Ground Work to Riding
From Ground Work to Riding in Natural Self-Carriage, Balance, and Collection
Caroline’s Tao of Horsemanship Educational Training DVD Series teaches her amazing relationship with horses and her effortless riding skills. Her teaching method prepares both horse and rider for a foundation built upon the strength of the bond, depth of the connection, and ease of communication.
Caroline begins training at liberty, creating the space for both horse and handler to share in bonding rituals and practices. These practices are the building blocks that lay the foundation for true unity – relationship, acceptance of your partnership, and trust in your leadership. Acquiring this level of relationship creates the mindset necessary for easier training and best results.
Once your horse offers their mind, body, and heart at liberty, and at will, Caroline shows you how to take the relationship to the next level – through online ground work practices such as leading, sending, partner walking, and lunging. This is where you will refine your skills through specific ground work practices including her intuitive and contemporary lunging method. These exercises not only further develop the mind and heart connection between you and your horse, they develop your horse’s balance, cadence, and, most importantly, your horse’s hind-end strength and elasticity. When done properly, this ensures a lifetime of longevity and soundness in your horse, allowing them to perform well into their teens, even early twenties.
Next comes the riding! What we’ve all been waiting for. Your horse is prepared for engaging with you mentally and physically while riding. Caroline’s riding program allows the rider to maintain the level of connection and communication created through her ground work. This level enables the rider to ride as one, using their mind and body as aids, further connecting and communicating their requests.
In More Detail...
Caroline believes in working at liberty first where we earn the level of trust and respect necessary to have connection – focus and attention – because the horse loves and respects you. In addition to trust and respect, we are developing and nurturing deep levels of rapport, emotional and physical collection, self-carriage, and balance. Liberty is our foundation and where the horse and human develop the relationship and respect necessary for consensual partnership – the glue that binds the work. This path ensures more ease, joy in the work, connection, communication, and trust; and, it is the beginning to developing the foundation to Riding as One®.
Caroline’s method develops any horse’s natural confirmation into a well-balanced, naturally collected horse – without force or pain – and does not include the use of bits, tie downs, martingales, saddles, or spurs. In the end it’s not the equipment that develops your horse, its sensitivity, love, and education that guides your horse’s desire to please you, join you, and work with you.
Our work with horses and people involves love, patience, relationship, and education in equine intelligence, equine nature, anatomy, and the biomechanics of movement. Biomechanics is the study of the body in movement – all of its functioning parts and the whole. It is most important to riding because we have two unique, yet similar biomechanical systems: that of the horse and that of the rider. Each with their own way of functioning. Our goal is to bring the two bodies of movement together, as one, in synchrony and harmony.
While Caroline’s liberty work develops the foundation of balance, self-carriage, and collection, her lunging method refines the movement – developing much elasticity through the lengthening, stretching, and strength of the muscles. Through the liberty and lunging methods, collected movements are achieved. There is nothing like riding a collected canter – when your horse scoops you up into movement and the movement is together, connected, and fluid. The liberty and lunging methods not only develop the horse’s balance, collection, cadence, and fluid movement; but, together they develop the rider’s feel, timing, fluidity, and seat. This is achieved through the education and embodiment of mind-body energy which includes the development and use of our Chakra System.
The Chakra System provides us with an internal power house of energies which are linked to certain parts of our bodies. The areas of our body that develop and control fluid movement involve our first and second Chakras, our Root and Water Chakras. The Root Chakra is located at the base of our spine, where we sit, and the Water Chakra is located in our pelvis region or abdomen/core area. For more information about this please visit Caroline’s Lessons page and her educational DVD: Discovering the Spirituality of Horsemanship.
Biomechanics of Riding
Just when you think Caroline’s focus is all about the horse, you realize her focus is equally given to her students. Caroline not only understands the biomechanics of equine movement and symmetry, she understands the biomechanics of the human anatomy. Her emphasis on emotional, mental, and physical balance within the horse also applies to the human. While Caroline focuses on developing balance within the horse, she understands that it is even more important to develop the levels of emotional, mental, and physical agility within the person. We have so much influence over our horses. They not only want to belong to us, work with us, they feel everything we do – emotionally, mentally, and physically. This means we have a huge responsibility to our horses. Our feelings, thoughts, and actions speak volumes to these amazingly sensory-aware beings. We owe it to them to ride mindfully, sensory aware, consciously, and with compassion – our hearts (fourthChakra).
Caroline’s ground work foundation is based on developing authentic power within –intentionally, emotionally, and energetically. This honesty, paired with being clear, congruent, and consistent (showing up the same), is what builds trust and respect and gives us leadership. Once we congruently embody our intention (focus and purpose), we are ready to ride fluidly and in harmony with our horses. Fluidity is about flow and being in harmony with movement. Understanding how to use our internal powerhouse of energies is where we begin engaging our bodies and in a way that speaks horse – the language of non-verbal communication – the language of equus.
Light Hands, Bit-less and Bridle-less Riding, and Safety
Light Hands and Contact
What does “light hands” mean? It can mean many things to many horsemen; and, for us here at Tao of Horsemanship, it means developing a horse’s self-carriage and balance first. When a horse is balanced they will have carriage, thus collection, allowing their movement to be fluid, effortless, relaxed, and rhythmic. Once these areas are achieved, we ride. The rider then begins working with the horse’s balance and movement and adding to it points of contact. Contact isn’t just about the reins and hands, it has everything to do with the rider’s balance, seat, weight and influence, feel and timing.
Once we’ve mastered connection and communication with the rider’s seat, we add the reins and hands. These aids will be the second point of contact and are used to further communicate, as well as adjust our horse’s balance during movement. And, when needed, these aids are added as a reinforcement to our request. Meaning, if my horse does not listen to the subtlety of my seat and my body’s rhythm, I will use my hands and reins to help reinforce and tune the horse in. In the end, my hands and reins are not used to teach, only correct lightly and reinforce. This, of course, is what leads to bridle-less riding.
What does the term “on the bit” mean? The term ‘on the bit’ is too often used to denote a certain frame or level of head carriage and collection of the horse. However, this is not accurate. A horse is naturally (key word here) on the bit when their body can hold the frame, not when the bit, reins, and hands hold the frame. A horse’s self, or head, carriage is correct and natural when it shows the following frame at the free lunge, the lunge, and when ridden:
Has relaxation in its topline
Natural frame – neck is about equal to wither height and the neck stretched and relaxed, no matter if the neck is high or low
Breaks at the poll without shortening the neck – still reaches for “contact”
Hind legs reaching far underneath and either tracking or over-reaching
Bits and Bit-less Riding
When you have a bit in your horse’s mouth, does it still collect? And, if they do, what do you call it? Well – since ‘on the bit’ means acceptance, collection, and responsiveness to the bit, maybe ‘on the bridle’ can refer to those same qualities when a horse wears a bit-less bridle.
In the end, we are all desiring acceptance, softness, responsiveness, and collection in our horse; and, it’s for the purpose of easily carrying a human during intense periods of collected exercises such as dressage, show hack classes, jumping, reining, and many other competitive events of short duration.
Up until recently, the bit has been the norm for the rider.
But now the bit-less bridle option is available. Many of us have discovered that our horses can respond just as well, if not much better, without a bit.
Horses are taught to accept and yield to all kinds of pressure (preferably light, rhythmic pressure) to achieve specific maneuvers. When we use bits, the piece of metal makes contact with one of the most sensitive parts of the horse – the bars of the mouth. The bars have about as much skin and flesh covering them as we have on our shin bones.
Think about this: Can you imagine walking or jogging along with a bit suspended in front of your shins that is controlled by another person? What would it feel like when that person puts pressure on it? Would you hope that the reins were made of elastic so that the pressure was never great enough to cause pain? And, could you put up with the discomfort of metal bumping on your skin for very long? Try it sometime!
Ask yourself this: “If I was a horse, would I want a hard, cold piece of metal in my mouth? Better yet, across my shins?” And, why do we use nosebands? Because it is a desirable look, keeping the horse’s mouth closed so it doesn’t show discomfort, anxiety, or displaced behavior (unwanted behavior caused by coping mechanisms).
So, if you were a horse, what would you prefer, a lump of metal in your mouth, a rope across your nose, or nothing?
Some people argue that you can’t control a horse without a bit. And, I’m here to tell you that I’ve ridden more horses in bits that have lost their minds and I lost all control. When a horse loses its mind, they are on high adrenaline. Think about this: Adrenaline makes you do things, with amazing strength, that you normally would not, could not do. Not to mention the fact that a horse is predisposed to live in their self-preservation modes, which include flight and adrenaline.
Not once, during one of those high-adrenaline, bolting rides, was I able to control, let alone stop my horse. But, let me tell you what did stop my bolting horse. Me remembering to breathe and sit down hard in my saddle. My black horse, Smokey, was triggered one day, back in 2008, and he lost his mind and took off, straight into the trees. It was so fast I didn’t have much time and all I could do was reach up and grab his bridle – that’s after I pulled him around so hard that the snaffle bit pulled through his mouth. He was still running though and sideways. It was then, in a split second, that I had an “ah-ha” moment and remembered the energy work that we did together, that also worked amazingly for PTSD and trauma cases like Smokey. I sat down hard and solid in my saddle, let go of the reins and exhaled deeply. He came to an emergency stop, so hard I was almost thrown off. I quickly dismounted and stayed still until I stopped shaking. That experience taught me to believe in the power of my work, lots of preparation, and proper training!
How to Gain Control and Safety
You need to understand a few facts about using the bit to “control” a horse, or even a bit-less bridle, tie down, or martingale. When a horse is scared and on adrenaline – which makes them run (flight) – adding pressure with the bit (even the bit-less bridle) makes the horse more resistant and uncontrollable. When a horse is in flight, they’ve already made the commitment to run, get out of there, and you are the last thing on their mind at this point. Adding pressure with a bit (and bit-less bridle) makes them more stressed because all they want to do is get out of that situation. When a horse is in self-preservation mode their neurons tell them to push against the pressure. That’s what they are hardwired to do – push into anything that threatens them. Not to mention that the pain of the bit adds stress to the situation. How can you expect them to think when they are in pain?
Now, I’m talking about severe, extreme situations; and, in these situations, nothing is going to control your horse except your relationship, the degree of your feel and timing, and the level of your training. What I teach my students is to develop the level of feel and timing that gives them the insight to ‘catch their horse’s thought before their action,” not to mention the power of the relationship. A horse will do everything in their power to protect you when you have earned that level of acceptance.
True horsemen and horsewomen recognize that control is not achieved by pulling harder on two reins– only pressure from one rein (and your leg) can cause a disengaging of the hindquarters which then controls the horse’s movement. It is so important to teach your horse how to yield to rein and leg pressure on the ground FIRST – before you ride. Ground work is so important to building the foundation of relationship, trust, respect, leadership, and partnership. Teach your horse to respond, and with relaxation, to the pressure of your halter and lead first.
In the end, it’s just a matter of spending the time teaching your horse in small increments so that they can trust that your pressure will be released, it will be gentle, and it will be rhythmic – so they don’t feel the need to lean against it. The feel and timing of your teachings, your aids, should also go hand-in-hand with your heart and your desire to connect and become one in mind, body, and soul.