Rowan used to be very head high, tight in the back and toss her head a lot in movement. I used the target to teach her to stretch and lengthen through her spine and now we’re beginning to use it to teach her to change her balance to a more collected position, too.
When working on gymnastic groundwork exercises to build strength, suppleness and body awareness in horses, the target is a simple and effective way to explain to the horse how you’d like them to move. It can be used to teach lateral movements and balance work.
In this video, you can see how Rowan already knows to stretch down and lengthen towards the target. I always begin with working on long, relaxed movement with horses to make sure that they’re soft both physically and emotionally. This can take some weeks if the horse is particularly tense or tight when you start.
Once the horse is relaxed and can lengthen through their spine and stride, you can begin to shape more collected movement. This is simply teaching the horse to take more weight on their hindquarters and lift and lighten through the shoulders. Teaching this has several benefits:
> It strengthens your horse’s abdominals and hindquarters to stabilise his joints and prepare him to carry a rider soundly
> It teaches your horse how to rebalance if he falls onto his forehand and can be used as a half-halt
> It can be used to teach your horse to balance when going downhill, preventing rushing and pulling
> It’s the very beginnings of collected movement
In this video, Rowan is just learning to change her balance in this way by following the target. Although the target creates the movement, it is the click which tells her when she’s in the right position. As she changes her balance, I can feel her poise change beside me and her footsteps become softer and quieter. She feels like she’s in her own balance with energy next to me – that’s when I click.
When you’re beginning this exercise, I recommend “benefit of the doubt clicks”. It’s hard to know if your horse is doing it exactly right, but don’t worry – if you even think you felt something, reward it and it will get more obvious over time. The important thing is that both you and your horse feel successful and enjoy working through the puzzle together, so look for moments where you think you saw or felt something happen – it probably did!
In this way, I’m using the target to create the movement but it’s not all about touching the target. As Rowan progresses, we’ll fade the target and shift the cue onto both rope and voice so that I can ask for it when doing in-hand work, liberty training, long-reining or riding.
This work is all covered in step-by-step detail in the Gymnastic Groundwork Home Study Course in the CT Club.
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