Cyrus ground work
Cyrus learning to go, turn and stop at liberty - between 1-2 years old, long before his first ride.


Ground Work


something that is done at an early stage and that makes later work or progress possible

HL Five Years
HL Bundle
HL Goal Setting
HL Book 3
HL Book 2
HL Book 1


Ground work can be art work in itself. 

For most of us, ground work is a path to getting to know our horses better, without riding. There are unlimited types of ground work, starting from simple lunging to work without the rider to the "high school" movements of the classical variety. 

I used significant ground work techniques when my horses were too young to ride. From just getting them used to being handled, to developing communication, to in-hand work to introduce them to the bit, to ground driving, to trailering practice, to "round penning", to walking over tarps and de-spooking - I did it all. Then before their first ride, I used lunging to get the horses moving well without a rider in the first place. We worked on developing gaits, conditioning and voice cues before I ever leaned over my horses' backs for the first time.

But that's not all I use ground work for. I've had people ask me to ride their horses for them even though they hadn't ridden in months . Though I knew the horse had been ridden in the past, I used ground work to "meet" the horse and see what he knew and how he was going to respond.

I love ground work for the excited or nervous horse. I am always cognizant of my surroundings and try to maintain a high level of safety for both myself and the horse. So if there is a horse that seems out of sorts, I go right back to ground work to settle him while allowing him to move 

And finally, I have used ground work to develop myself as a rider. You can do so many things on your own two feet that replicate what you need to do on horseback, but you still have balance standing on the ground. In particular. I've explored and developed my hands and quality and feel of contact while working with the horse on the ground. 

Ground work is not only for beginner horses or riders. In fact, many of the "masters" use increasingly intricate ground work exercises to develop their horses mentally and physically throughout their education. Learning the higher level movements takes time and experience and the guidance of a good instructor. Just as with anything else, becoming effective at ground work takes dedication and repetition.

What have you used ground work for? How does it complement your riding life? Comment below.

Want to advertise your business on Horse Listening? Click here for more info.

horse logos 1

Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

New! Horse Listening – Book 2: Forward and Round to Training Success

Available as an eBook or paperback

3d Book 2


More Words of the Week:

Horses for Courses




  1. I’ve used ground work since my earliest days with horse for all of the reasons you’ve stated above & still do ! Ther is nothing better to really make a connection with the horse & develope confidence as you really see the horse in front of you that day !

  2. I love your newsletter!!! I’m especially interested in groundwork for my horse, an off track Thoroughbred. She was recently diagnosed with severe Kissing Spine and is not in any pain unless weight is put on her back. Since she can no longer be ridden, I’m looking for groundwork exercises that I can do with her to keep her in shape, and keep us bonded. I currently hand walk her for about a half hour per day (over cavaletti’s, etc.) and work her in the round pen, although when she canters to the left, she tends to cut across the pen. She has no problem trotting or cantering when she’s in the pasture. She’s 14 years old. Any suggestions that you or your readers may have will be greatly appreciated!
    Sharon O’Brien

  3. I love ground work. Such a good way to connect with your horse and watch the movement in each gait. Some people say it is boring but I could do it for hours. Those people just are not doing it correctly

  4. I’m glad to read that you feel groundwork is important in training the horse. I enjoy doing occasional groundwork with my horse. Sometimes we make it a game and it ends with giving him praise and hugs.

  5. Jonathan Field has an excellent new book on Liberty work as well an an amazing series of videos on groundwork & riding. The one about purpose makes it fun for both horse & human.

  6. I love doing groundwork! I find it fun. I like to teach my horses new tricks and voice commands. It also helps create an stronger bond between me and my horses.

  7. I always do groundwork before I get on my horse to gauge her mood and to work out any issues she may have in a safer environment than riding. Once the groundwork is done then the riding can begin but for me it is all a part of my interaction with my horse.

  8. I use groundwork again and again to reconnect and develop bond with my horse. I also look at it as playtime and time to just “be” with them and have had many magical moments and aha moments come of it. It really should continue throughout the horses training and throughout our learning. Thank you for the reminder.

  9. Sharon! I’m new here but I just had to encourage you to explore groundwork. The sky’s the limit. You could even check out classical dressage and the Spanish Riding School. I don’t know if your OTTB can do airs above the ground, spanish walk or even piaf or passage but you could put together quite a show doing ground work with long lines. I am just thinking about returning to working with my horses (breeder, Arabians and Morgans – dressage background) after an injury and am focusing on groundwork as we move towards saddle work again.