Groundwork - - and Why We Do It Let me share a personal experience which vividly demonstrates the importance of proper groundwork. Rachel had been taking riding lessons from me for a several years. 2 years ago Rachel was riding a wonderful mare named Coco. During the ride, Rachel experienced a seizure and fell from her saddle. Unfortunately Rachel’s foot caught in her stirrup, and she was in a very precarious and dangerous position. Had we not done the proper groundwork with Coco, who knows how she would have reacted? Even if Coco had continued on a slow walk, Rachel would have suffered very painful injuries. A trot or a gallop would have been disastrous with Coco dragging Rachel around the arena. Because of our careful groundwork, however, Coco simply stopped and waited for us to free Rachel’s foot. When starting colts at the DDT we try to prepare them for as many real-world experiences as possible. One technique we use is to rope a colt’s legs together to teach the horse what it feels like when something interferes with its natural gait. The colt “understands” the feeling of an obstruction to its gait, and it learns to “give” or relax in such a situation. A horse that receives such training is much likelier to react calmly instead of fearfully if she ever gets caught in a fence or in a hay net, and believe me, if for some awful reason you find yourself on the ground between your horse’s legs, you will be very grateful for her calm, controlled reaction. Another helpful training method uses tarps, cloth strips, and trash bags to simulate surprising or startling objects that could spook a horse while we are on or off of them. Gradual exposure to flapping tarps and bags, especially around the belly and flanks of the horse, allows her to become comfortable with conditions that might otherwise cause her to bolt or become skittish. You might not appreciate the difference this makes until you see an untrained horse react poorly to someone who is just putting on or taking off a coat or jacket! And if your horse wants to kick at a flag or a bag that’s hanging from a stirrup, she is likely to do the same thing even if it’s your precious head that’s in the same position. Groundwork makes all the difference in creating a safer, more enjoyable horse in the long run. I don’t want you to forget the important difference between desensitizing your horse and “dulling” your horse, and I will write more about that later. For now, just remember that dulling your horse is not a proper goal, but the groundwork of proper desensitizing can prevent injuries or save a life as it has done for us more than once.