

ONCE basic ground control and manners are in place the progression to other stages of training follow much more easily.


In-hand Work

WORKING in-hand is a progression from simple ground control training. 


Introducing Saddlery

PUTTING a bridle on the young horse for the first time should not present any problems so long as the exercise is carried out quietly and patiently plus of course he must be allowed time to adjust to the feel of this strange "contraption" before being expected to carry out any form of training exercise. However bridling difficulties do manifest from rough and insensitive handling of the young horse.

THE introduction of a roller and then the saddle is where difficulties can arise as the young horse will often object to something being fastened around him; his instinct is to rid himself of what he sees as  threat to his safety but of course he is only reacting to what his natural instincts are telling him.

A TRADITIONAL lunging cavesson is not something you will see in our tack room as we dislike the lunge line being attached to a ring on the top of the nose. This is an irritation to some horse and can cause head-tossing.  Instead we use a specialist training cavesson produced in Germany.  


THIS youngster has been well handled and is accustomed to rugs so the introduction of the saddle has not really caused him any problems; he is just having a bit Young horse bucking with a saddle onof a play and showing some natural exuberance. However when horses behave is such way, care should be taken not to pull them about hence the reason we do not attach the lunge line directly to the bit until a horse settled. 

THROUGHOUT their lives some horses will always "bend their backs" a bit if they have not had a saddle on for a while although it is important to rule out other contributory factors. The role of the trainer is very important at this stage as there must be no restraint merely encouragement for forward movement. The experience for the young horse must not be turned into a negative one by having someone pulling him about, shouting at him or chasing him with a whip. 

Loosework - working horses from the ground

WORKING a horse loose is an invaluable aspect of ground training as the horse works independently taking his aids for direction, pace, etc. from voice, body language and step cues from the trainer.  It is important that the horse has already completed some basic ground control training so that he is comfortable and familiar with the directional cues given but most importantly is not confused or stressed by being asked to do something he does not fully understand.


horse working loose without a riderWITH no hindrance from a rider, loosewok builds so much confidence in any horse as he is working all by himself - or at least he thinks he is! 

THIS type of work is incorporated unto the training programme of all  horses we work with as it allows us to monitor progress and, most importantly, take a step back (literally) and observe the horse at liberty to ensure complete freedom of movement, acceptance of what he is being taught etc.  Working young horses loose is an excellent for allowing them time to fully accept and learn to carry a saddle and a bit prior to the  next training stages.    

DURING his early lessons a horse cannot be expected to act immediately to the directional cues given until he has been guided into making the correct responses as with all training it is a gradual journey, but with the more loosework that is undertaken the better the horse becomes at reacting to the subtlest of cues given. Working young horses loose is an excellent for allowing them time to fully accept and learn to carry a saddle and a bit prior to the next training stages.And for the older horse or horse that requires rehabilitative exercises, Loosework is the perfect prep for long-reining as illustrated below:   

horse with poor posture and poor way of going

LEFT to his own devices this horse pokes his nose and props himself using the underside of neck muscles. His neck has no muscle tone and is shapeless. There is nothing happening behind the saddle - no impulsion, no activity of the hind leg.

TO RIDE he would be on the forehand, not moving off the leg and be quite "wooden"; such horse prompt riders to constantly change bits in an attempt to correct the situation instead of getting to the root of the problem. Using himself, or rather not using himself, in this way, this horse will never develop the right muscles to support himself properly let alone carry the weight of a rider. 

HAVING assessed the horse we elected to use side reins and observe his reaction - positive or negative. 

horse working in side reins

SIDE REINS should be used with extreme care as it is very easy to fit them  incorrectly and force the horse into a fixed outlinerather than encouraging the horse to seek the desired outline.The horse should also be kept moving actively forward. 

THIS horse responded well - and as can be seen - the side reins are not  pulling his head in. They are merely indicating to him that it is more comfortable to drop him head thereby rounding and lifting his back muscles and so generally making working actually more comfortable.  He looks a completely different horse already.  



We use our discretion following assessment of the individual and the timescale we are working with in order to progress training or resolve training issues to the maximum benefit of horse and rider in the time we have to work with.
Side reins are not used with young horses that are unfamiliar with a bit in their mouths as the risk of damaging delicate mouth
tissue is just too great. Side reins can be useful when re-educating the horse out of training to encourage a lowered headcarriage and accept a contact but, again - discretion is the key.
Much harm can be done by ill-fitting and/or inappropriately used side reins on any horse!

Lunge Work

CONSTANTLY winding a horse around on the lunge line not only places undue strain on the unfit or unbalanced horse, but done incorrectly it is all too easy for muscles to be built up and set in the wrong places.  How many times do you see horses flying around on the end of a lunge line, often cantering disunited with their heads up in the air - what good is that doing?

horse being lunged

LUNGING contradicts much of the what we initially teach the young horse regarding ground manners and control as the exercise not only 'sends the horse away' but also the horse loses guidance from our step cues as he is required to work around us instead of using our body motion as his instruction as to what direction to go in and at what speed. Consequently we introduce lunge work when a horse is totally at ease and responsive to basic ground control cues

NOTE how loose the lunge line is - it really not need be attached! 


A HORSE needs to be responsive to the aids and cues from the trainer in order for lunge work to be effective. However correct and efficiently executed lunge work does have benefits in that a horse can be encouraged to go forwards with impulsion, rhythm and pace can be established and balance and co-ordination can be improved.

horse being lunged

JUST about everyone lunges their horse at some point but there are those that lunge and those that lunge and actually achieve something!.

TO LUNGE well is a skill that many do  not have; Fred has this horse's full attention and he [the horse] is responding well. As he engages more behind he will lift through the wither and so be more relaxed through the neck.     


WATCHING this horse on the lunge tells us much about him. he is moving actively, there is a complete rigidity to his neck; it is lifted from the withers instead of flexing from the withers. He is not seeking a Horse on the lunge not working correctlycontact - and indeed will not as without direct intervention from the trainer he will continue to trot around quite happily but not learning anything nor achieving any suppling. He has the muscle underneath his neck to allow him to trot around all day like this! So the answer in this case is to long rein the horse so that he can be encouraged forwards into the contact which will in turn have the effect of correcting the head carriage. See below.


Double Lunging - or lunging with two lines - and Long Reining

IN OUR opinion a horse cannot be taught and trained properly without double lunge work - which naturally leads into long reining work. Whilst it is one of the so-called traditional methods of working a horse there really is no other training method by which horses can be taught so much, everything in fact; indeed lunging with two lines and long reining are the only ways to 'make a mouth'. 

DOUBLE lunging and long reining are nothing to be wary of in terms of being overtly bossy or dominant over a horse - the same 'rules' of mutual trust, understanding, co-operation and communication apply as with all aspects of training. Sadly though, both methods are an increasingly neglected part of the training and development of the young horse as they are considered by some to be 'old fashioned' but possibly the truth of the matter is that many people get into difficulties when using/holding two lines because they really do not have the appropriate skill to undertake it properly.  

THE benefit of double lunge work is that a horse can be kept up to the bridle so he better seeks and then accepts the contact and with the second line around the hindquarters the hind legs can be kept activated. With two lines there is the better control of keeping the horse out on the a circle and preventing falling in or falling out. And of course with two lines attached changing the rein is a simple exercise which can be readily used to aid suppleness and flexion in the same way as when under saddle. 

LONG REINING is far more than just walking behind a horse with the reins in loops especially if the horse is to be taught proper rein contact, lateral movements, hock engagement, piaffe and so on. And, as with riding, the trainer needs a wonderfully soft, giving hand and this is why long reining is such an art that so few people can execute. Long reining is also an exercise of the mind as the horse has to concentrate in just the same way as he does when ridden and that is why it plays such an important role in the re-schooling of horses that have become soured, nappy and so on. Hence long reining is not just for the young horse - it is an integral part of the training of all horses, irrespective of their age and physical development. Please also refer to the "Retraining of Racehorses" section. 
important throughout all the stages of a horse's training, to take its physical development and mental capacity into account. Mare, gelding or stallion is also a consideration.  Also breed type must also be borne in mind as, for example, friesians are upright in front and are generally short-coupled so care must be taken not to shorten them up even more! 

WHILST long reining much can be assessed and signs of potential resistances can be detected early on, as can any unsoundnesses. Most corrective training is carried out from the ground as is work towards more advanced dressage movements as the horse can be educated without the hindrance of a rider. 

lunging a horse


DURING his early re- training work this horse was over active in the mouth; he would  draw his tongue back and then pop it over the bit.

TO discourage this and distract the horse so that the habit could be broken, for a  couple of weeks a flash noseband was used to discourage the fiddling. We also changed the bit. 

long reining

WITH lines around him Fred has the control to begin to direct the horse's body and encourage him to start to use muscles he had forgotten about - or resisted using.

THERE  had also been an issue with saddle fit so the horse had set himself to minimise the discomfort, a habit which  then had to be broken.

INITIALLY the horse's stride pattern has shortened a little whilst he gets to grips with the idea of being able to drop into the contact and still go forwards at the same time.

long reining

MUCH better! Although the head carriage is still a little high for the stage of training, the horse is now moving actively into the contact.  Continuation of this type of work will see the neck lower more, there will be lift through the withers and a lovely stretch of the top line muscles all of which ultimately builds strength. The muscles of the hind quarters will develop more so that eventually the horse looks more like one horse rather than 2 joined together.



LONG REINING is also an exercise of the mind as the horse has to concentrate in just the same way as he does when ridden and that is why it plays such an important role in the re-schooling of horses that have become soured, nappy and so on. Hence long reining is not just for the young horse - it is an integral part of the training of all horses, irrespective of their age and physical development. Please also refer to the "Retraining of Racehorses" section.

AS aforesaid long reining is not just a tool for the training of the young or older horse or part of the re-training for horses off the track; it is the most effective way of correcting from the ground bad habits, improving balance and outline (building muscle, etc.) and suppling. 


THIS gelding below was distinctly over-bent when he arrived. As can be seen from the photograph even with no contact on the lines he has dropped at both the demonstrating an overbent horse on long reinswithers and poll. 

NOTE: there is a difference between a horse being deep and round (not to be confused with Rolkur) and over-bent.

WHILST dropping and stretching during and at the end of schooling sessions is to be encouraged as much as possible, this horse is clearly "curling in"; although the hind legs are stepping under well the fore legs, given the size of the horse, are not covering any ground.  

WITH correct guidance the horse has now opened through the neck considerably;  his croup has lowered a little and the hindlegs are still active. He has now adopted a lovely lowered, rounded outline which will work and lift the back muscles and so help engagement and stretching of the hamstrings.

SUCH an outline also encourages relaxation between more collected exercises. He is still a little short in front (tight through the shoulders) but further training, including work over poles, will resolve this. Just as with the ridden horse the rider should be able to place the head/neck exactly where he wants its (obviously when the horse is  suitably schooled to understand the aids), so with the horse on long reins.    

WHILST this horse is presenting a good picture, he is not actually overly exerting himself - something Horse working correctly on the lungethat not everyone will recognise.

SO what is wrong?

HE IS not using his back, nor is the horse stepping under.  Whilst he is not going to gain paces to equate with the horse above, a little more "lift" and activity can be achieved.  


SOME horses do benefit from being asked to work in a deeper, rounder outline as   part of their training programme as it helps them loosen and engage better.

FRED has now asked the horse Indie to work deeper and rounder (not to be confused with the "drawing in" of the nose to the chest - rolkur.  In this photograph the horse is a little behind the vertical but not due to any pressure on the lines; the horse needs the confidence to take the rein forward and down. This type of exercise can be followed through to ridden work.


OF COURSE not every horse behaves perfectly all the time; some can be quite demonstrative. As trainers it is our task to establish why a horse acts and behaves as he does - is it just playfulness and exuberance, is he misunderstanding what is being asked of him, is he feeling some discomfort or, is he being "naughty". Young horses in particular do  not always behave as expected and sometimes can belie an otherwise quiet demeanour. 

THESE photographs illustrate the importance of a person very skilled in long reining being at the end of the reins! Such behaviour is of course not acceptable and has to be eliminated before a horse is backed as he must not get the idea he can do this with a rider!!



LONG REINING is invaluable for the older horse, helping to keep him soft and supple.  And it is such a valuable part of dressage training as all movements can be taught prior to the horse having to carry a rider, the trainer can observe how the horse is moving and check that all important self-carriage without the weight of a rider. 


THIS has to be the ultimate in longreining - no saddle or roller. And what a great way to observe  a horse - without any restrictions. The mere presence of a roller let along a saddle can cause quite a change in how a horse moves. 

AS with all training, a horse needs to work in a relaxed and rhythmic way, and proof of this is his breathing; when a horse does not breathe he is tense, when he is tense, he is not learning.

PLEASE note that this is  not recommended with a young or inexperienced horse, nor if you are not confident and competent with long lines 


A HORSE must  be relaxed and at ease both at the commencement and end of his training sessions. If a horse is tense before he even starts his work, then that he is not going to respond well during his lessons. Equally so, a horse that does not end a training session in a relaxed state of mind may not be so willing to want to work the next day - and that is when impolite behaviour may begin to show up!

The video below demonstrates a retraining session with an ex-racehorse. The gelding is learning to find his balance in canter at a slow pace. The use of half-halts encourages him to use his hind leg so as to come off his forehand.. : 



Flat Poles

WE spend a considerable amount of time working horses over poles on long lines. It is a very beneficial exercise which encourages joint flexion and stride extension, helps establish balance and co-ordination as well as increasing athleticism; it also aids concentration thus providing valuable training for horses in all equestrian spheres. The exercises can be varied so much that training can be kept interesting and stimulating for the horse; boredom must never be allowed to creep in.  For horses that are particularly responsive to the trainer's cues, polework can be executed as part of loosework.

WORK over ground poles can be done in 'collection' or in 'stretch' - both exercises are of equal important so are incorporated into our working programmes - and, as with long reining, is of benefit to all horses. Poles can be laid out in straight lines or on an arc, the latter allowing you to alter stride length without the need to keep adjusting distances.


WHILST we would like to see more activity within the stride it is early days for this young horse; however he is showing an even stride length and a perfect head Horse working over trotting polescarriage for his level of training.

OF MOST importance, this horse is clearly relaxed and happy with what is being asked of him as can be seen from the position of his ears.

COMPARE with the photograph below - an  altogether different picture. 


horse trotting over poles


THIS horse is more established in his groundwork and although by no means perfect and exactly what we are after, he is much more active through the hock and shoulder.   

ONCE he learns to take more weight behind he will carry himself much better as here he is tending to be pulling from the front instead of pushing from behind.  


Raised Poles 


WORKING over raised poles is of enormous benefit for all manner of reasons; as well as being an instrumental part of rehabilitative work especially for pelvic issues and to strengthen weakened ligaments around the stifle joints (usually the cause behind a locking patella), it generally increases joint mobility and flexibility as well as helping with balance and engagement.


working over trotting poles

PROGRESSION to alternately raised poles should only be done when a horse is fully confident with poles flat on the ground otherwise you run the risk of frightening him and possibly putting him off completely.

THIS horse has the measure of what is being asked of him as can be seen by how high he is stepping with his left hind leg. However his work is lacking in expression and activity; he has gone flat.  

trotting pole work


AGAIN the horse is "going through the motions" and not moving as we wish - his forehand is taking the weight, not the hindquarters - he is leaning into the stride/the bridle. The horse is neither working nor learning anything.  



horse being long reined over raised trotting polesHAVING performed the exercise a few more times the horse is now gaining some expression; there is spring to his stride and he is altogether more focused. However he is still a little short in front - this could be due to muscle restriction or simply because the horse is not really trying. And this is where trainer exerience comes in -- whether to carry on or have the horse checked to eliminate any physical reasons which could account for the short stride.   


trotting poles

TO DEMONSTRATE TRAINER ERROR: with a contact which is too strong the horse has no choice but to invert causing the front end elevation to be somewhat "over-done" which in turn causes a flattening of the hindquarters.

A TRAINER should not be fooled into thinking the horse is working well just because he is picking his feet up over the poles.  Working in such manner will soon cause all manner of muscular issues.  

horse working over raised poles


THIS is better but harmony is not fully restored  

GREATER elevation to the stride has been achieved as well as and more activity through the hock but the horse is again leaning in to his stride instead of pushing properly from behind.  


horse working over raised trotting poles

THE exercise is now having the desired effect of achieving lift from the shoulder and good flexion from the hock; he is also working through more from behind  again with the lightest of contact on the reins. The horse much more expressive.

AS he gets stronger and more supple he will lower through the croup as he pushes even more from behind which in turn will lead to a greater ligthening of the forehand. 


 In Conclusion

UNFORTUNATELY not everyone has the aptitude, patience, knowledge and understanding to work with their horses in this way and that is why there are so many horses in the world that are unhappy and distressed, resulting in misbehaviour and the development of behavioural abnormalities.  The knowledge of this concerns us greatly as horses are such magnificent animals deserving of our love, respect, trust and understanding.

FROM reading the above it can be seen that we train horses in a way they can relate to, in a sympathetic manner, with patience and complete understanding of the equine psyche - what is termed today as 'natural horsemanship' - but it is not a new phenomenon; it is just that training in this way has been lost by so many over the years in order to get horses to be "obedient" and "submissive" - terms you will not hear in our training vocabulary.

Whatever your training requirements, please contact us for further information.  

Please be advised that we will not be governed by set time constraints; horses can come for an assessment period after which a suitable programme can be determined.




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