Monday, April 20, 2009

Ground Work and In-Hand Exercises (Pardon Me While My Hair Melts)

In my last post, I recommended that horses "in transition" often benefit from an intensive course of good ground work before being fitted for a saddle, since rather dramatic changes in musculature can occur in just a few weeks with correct work. This led one of you lovely people to query me regarding just which exercises I would recommend - which opened my own Pandora's Box of Ground Work Exercises.

Sure, it seemed simple at first, but when I tried to think of a few exercises, I - as often happens - drowned in the details. Trotting ground poles is one of my favorites, but it can be done on the longe or on long-lines OR as a ground-driving exercise. Longeing in sliding side-reins is great, but you can do it on a 20 m. circle or a 15 m. circle OR you can spiral in or out and transition every 5 or 10 or 12 strides.

By the time I got to the in-hand stuff, I was up to my eyeballs in exercises I'd learned from a bunch of people dealing with different horses that all had different issues over the last 40+ years, and I thought my hair was going to melt. I had to go lie down.

(Keep in mind that in middle-age, I've become such a Spam-brain that I can't remember appointments if they're not in my book and often call my husband, sons and dogs by each others' names, and nouns commonly escape me - but I can recount in excruciating detail the very first ground work exercise I ever learned ... when I was about 6. Go figure.)

When I recovered from this overload, my course of action was clear: lay this on someone else. I knew there were good books out there on the subject ... I'd just never read them. So I e-mailed Sharon Parker, a dear friend of mine who's a whiz at ground work (she kindly came here and taught a clinic on it a few years back) and an incorrigible reader of dressage literature. She would save my sorry butt.

And indeed she did. Here are her recommendations:

Horse Training In-Hand: A Modern Guide to Working from the Ground: Long Lines, Long and Short Reins, Work on the Longe, by Ellen Schuthof-Lesmeister and Kip Mistral. (Available for pre-purchase at Amazon at Sharon says, "I'm really looking forward to this book. Kip's articles are the most step by step, easy to understand with great pictures, information on the in hand work that I've seen. I've spoken with her (in fact bought one
of Brant Brenderup's cavesson reproductions for use under the bridle
from her and a great in hand cav that is light, easy, and the most
functional I've ever seen) and she starts you out at the ground level
with the jaw flexions at the halt and goes up from there. She is mostly
Iberian/Portuguese influenced, but has worked with Brenderup and several
others with a solid base in the German classical approach. She stops
well short of modern Baucherism. I like her the best for starting at
ground zero. I do have to admit I haven't seen a copy yet since I'm
behind on my shopping this spring. I am assuming it will be like her
articles so far as style, knowledge, and clarity."

Schooling Horses in Hand by Richard Hinrichs (Amazon, and Long Reining: The Saumur Method by Phillipe Karl (ditto: Her comments:
"These are both classical works but make a lot of assumptions about what the reader already
knows. They are excellent. Hinrichs' video is superb too, including dogs and goats practicing Spanish Walk. I've haven't seen the Karl videos, but would surely like to some day."

Sound advice from a good source - and far more succinct than I would have been!


Nicole said...

Oops! Sorry to have opened a can of worms!

Turns out I am pregnant and soon won't be able to ride until after baby's born the end of October, so those in-hand exercises will be really helpful for keeping both me and my mare in shape.

Thanks for the book recommendations!

saddlefitter said...

No problem, Nicole - that sort of thing keeps me young!

Congratulations on the baby - that's a wonderful thing! I hope the books will have some helpful info so you can keep Araby (and yourself) in good shape.

Melissa said...

I just finished "Right from the Start" by Michael Schaffer and he covers some groundwork in there. I really enjoyed it - helpful photos, and good descriptions.