There are many out there who believe a horse is meant for riding, and in hand work on the ground is just a waste of your time – and the horse’s.
There’s a growing school of thought, though, that in hand training is valuable for all sorts of reasons – not least for bonding and connecting with your horse, as well as improving his performance.
In fact, Horse & Hound recently reported that the likes of equestrian celebrities Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin are pushing the idea of in hand work, and its certainly common practice in Europe.
How In Hand Work Cements Relationships
I certainly believe, from experience, that a good relationship with a horse is built from the ground up. If you think about it you connect with your horse on the ground every time you groom him, wash him, feed him, treat him, hug him and play with him. It’s when he can see, feel and hear you – unlike when you’re riding on top of his back behind his head, when he can’t make eye contact with you.
This being the case it makes sense that you can connect and communicate better with your horse when you’re on the ground, where he can have a body language dialogue with you.
Other Benefits of In Hand Groundwork
You and your horse have a lot to gain from some sensible, informed groundwork, besides the bonding aspect. Just consider these potential benefits:
On the ground you can see how your horse carries himself, removes and responds without him having to have your weight on his back. You’ll get a better understanding of your horse’s mechanics which helps you ride in harmony.
It improves his suppleness and flexibility – particularly good for older horses or those that cannot be ridden often, or at all, for a particular reason.
You can work at improving his lateral balance, or correct an imbalance.
Gentle In hand training will improve the confidence of a nervous horse.
The benefits mentioned above don’t include what can be achieved by the actual training techniques you apply in groundwork, which number enough to fill a book (in fact there are many books out there you could consult!). In hand work is particularly beneficial for dressage mounts, but any horse can learn to perform better at any level with some carefully applied groundwork.
How to Work Your Horse In Hand
If you haven’t tried it before, you probably imagine that in hand training is simple – just a bit of lunging. There’s a lot more to it than that, however, so it’s best to educate yourself as far as possible before you give it a go, and if possible take some live lessons. Like most things equestrian, in hand work is best learned through experience – the actual doing.
Although we won’t presume to tell you how to do it in a short article like this, we can point out some basic points to get you going.
Firstly, you’ll need to equip yourself with the tools for basic in hand training:
Good to Know about In Hand Training
Don’t attempt groundwork with your horse unless and until you have satisfied yourself that he is up for it as regards his age, physical state and mental disposition.
In Hand work is not suitable for horses under three years old.
You’ll need to have patience and start gently with a light touch. You want the experience to be fun for both you and your horse – be assertive, not aggressive.
Practice good whip etiquette. The whip is there for pointing and guiding, not punishment or coercion.
If you’d like to start in hand training with your horse, we’d like to help! If you need advice or information about how best to go about it, and where you can get some instruction on how to proceed in the local area, give us a ring at Totally Tack, or pop in for a chat! We love talking horses!