For the most part clinicians who use natural horsemanship techniques employ a program of ground exercises. There are a few who do little or no ground work preferring to go as quickly as possible training from the back of the horse.
For people, like me, who have limited experience with riding and who don`t possess a high level of natural athleticism, groundwork is the better choice to begin working with a horse. Working on the ground is safer for you and the horse.
The exercises employed in the clinician programs are intended to build a system of communication between the human and the horse. The techniques are designed to take advantage of the natural behaviour of the horse. Each clinician has different methods, exercises and tools that they use. As I have said before, it is a real advantage to look at the work of a number of different clinicians and pick the one that suits you the best.
Establishing the communication with the horse is the primary goal of ground exercises. In the process of building the communication you also build trust, respect and confidence between you and your horse. My primary goal with the exercises was to build responses that would translate directly to the responses that you want when you are in the saddle. This again is for safety for both the human and the horse, and it also continues to build the trust and confidence. But no matter what techniques you use the principals stay the same.
Ground exercises involve imposing some form of pressure on the horse with a view to getting a desired response. To be successful you have to learn to recognize when the horse is giving or trying to give the correct response and releasing the pressure when it occurs. It sounds so simple. It isn`t. You have to train your eye, your body and your mind to respond correctly to the horse. The better the timing of your response the quicker the horse will understand.
Once you understand the fundamentals of horse behaviour and have started using the techniques taught by any of the N H clinicians you should try and watch accomplished horseman use these methods. One of the best examples of this are the Road to the Horse colt starting competitions. If you have an opportunity watch the DVD of the 2011 competition featuring Pat Parelli, Chris Cox and Clinton Anderson. It is a good example of the natural horsemanship principles used in three very different ways.
Doing ground exercises well requires a lot of skill developed through practice and repetition. It is a lot like learning a golf swing. You have to train you body and your mind to go through a whole series of steps in a very precise manner that can be repeated exactly over and over again. It requires the development of muscle memory and a strong feel for the horses` responses. When it is done with this high level of skill, horses learn the correct responses very quickly.
I have often heard the complaint that clinicians are only trying to sell you a bunch of expensive gimmicks and equipment just to make money. Well sure, this is their living and they do need to make money. The equipment is really a side issue. You can do ground exercises with any halter and lead rope, and nothing else, except stuff you find in the paddock. The knowledge you get from the clinicians is the vital part. Used correctly and with an understanding of the horse you can establish the communication, trust, respect and confidence in yourself and your horse with equipment you already have.
For me ground exercises build the foundation of your relationship with your horse. They make it possible to communicate effectively and safely with them, whether it is under saddle or in harness. Every time I go in the paddock with my horse I do some ground exercises with him. It may only be a few minutes where I ask him to back up, give lateral flexion, yield his hind quarters or lower his head. This few minutes keeps building the foundation with the horse and he looks for me coming and meets me at the gate always with a willing question “What do you want me to do now?”
In my opinion Ground Work is Good.