It All Starts With Good Ground Work!

"If you cant control a horse on the ground, You shouldn't be on his back"
-Mary Ellen Reese ( Ground work trainer)

My Story:

I've had my horse Phury for two years now, and honestly I wasn't too concerned with his ground work... (I know terrible!) No need to freak! He's had groundwork training by his previous owner and overall he is pretty docile horse, he was a former Cross-Country horse and I was jumping him so he was great under saddle!  with that said, on the ground ...he had always been pushy, never stood still (because he didn't tie) but not pushy in an aggressive way so I never gave it second though. Recently though, he had some time off and wasn't being consistently ridden (due to my own personal issues) and became dependent on the heard, taking on the role of "alpha". By the time I was ready to make him the number one man in my life again... I had lost my place in the pecking order and his ground manners were atrocious! ::sigh:: I can hear it before you even say it!  Yes I know, I was my fault and all I could do is start from the beginning! Which means, back to square one! I would have to gain his trust and respect again while re-training him in ground manners. Because as my current ground work trainer says.. "If you can't control your horse on the ground, you shouldn't be on his back" and she was right!

The Search For The Jedi "Parelli" Master

If you ask anyone in the horse world which groundwork methods work best... there will be no other but the Parelli training. Pat Parelli has created a program meant to raise the level of horsemanship practices for the benefit of not just horses, but the riders as well. Phury needed a refresher course! Now, there are a few ways to obtain his training, you can go online and buy his program or you can even find some videos on You-Tube. But I wanted a hands on trainer to work with me because we all know the best way to learn is by doing! and it just so happens as I was walking my horse through the barn one day looking for someone to hold Phury to help me with a hoof issue I was having... a"Parelli Jedi Master" Mary Ellen Reese appeared. I had asked her to hold Phury's lead while I dealt with his hoof. In his defense he was a little ornery due to his sore hoof and was a little turn't up! and he attempted to "walk over" Mary Ellen! She promptly Yo-yo'd him back saying "Oh no you don't big guy" ( I did mention Phury's 17h didn't I?) She then looked at me and said "You ride him?" This guy needs ground work! badly!" and as I jumped to his defense with my many excuses (as we do for our badly behaved!) I just stopped myself accepted the truth and said ..."Yes, Yes he does" to which she said "I can help you with that, I am a ground work trainer and I teach Parelli." -queue angel halo and a sound of "ahhhhhh"
Problem solved.

Importance of Parelli Groundwork Training

Parelli training is widely renowned as the best way to instill confidence and good habits with your horse. Groundwork training not only instills good habits in your young horse, but it also teaches us to communicate with them in their language.  It’s a method used to gain the love, trust, and respect necessary to allow your horse to look to you as its leader, providing you both with the two most important goals: safety and fun.

Seven Games of Parelli

The foundation of the entire program is solely based on seven games – all of which mimic games horses instinctively play with each other.  The first three games, known as “The Principles,” focus on instilling trust and acceptance with your horse.  The last four games are known as the “Purpose Games.”  These exercises are aimed to improve the communication between you and your horse.

1.  The Friendly Game.  This game is all about confidence in your horse, its environment, and in you.  This includes building trust though physical contact.

2. The Porcupine game.  This Porcupine Game is named as such because it teaches the horse to move away from a point of pressure, or a "feel." It's essential to be progressive with this game, which means getting your horse to give you more while requiring less stimulation from you.

3. The Driving Game.  This is a game based on rhythmic pressure, or the “suggestion” of pressure.  By using a carrot stick and tapping your horse, you’re essentially tuning your horse to respond to timing. 

4. The Yo-Yo Game.  This first principle game teaches balance and backward and forward movements, all while developing an overall straightness in your horse’s walk.

5. The Circling Game.  This imperative phase teaches your horse to take responsibility to not change gaits or directions until you ask.

6. The Sideways Game.  The Sideways Game includes moving the fore and the hind to the side either by pressure (Porcupine) or the suggestion of pressure (Driving).

7.  The Squeeze Game.  Finally, The Squeeze Game is meant help horses overcome their claustrophobic tendencies, develop confidence for trailer loading, jumping, crossing streams, and passing through gates, stalls, and wash bays.

What are your thoughts on Parelli Groundwork Training?  Is the gold standard, or an overrated method?  Let us know in the comments below.


Kwase Hjulstrom