Positive Results from the Ground Up

Do you ever call your horse lazy? Do you ever wonder if he knows where his feet are after he trips, stumbles, or even falls? Maybe he tends to drag his feet or it feels as though he doesn’t even attempt to lift a foot off the ground? When we are off balance, we are not able to keep ourselves upright and neither can your horse. Many horses are off balance and heavy on the forehand, which can contribute to the tripping, stumbling and dragging. Sometimes the tripping and stumbling can be a symptom of simply not knowing where his feet are. Being off balance and not knowing where his feet are can certainly contribute to feeling imbalanced emotionally as well, which often is seen as unconfident or even being disrespectful. Often, we see this as spooking, shying or engaging in the fight or flight response. By simply starting to help our horses know where their feet are, we can contribute to their physical and emotional well-being by helping them to feel their feet and legs, rebalance, and create a better base of support! The video below demonstrates how you can begin to teach your horse to know where their feet are and to become more balanced 


Knowing Where Your Feet Are Video

Making good headway will depend on your ability to take smaller steps for a bigger payoff. The steps are simple (but not easy!) and with patience, a keen eye and feel for observation you will not only build on your relationship together, but will also enjoy the greater awareness your horse will achieve when he knows where his feet are! Remember that this is a process and not a prescription. The exercise in this article is one piece out of the many that complete the puzzle.

The first step is stroking the legs and tapping the hooves. You may want to try this with a friend first so that you can experience what your horse will. Start by walking an “S” pattern for about 30 seconds then stop. Now, have someone use a TTEAM wand or dressage whip to stroke your legs, starting from the top of your thigh and moving all the way down to your feet. Have them very gently “tap” all around your foot at the end. Do this stroke three times for each leg. Now, go ahead and walk your “S” pattern again. What is your overall experience?

With your horse, do the same thing, and make sure you set up an opportunity to “compare and contrast” by asking your horse to walk the “S” pattern down the long side of the arena before stroking the legs and feet. When you do this, keep your back soft, your wrist straight, and resist the urge to push or pull your horse in one direction or another as you are walking an “S”. When we do Connected Groundwork®, there are a few other key steps we take into consideration in regards to how we are leading and working with the horse that help your horse balance. However, in the interest of this article and in keeping things simple, just walk with your horse as you normally would. Using a flat web or Connected Groundwork® halter is preferred for this exercise. What was your experience? What worked well? What could be improved?

Next, go ahead and stroke all four of your horse’s legs. First, make sure that your horse is comfortable with a wand or longer dressage whip. Starting at the top and front of each leg, stroke the wand softly, but firmly, in a downward direction toward the hoof. When you reach the bottom of the hoof, give a very light tap all around the hoof. Repeat this on each leg two or three times before moving onto the next leg. Remember to stroke each leg. Again, ask your horse to walk forward again using the same “S” pattern. When you reach the end of the pattern, allow your horse to stop and process. What is he doing when he processes? Is he licking and chewing, blinking, yawning, shaking his head, anything else? Be open to any observation of how your horse is moving, remembering what your experience was like. What was your experience as a handler? What was your horse’s experience? How was this experience different than the first?

Next option, playing in the labyrinth! You can learn more about setting up and using your labyrinth at the TTEAM/TTOUCH website. The labyrinth is a great place to help your horse feel focused and balanced, help with balanced stopping, shift his weight back, pay attention to your signals, improve patience and self-control, and help a high headed horse come back “down to earth”. By stroking the legs and tapping the hooves as you move through the labyrinth, it helps the horse even more by bringing awareness to those parts of his body.

It’s easy to keep riding through the trips, falls, and stumbles, but at some point there will be something that launches you forward to precipitate a change. Maybe it is an accident or that your confidence is in question or your horse comes up lame. Maybe you become more limited in what it is that you wish to do with your horse, such as moving up to the next level of dressage, choppy transitions, pulling rails when you jump. Whatever the reason, you now have a great starting place to explore with your horse. Right now with the seasons changing, many of us are looking for ways to start working towards our spring and summer goals and this is a great place to start!