Ilustre and I recently participated in the Midwest Horse Fair’s Equine Fashion Show. While I was there, I was able to attend several of the clinics and lectures. There were a variety of clinicians from many different disciplines but it was remarkable how similar the basic principles they taught were. I was delighted to see several clinicians emphasize the importance of good ground work prior to riding.
Dan James, an incredible trainer from a cattle ranch in Australia, gave clinics on both long reining and liberty work. He described how he uses the long reining to start all of his young horses before he ever gets on their backs. Using this groundwork, he is able to achieve a balanced, relaxed walk, trot, and canter from his horses the first time he rides them. He is also able to use the long reining to retrain problem horses, such as horses that rear. Dan was then able to demonstrate the results of his training by doing incredible long reining and liberty work with his horses, including riding a stallion while working three horses at liberty- and one of them was a mare!
Another clinician I enjoyed watching was classical dressage trainer, Vitor Silva. Vitor described his methods for starting a young horse. He starts his horses at about three years of age (no earlier). The first thing he does with them is lunging which teaches balance and obedience, followed by work in hand (sound familiar?). When the horse lunges and works well in hand, he progresses to work in the long reins. This work teaches the horse to balance, to turn right and left, and also teaches self carriage. The horse learns to trust the human. Vitor uses work in the long reins in parallel to work under saddle. Vitor emphasized that there are no tricks to training a horse, just patience and consistency.
In conclusion, it doesn’t matter where you come from, what kind of horse you have, or what discipline you ride; good horse training is good horse training, and it starts with good groundwork!