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Training to Ground Drive with Long Lines


It isn't unusual for people to ask how to teach their horse to "ground drive". Here is a brief description of how I teach mine to become familiar and comfortable with this great training tool.

I first make sure the youngster is very familiar with "lunging" . I train my young horses to lunge by first getting them to walk in a circle at the end of a long cotton lead rope. This teaches them the basics of going out away from me, yet teaches them to be dependent on me for what they are supposed to do, ie., walk or stop. I make it a point when I am doing this to not allow the horse to come in towards me when they stop, but to stay at the end of the lead and I come to them. As they get older, I change to the lunge line and ask them to go farther and farther out on it as they become confident. I will occasionally ask for a trot, and when doing this, I will often walk along with them so they are not constantly on a circle. This is a fairly simplified version and the actual process usually takes a few months for the young horse to become comfortable and confident in my commands and body language.

I like to start the horse ground driving as a two year old only because that has given him/her a lot of time for the basics and they are more in tune with me and are ready to progress. This can be done at any age as long as your basic training with the lunge line are good and solid. I start out by making the horse stand, then attach the end of the lunge line with the snap to one side of the halter an the loose end to the other side of the halter. I then stand at the horse's side and have a direct contact to the halter on one side and the other length of the lunge line is across the horse's neck by the withers. I then quietly start running the line over the horse's back and over the hindquarters while talking quietly and asking the horse to stand. This first session is sort of "sacking" the horse out with the lines so he gets used to them touching and resting on him everywhere. One of the things I spend quite a bit of time on is the hindquarters. Some horses will be nervous or upset by having the lines under their tail or between their legs. I like to make sure the horse is used to this feel before I proceed to the actual lunging and "driving" process so I don't have a horse that wants to "bolt". Most horses have no problems with this part of the training, but if you have one that is particularly sensitive to the lines touching its belly or under its tail, etc., it would be wise to not proceed on to the next steps until you have your horse comfortable with the lines. The described exercise above should be repeated daily until your horse just stands comfortably and relaxed while the lines are flipped around his/her body.

It is important to me that the youngster stand still for all these things because if you are ground driving him and he gets the lines between his legs or caught under his tail, he needs to know to stand so you can untangle him and the lines. On some youngsters this takes weeks, on most it takes one or two times because they are already convinced you know what you are doing and will take care of them.

The next step I take is to start the horse lunging at a walk with both the lines attached on opposite sides of the halter. Then I apply more pressure on the line on the outside line to "pull" his head and body more away from me and while doing this I walk more behind rather than beside the horse. Then as we are moving along, I apply enough pressure to "reverse" the direction we are going and take a step or two directly behind the horse then since we have reversed, I am on the opposite side and we continue to walk. I will do this many more times during this session. Some horses who are a little insecure will have to be encouraged to move forward and I do this by gently slapping the lines across his body and re-inforce the command to walk. I have never had a horse take off on me while doing this, I think mostly because I make sure they know the voice commands and have confidence in what I am doing with them even if they don't understand!

After doing this for a day or so, I start spending more time walking directly behind them and occasionally ask for a trot...I like them to trot slooowww...because I have to run to keep up!! Often the first time you do this, the fact that you are running behind them make startle them a little, but I just talk to them...saying "eaaasssyyy" and I haven't had a problem.

Once the horse becomes broke to the saddle, if it is a Western saddle, you can run your lines through the stirrups and this will help teach the horse to move with a lower head carriage. This really teaches the horse to give with his head when you want to stop or turn also!! So when you start bitting him he already knows a lot of what he is supposed to do. I hope I haven't left anything out, if you have any questions, please feel free to email me on it . I may add your question to the bottom of this article with the answer! This works for me and I hope I gave you a starting point!!

Please remember to always be safe while working with horses! It might be a good idea to wear your helmet while doing this as in some rare instances your horse may decide to rear, and a helmet may help avoid injury. When using the lunge line or long lines with your horse, NEVER wrap any line around your hand or any part of your body! Gloves should be worn to avoid "rope burns". If you don't know how to lunge a horse, it would be best that you work with an equine professional who can teach you how to do this first.


Mary E. Chwalek,

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August 2008
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