If your horse is nervous or distracted, these groundwork exercises will help with getting your horse’s attention back on you. A lot of nervousness can stem from different situations that can’t be helped, such as weather- windy days or even a snap of cold can have your horse feeling his oats.
Sometimes excess energy just needs to be redirected. I practice these groundwork exercises often with my horse because he’s always tended to be a more nervous horse. Some horses are like that. He’s a sensitive horse. It’s not always a bad thing, it makes him great at other things.
Don’t pet or reward your horse until they are in a relaxed state and paying attention to you.
Get Your Horse’s Attention on You
I see horses not even paying attention to their owner. They are looking off, whinnying at another horse, or trying to eat. You name it; they don’t even care what the handler is doing. Make sure your horse is looking at you by moving to the side until you capture their attention. If they ignore you, you may even have to wiggle the rope or cluck. Add each one separately until you get the response and then relax.
Also, it’s important that my horse is paying attention to me even when I’m not working with him. If I’m grooming him, his attention still needs to be on me. You can stop grooming and practice these exercises.
If you are your horse’s leader, then awareness of what you’re doing is vital no matter what’s going on.
Move Your Horse’s feet
When a horse is nervous, his focus is on his surroundings and he’s worried about his safety. You, as his handler, need to redirect that energy and begin moving his feet. Use his flight mode to his advantage here. If he’s really nervous, hustle him a bit by either lunging or doing sending exercises. I prefer using the sending exercise because it involves more change of directions. Circling, they can begin pulling and running.
If these exercises are new to you, practice them before your horse is in a nervous or excited state.
To begin lunging, lift your arm and ask them to move out in that direction. If they don’t know what lifting your arm means, then cluck. If clucking doesn’t work direct energy towards their cheek. You may use the end of your lead rope or a whip to direct pressure. Once they move out, release the pressure.
Some people make the mistake of going towards their rear end to get them to move out on a lunge line, but this is not correct.
To do the sending exercise, send them out the same way you’d lunge, but look at their hind end as they pass you to get them to turn back towards you and change directions.
Lower Your Horse’s Head
If your horse is finally paying attention to you, but is still nervous, then getting them to lower their head is going to help release endorphins that assist in relaxation. To get your horse to lower their head, put some pressure on their poll by pulling slightly on the lead rope underneath their jaw. As soon as you get their head to lower slightly, release the pressure. Continue to do this until you get their head below their withers and they are able to hold it there for 4-5 seconds at least.
You should notice a great deal of relaxation after doing this groundwork exercise.
These groundwork exercises are designed to build connection, leadership, and relaxation. As your horse’s leader, they should be looking to you for cues on what to do next. When you have their attention, they should become more relaxed as well.
Like anything, repetition is your friend when it comes to training a horse to pay attention and be relaxed.
I hope this helps you with your nervous horse. Groundwork is essential to excellent horsemanship, especially on building connection and leadership. Happy Training!