Q: I have a 7-year-old pony named Timmy. One problem I often face is not having enough time for riding some days, so I longe Timmy a lot. He does very well on a longeline, but it can get kind of boring. What other things can you do with your horse when you aren’t riding?
A: Here are some ground work exercises from Young Rider that you can do when you aren’t riding.
Longeing is the first form of ground work that Young Rider recommends a lot of people do when they don’t have enough time to ride. It is a great way to give your horse some exercise when you can’t ride, but going around in circles does get boring for both of you. If Timmy has been standing in a stall or small corral for a while when you get out to the barn, you can let him walk and jog on the longeline to get warmed up, then move on to some other activities that will engage his brain.
Practicing showmanship patterns is another ground work exercise that Young Rider recommends that can challenge yourself and your horse while improving your communication. You can find plenty of practice patterns online, or work on the individual elements. This includes turns and pivots in place, asking your horse to walk, jog, halt, and back readily, and to stand square until you give him the cue to move off. The goal is precision. You want to be able to ask Timmy to back exactly four steps or turn 90 degrees to the left, for example, and have him respond quietly to your cue and halt immediately when you ask. It’s harder than it sounds!
You can use cones to mark the spot where you’re going to turn, halt or change gaits, but one of the great things about showmanship patterns is that they don’t require any extra equipment. You can even make up straight-line patterns to do in the barn aisle if you don’t have an arena available.
Another option for ground work that Young Rider recommends is to practice in-hand trail obstacles. Set up some ground poles in the shape of an L and lead your horse forward and backward through them. Have him sidepass over the same obstacle, keeping his front feet on one side of the poles and his hind feet on the other. Practice walking him over a tarp and having him stand calmly while you drape a raincoat over his back. Set up cones to weave through in a serpentine pattern at a walk and jog.
These obstacles do take a bit more time to set up, but you can also use them to practice the same exercises under saddle on days when you have time to tack up and ride.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!