Hints and tips for groundwork training during lock down

June 17, 2020 2:58 pm by
Posted in Jayne Ross, Jo Bates, Kevin & Emma McNab, News

These are strange times for us all and, instead of being out at qualifiers, equestrian competitors find themselves with the challenge of keeping their horses ticking over at home during lock down. We asked 3 experts how all of us can best use this extra time, in particular, focusing on groundwork training.


Emma McNab – International Event Rider and Member of the Australian National Squad

“During this quieter period of lockdown, we have kept things like our normal end of the season training for the horses. They are all still in work, being ridden on the flat, hacking and occasionally jumping but we are doing a little less of this and a little more groundwork to keep them ticking over.

We are lucky to have a treadmill which all of our horses use. Normally we would use this as a warming up exercise, but we have now incorporated it as part of the horse’s schedule once or twice a week. They only walk on it, but we are able to make it incline, so it is a fantastic full body workout and helps joint flexion and breathing.

We sometimes lunge them in a Pessoa, but we don’t like to do lots of lunging because the twisting and turning on a circle when trotting and cantering is not great for their legs. It is, however, nice for them to be worked in a soft outline without the weight of a rider. It’s also a good variation to their everyday schooling. As long as you know how to use it the Pessoa is a nice tool to use as, while still being round, their heads are able to move and they don’t get the sharp tug on the bit that they can get when they have side reins on and are moving their heads around”.


Jo Bates, Multiple HOYS Champion, Producer of Top Show and Dressage Horses

My first piece of advice during lockdown is be extra careful and vigilant and not to take any unnecessary risks.  This is not the time to start experimenting with groundwork or riding when there is no-one around to help you and watching You Tube tutorials is no substitute for an experienced teacher!

It is important when choosing the type of groundwork you are going to do, that you think about what stage of training your horse is at and what training it needs.

When it comes to schooling horses I like to intersperse the groundwork, so I might lunge along with pole work, light schooling, hacking out and loose schooling. We do some lunging but not every day because it isn’t good for horse’s joints and with the larger horses I only lunge for about 15 minutes on a decent length of rein and on a wide circle.

My advice with long reining is that it can be a great training aid if you know what you are doing but can be quite dangerous if you have not done it before. If the horse were to react badly, now is not the time to be calling your vet out or having a trip to the hospital!

When lunging, we may use side reins, a Pessoa or bungee – again whatever suits the horse and its stage of training. A Pessoa can be used in various different ways and I find that it helps the horse to engage from behind and lift up its core. This encourages the horse to use their all their muscles and work in different frames. If a horse doesn’t always go in the same frame it encourages them to use their back in different ways.

When I have been out hacking at the moment, I have noticed that there are a great deal more people out walking and those with dogs don’t always have them on leads or under control. This is another potential hazard as they may spook or even chase your horse, so again be careful and keep safe.


Jayne Ross – Seven times HOYS Supreme Winner and Producer of Top Show Hoses.

“Groundwork should be something you do as well as riding, not instead of. You should not “try this at home” unless you have had a lesson or two first or know what you are doing. You can get yourself in to all sorts of trouble if you are not experienced.

I always think that groundwork is very much back to basics and it is nice to be able to put your horse into a long rein and move around your yard or grounds as it gives them something else to concentrate on and a change of scenery. It’s also a good idea to long rein a horse the first few times you take it out on the roads, but it is best to have someone with you, and a lot of people don’t have that luxury and of course at the moment with lock-down that isn’t going to be possible.

We do lots of groundwork but not too much on the lunge with the bigger hunters because they don’t adapt well on a small circle. If we do lunge them, we do it in the school because you need plenty of room.

We often use a Pessoa because it encourages the horse to engage its hocks and work over the back so that the right muscles are used. I also like using rubber bungees that encourage the horses to work long and low so they can use the muscles along their back, engage their quarters correctly and it teaches them self-balance.

At the moment it isn’t a good time to start doing unusual things if you are on your own because you don’t want to get yourself into a situation where you can’t succeed and you don’t have anyone to help you out. Stick to what you know and things your horse is familiar with and you can’t go wrong”.

As you can see one thing all our experts agreed on was that it is important to be sensible and don’t do things you have never done before if you don’t have anyone on hand to help.

Stay safe!


Originally published in Absolute Horse Magazine