Ground Driving Through Feel

Article and photos by Leslie Desmond
Photographs of Chiricahua Doc, AQHA by Jay Dusard, 2006

A thorough education in ground driving is a big help for horses, and I find this to be true whether they have been ridden up to that point of training, or not. The handler also derives a great benefit because it is through a knowledge of how to ground drive successfully, that his or her connection to that particular horse's point of view can easily expand into a deeper, more reliable communication.

To have a genuine understanding of the horse's perspective in any given moment is where, in my view, the essential connection to mutual respect and, ultimately, your safety in the relationship exists. A good foundation for ground driving will leave the observant rider/trainer with sureness about his or her own horsemanship skills.

In the feel-based approach that I use, common misunderstandings that can lead to bucking, running off, and the horse's inability to distinguish instantly between your mounted requests to “go left” or “go right”, to “collect”, “stop”, or “back up” are avoided.

In these illustrations, I am preparing the grey gelding, "Vamos", 7 year-old Russian Orlav, to understand what I mean by what I do before I commit my foot to the stirrup, and my body to his care.

The photos of the bay Quarter Horse Gelding, Chiricahua Doc, AQHA., owned by the photographer Jay Dusard, had already been ridden for many years when I expanded his foundation to include the basics of ground driving. For best results, study these photos carefully. Over time, your conclusions about them could change.

Care must be taken to ensure that the horse you are preparing to be driven from the ground respects you, and has an interest in understanding what you mean by what you do. This will be evident from his responses. If the horse is fearful, or lacks a solid foundation in the basics, then time should first be spent with the horse to create common ground through feel-based exercises. This way, accidents related to misunderstanding can be avoided altogether.

If you have not trained many horses yet, it can help to make use of a written or a mental checklist for yourself that includes an honest assessment of the basics that need to be in place before you present ground school exercises to your horse with two long lines.

CHECKLIST:  In hand, on a short (4-8 ft.) lead, and also on the longe line, is the horse able to start, stop, go forward, backwards, left and right? Can he do these things easily and calmly when you ask, and not before, or too much later?  Can he raise and lower the root of his neck, his withers, rib cage, mid-back and croup when you present the request for these things? Can he lift each hoof in your hand, simply for the asking? In short, does he understand you clearly and does he respond to your request for these maneuvers and transitions respectfully?

When these elements are in place, your student, the horse, has a much better idea how to integrate the small pieces that comprise ground driving into the results you hope for.  It is important to present each point slowly and carefully so that his ground driving skills develop in a logical order, as this will ensure your safety.

Ground driving illustrations: Doc

Ground driving illustrations: Vamos