Horse Groundwork Exercises for Respect
Do you work with a horse that doesn’t respect your personal space or your cues? A great way to teach your horse to respect you is by doing groundwork training with them. Groundwork is any training that you do with your horse where you are on the ground, not in the saddle.
So, what are some of the best groundwork exercises you can do with your horse to teach them to respect you? Here are my five favorite groundwork exercises for teaching a horse to respect me:
- Disengage the Hind-End so the Horse is Facing You
- Have the Horse Back-Up and Out of Your Space
- Move the Horse’s Shoulders Away From You
- Lunge the Horse on a Lunge Line Without Being Pulled
- Teach the Horse to Yield to Pressure Ahead
None of these points probably make any sense on their own, so I will explain each in further detail. When it comes to teaching a horse to respect you, this is where I start with any horse, whether young or old.
When your horse respects you, they will be much more enjoyable to work with, and teaching them new things will become easy. Keep reading to get an in-depth look at to teach a horse to respect you. To get a step-by-step groundwork guide that will walk you through these exercises, check out my online course about Groundwork For Respect. Click this link here to learn more!
Gain Respect By Disengaging the Hind-End
One part of earning respect from your horse is being able to control both their hind-end and their front-end. Ideally, you should be able to control both ends of your horse separately; being able to disengage and move the hind-end is the biggest part of learning to control your horse’s hind-end.
What Does Disengaging the Hind-End Mean?
Disengaging the hind-end is when the horse can move its hind-end from side to side simply by crossing its back legs one in front of the other.
This means that your horse can pivot on their front legs simply by stepping their hind legs over. When you “disengage your horse’s hind end,” your horse will move its hind end away from pressure applied by stepping its hind legs one over the other.
No matter where you stand in relation to your horse, the horse should be able to pivot and move its hind-end around so it can stand facing you. This applies when you’re lunging your horse, leading them and need them to stand still, or even trying to get them to focus in a frustrating situation.
Why Disengaging the Hind-End Is Important for Respect
Being able to disengage your horse’s hind end to have them face you is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, the horse’s power comes from their hind end. If you watch a horse bolt, rear, or buck, you’ll notice how the power from the horse’s hind-end allows them to do these movements. When you disengage the horse’s hind-end, the power of the hind-end is disengaged.
Disengaging the hind-end is considered the emergency brake for horseback riding; if your horse is acting up, you can do this to take the power away and keep them from rearing, bucking, or trying to drag you.
When a horse disengages their hind end, they can change the direction they are facing simply by pivoting on their front-end by stepping their hind legs one over the other. The reason you should be able to get your horse to change direction (by disengaging the hind end) to face you is that it teaches the horse to focus on you.
If your horse stops and their back is to you, then they can easily become distracted by something off in the difference. When you have your horse move their body so that they end up facing you, the horse is then focused on you and what you’re doing.
How to Teach Disengaging the Hind-End To Your Horse
To begin teaching your horse this exercise, you will first teach the horse to move their hind-end away from pressure, also known as disengaging the hind-end.
- To start, stand at your horse’s shoulder and face behind the horse.
- With the hand closest to the horse, take the lead rope and bring it up to the horse’s withers, applying pressure.
- As you apply this pressure, walk towards your horse’s hind-end, swinging the end of the lead rope in your other hand in the direction of the horse’s hind legs to encourage them to move their hind legs away.
- As soon as the horse steps away, crossing one hind leg in front of the other, release the pressure and reward them.
Once you can do this from a standstill, then you can try it as you lunge or lead your horse. This is where you can start to encourage your horse to move their hind-end around so that they end up facing you.
Let’s start as you lunge your horse.
- As you have your horse on the end of the line, start walking towards your horse as if you were going to walk directly behind them.
- As you move closer to the horse, reach your hand down the lead rope or lunge line until you’ve taken up about half of the line.
- As you continue to walk, lift the hand with the lead rope and apply pressure.
- Continue on and walk in a straight line with your hand up applying pressure to the lead rope. The horse should swing it’s hind-end all the way around as you go to walk behind, ending with the horse facing you.
- Don’t release the pressure on the lead and don’t stop walking until the horse has come to face you.
With practice and consistency, your horse will eventually get to a place where all you have to do to move their hind-end is to bring your hand up and apply pressure to the lead.
If you’re more of a visual learner, here’s a video I made that covers some of the points from this article:
Exercises You Can Do to Practice Disengaging the Hind-End for Respect
Here are a few exercises you can practice to help your horse understand the concept of disengaging their hind-end and facing you:
Going Through Gates and Turning to Shut Them
Do you ever walk your horse through a gate and as you turn to shut the gate, the horse just keeps walking on, trying to get back to their friends or graze?
This is disrespectful and shows that the horse isn’t paying attention to you. The next time you lead your horse through a gate, have them disengage their hind-end and face you as you turn to latch the gate.
Move Your Horse Over While They Stand Tied
One simple exercise you can do to get your horse to disengage their hind-end is having them move over as they stand tied. Does your horse tend to move around when tied and ends up standing right next to a wall or a fence? Next time the do this, pick up the lead rope and apply pressure, then wave your other hand towards the horse’s hind-end to encourage them to step over.
Have the Horse Back-Up and Out of Your Space
My next training exercise for getting a horse to respect you is having them back-up and out of your personal space. A good horse trainer should be able to make their horse move backward just as well as they can make them move forward. When it comes to teaching your horse to respect you, having this ability can go a long way.
What Teaching Your Horse to Back-Up Means
Does your horse ever walk right up in your space and won’t get away, no matter what you do? This is a clear sign that your horse doesn’t respect you or your boundaries.
If you watch horses in the wild, the alpha horse is able to get other horses to back up and move over just by giving them a look and stepping towards them. As a horse trainer, I should be able to get my horse to back out of my space just by communicating with body language.
Why Teaching Your Horse to Back-Up Important for Respect
It’s important that you can have your horse back up out of your space because this action is a clear correction. The horse will learn that if they step forward then they are going to be made to back up.
Backing up is unnatural and hard for a horse to do. The horse will learn quickly that stepping into your space will mean more work for them.
How to Teach It to Your Horse to Back-Up for Respect
- To get your horse to back up out of your space, start by shaking your lead rope lightly.
- If the horse takes a step back or even rocks their weight back, stop, and reward them so they know that they are thinking in the right direction.
- If the horse shows no sign of wanting to back up, gradually increase the pressure you use to shake the lead rope.
With some horses, it may take you shaking your arm up and down vigorously before they even rock their weight back. No matter what level of pressure you have to end up using, immediately release pressure as soon the horse does the right thing.
By doing this, you’ll let the horse know that they were thinking in the right direction. This will help the horse be more sensitive and responsive to cues in the future so you can use lighter pressure next time you have to shake the lead rope.
Respect Exercises for Making a Horse Back-Up
Here are some fun exercises you can work on to get your horse to respect your space and back-up when asked.
Back-Up Through Two Poles On the Ground
Once you can effectively have your horse back up on the lead rope, you can make it a little more challenging by having the horse back through a set of poles.
Lay the poles parallel to one another. Lead your horse through the poles, then when you get to the end, have them back up through them. To make things even more fun, you can gradually move the poles closer together. This will really get your horse thinking!
Teach Your Horse to Back-Up Only Using Body Language
I personally like my horses to be able to back up and away simply by me raising my hands or pointing at their chest. To teach a horse to back up only using body language, start off using your lead rope.
Anytime you ask your horse to back up, first do the body language signal. If the horse doesn’t respond by shifting their weight back or taking a step back, then shake the lead rope for the right response. Soon, the horse will correlate the body language with the backup cue.
For more info on getting your horse to back up, you can read the article I wrote on the subject here.
Gain Respect By Moving The Horse’s Shoulders Away From You
My next exercise for getting your horse to respect you is moving the horse’s shoulders away from you. Horses go in the direction their shoulders point; if the horse’s shoulders are pointing at you as they are moving, guess where the horse is going to go? Directly into you! If you can control the movement of your horse’s shoulders, then you can control the direction in which the horse moves.
What Does Moving a Horse’s Shoulders Away Mean?
Being able to move your horse’s shoulders away from you is very similar to disengaging the horse’s hind-end. The horse will step its front legs one in front of the other to step away from you and pivot on their hind-end. If you apply pressure towards the horse’s shoulders, then the horse should move away from the pressure.
Why Moving Your Horse’s Shoulders Is Important For Respect
I’ve witnessed many horses being disrespectful by pushing their owners with their shoulders or dropping their shoulders in to crowd their owner’s space. If you watch horses in the wild, horses can intimidate other horses by crowding them or even pushing them with their shoulders. If your horse is doing this to you, it’s a clear sign of disrespect.
Horses will go in the direction that their shoulders point. If a horse is moving and their shoulder is pointed towards you, then you will probably get pushed or run over.
If you can control the direction that your horse’s shoulders point, then you can control where your horse moves. This makes it easy to move your horse out of your space.
How to Teach Your Horse To Move Their Shoulders
- To teach your horse to move their shoulders away from you, stand next to your horse’s head, facing them.
- You can lift one of your hands towards your horse’s eye, making a pushing motion. This will give your horse something visual to move away from, and your hand creates a wall between you and your horse.
- With your other hand, you can twirl the lead rope or a lunge whip at the horse’s shoulder to encourage them to step that leg over and away.
- Walk towards your horse’s head to encourage them to move away from you.
If the horse doesn’t want to move away initially, you can be more assertive by flapping your arms and making yourself appear big. As soon as the horse takes a step away from you with their front leg, you can stop and reward them.
As you practice this, you’ll be able to move farther away from your horse and get them to move their shoulders simply by pointing or swing your rope towards their shoulder.
Respect Exercises You Can Do to Practice Moving a Horse’s Shoulders
Here are some exercises you can practice to get your horse responsive to moving their shoulders away and respecting your space:
Sending Your Horse Out On a Lunge Line
Do you find it difficult to get your horse to move out on a lunge line or lead rope? One reason that could be is that you couldn’t control the direction your horse was going.
When you can control your horse’s shoulders and where they point, you can control where your horse goes. Sending your horse out on the lunge line should be much easier now. Just signal your horse to step their shoulders away from you and encourage them to move forward.
Move Your Horse Around Obstacles
Now that you can control your horse’s shoulders, try setting up obstacles for them to go around. As you lead your horse, you can point to get your horse to step around the obstacles. When the horse moves their shoulder over, they will walk around the obstacle.
Have Your Horse Change Direction on the Fenceline
Walk your horse next to the fence, you leading on the opposite side. When you want to change direction, have your horse turn towards the fence by signaling to your horse to move their shoulders away from you.
This exercise will also help to keep your horse from stepping out of the movement of crossing one front leg in front of the other in order to pivot on their hind-end.
Lunge the Horse on a Lunge Line Without Being Pulled
Another exercise you can do with your horse to get them to respect you is lunging them on a lunge line without allowing them to pull you.
Lunging is a useful tool for horse training and working your horse. When you lunge a horse, the horse moves around you in a circle. You can free lunge them in a round pen, or you can lunge them attached to a lead rope or a lunge line. In this particular exercise, I am discussing lunging your horse on a rope or halter.
What Does This Mean?
What does it mean if your horse is pulling on the lunge line as you lunge them around? This means that they don’t respect the boundaries set by you and the rope. If a horse pulls you and drags you while lunging, this may mean that the horse can be pushy in other situations.
A horse that ignores the boundary of a lunge line will be willing to ignore pressure on the lead rope as you lead them and pressure on the reins as you ride. They will be more likely to run through the pressure, dragging you along with them.
Why Lunging Your Horse Without Them Pulling Is Key for Respect
As you lunge your horse, it’s important that your horse can go around on a loose line without pulling you around. A horse that can go on a loose line respects the boundaries that the lunge line sets. If this type of horse hits the end of the rope, they’ll immediately yield to the pressure by retreating back to the boundaries of the rope.
A horse that doesn’t respect the boundaries of the lunge line will find the end of the rope and fight the pressure. This means you may get dragged across the arena! A horse like this isn’t responding to pressure correctly; instead of yielding to the pressure to fit within the boundaries you’ve set, the horse will fight the pressure to escape the boundaries of the lunge line.
Teaching A Horse to Lunge Without Pulling
So how do you teach your horse to respect the boundaries of a lunge line so that they can be lunged on a relaxed rope? In order to teach this to your horse, you will need to be effective at disengaging your horse’s hind-end, the first point covered in this article.
- As you’re lunging your horse, every time the horse tests the boundaries of the rope, have them disengage their hind-end so that they come back to face you.
- As soon as they are facing you, send them back out on the circle.
- By disengaging the hind-end, the horse is learning to yield and bend the pressure on the lunge line rather than fight it.
Eventually, your horse will become responsive to you moving towards their hind-end, as if you were going to as them to disengage their hind-end. Now, try lunging your horse by driving them more from behind.
The horse should keep a nice bend through their barrel and neck as they focus more on moving their hind-end under and over rather than fighting the constraints of the lunge line. Here’s an entire video I made for my YouTube channel on lunging a horse with a lunge line.
Respect Exercises For Lunging a Horse Without Them Pulling
There are exercises you can do to help your horse become more soft and supple on the lunge line. Try these exercises below to keep your horse focused.
Back & Forth Horse Respect Exercise
The back and forth exercise is an exercise I use to teach horses to respond to my body language rather than pressure on the lunge line.
All I do is walk in a straight line as I lunge my horse around me. When the horse gets to a point where they are about to go behind me, they will disengage their hind-end and turn to face my back as I continue to walk forward.
Once they turn, I send them out in the other direction, having them do the same exact thing going the other way. Eventually, the horse will be going back and forth in front of me without pulling on the rope, but rather reading where I’m positioned compared to them.
Change Direction Through Obstacles
Another great exercise for working on keeping your horse supple on the lead line is setting up some obstacles for your horse to weave through as you lunge them.
Between obstacles, have your horse stop and changed direction. The obstacles will help your horse stay focused and understand where they are supposed to go without having to pull and jerk on the lunge line.
Practice Liberty Training Basics
Liberty training is when you train your horse without the confines of ropes. This gives your horse the option to respond correctly or not. Before I start liberty training, I make sure that my horse can go around on a relaxed lunge line. If they’re fighting the pressure of a rope, that means they are going to be more willing to take off once you remove the rope from the equation.
One thing I practice with my horses is just having them step towards me and come to me as I move around them. I don’t apply any pressure to the lead rope or lunge line; rather, I encourage them with my voice and body language. This develops a draw that will keep the horse focused on you and bent around you as they move on the circle.
Teach the Horse to Yield to Pressure Ahead
My next horse respect exercise is teaching them to yield to pressure that’s ahead of them. Have you ever been free lunging your horse in the round pen and when you ask them to stop by stepping in front of their eye line, they just run forward?
Do you have a horse that fights rein contact and will lean on the bit and pull you down with their neck? Do you have a horse that will run you over trying to avoid a certain task? If so, teaching them to yield to pressure ahead of them will help correct these issues.
What Does Yielding To Pressure Ahead Mean?
Pressure ahead is any pressure that is applied ahead of your horse in an attempt to stop them from moving forward. This can be physical pressure like pulling on the reins or it can be encouraging pressure like sticking your arm out or lunge whip out in front of your horse in an attempt to stop them from going forward.
Horses tend to fight pressure ahead of them as it poses a risk to them as flight animals. If something is coming towards them or blocking them from going forward, they can’t escape if need be. What the horse will usually do is try to take off through the pressure in order to try and escape.
Why Teaching A Horse To Yield To Pressure Ahead Is Important:
Teaching your horse to respect pressure ahead will help teach them to respect your space and any cue you may give to have them stop or change direction. A horse that doesn’t respect this pressure will be more apt to run passed you or try to pull you as you lead them.
Teaching Your Horse to Yield To Pressure Ahead Of Them
Here are the steps you can follow for teaching your horse to yield to pressure that’s ahead of them:
- Have your horse stand still as you stand to the side slightly ahead of them.
- With your other hand, stick out your arm to your side and wave your lunge whip in a circle ahead of your horse.
- At this point, the lunge whip shouldn’t be directly in front of the horse, rather ahead and to the side.
- If the horse doesn’t respond, gradually bring the lunge whip close to the front of your horse.
- As soon as the horse responds to the pressure by stepping its shoulders away, stop and praise them.
- If the horse starts forward to run through the pressure, keep waving the lunge whip until they respond correctly. Some horses may even run into the lunge whip before they decide to yield to the pressure.
Once your horse can move away from pressure ahead at the standstill, lunge the horse at a walk and repeat the steps. Once the horse can do it at a walk, then move on to a trot. If at any point the horse regresses and tries to run through the pressure ahead, return to the previous gate and try again.
Respect Exercises For Making Your Horse Yield To Pressure Ahead
Here are some additional exercises you can do once your horse yields to pressure ahead:
Leading a Pushy Horse
Now that your horse yields to pressure ahead, try leading them around. If the horse is getting pushy and trying to get passed you, simply stick your lunge whip in front of them and wave it up and down.
The horse should immediately slow its step and respect the pressure you have applied. Once the horse has done this, you can put the lunge whip down and continue one.
Back Your Horse up By Waving the Lunge Whip
Let’s try a new way to back your horse up. Stand in front of your horse and wave your lunge whip from one side to the other, going over your head.
The horse should immediately back up in response to this pressure. If the horse is more apt to try and run out in a different direction, lessen the movement of the lunge line and stop and reward the horse as soon as the horse takes a backward step.
I hope this article was helpful to you in teaching your horse to respect you! I have tons of articles about troubleshooting your horse’s behavior by using groundwork. Check out my article Disrespectful Horse Behavior: Training Guide.
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