In our experience there are a couple of good reasons to have your horse good on the ground. The first is safety; theirs, yours, and those around you. The second is preparation; a horse that’s good on the end of the lead rope is a horse that is ready for the next thing. When we are halter starting our weanlings, we are thinking about establishing a leadership role in our horse’s life and teaching them how to follow a feel or move away from pressure. When a new horse comes to us, one of the first things we do is check it out on the ground. After years of handling horses on the ground and then riding them, we can often tell how they will ride by what we feel through the lead rope.
Safety is a high priority for us. Most of the folks we work with own horses for recreation and fun. Feeling unsafe is not fun! Having a horse pushing on you or pulling away from you isn’t safe. Establishing a leadership role for your horse and having good control of your horse’s feet through the lead rope creates a safe environment for you and those around you. We use ground work to help our horses stay safe even when they are off the halter. We’ve had horses that we taught to lead by a foot with a rope get a foot caught in a fence and wait for their owner to come help them get free.
We think that it’s important for the ground work to be the kind that will transfer into the saddle easily. For a young horse or a horse that is struggling to understand what we’re asking, having a consistent feel from the ground to the saddle seems to make a difference. For example, if ,on the ground, we lift the lead rope up towards the withers to move our horses’ hindquarters we have a better chance of our horse understanding how to move its hindquarters away from a lift on the rein.
What we do on the ground has to match our personality and our physical ability. We are trying to establish a rapport and a feel with our horse. By offering our horse a place to go with his feet through the lead rope, we’re telling him how we will make an offer and what response will earn a release of pressure. Only we will feel the way we feel to our horse. If we stay relaxed and offer the same thing the same way our horse will get light and soft on the end of the lead rope and in the saddle. That’s why we do groundwork!