Having a well-rounded, mannerly, educated horse doesn’t happen over night; it has to start somewhere. Trainer Nicole Cammuso discusses the seven essential skills that are necessary to put your horse on the right track.
I am a firm believer that all horses should possess a certain skillset that makes them “good citizens.” Not only is a well-educated horse more pleasant to be around, but also in the event of an emergency, having a solid education can help save your horse’s life. And, if your horse changes hands down the road, a horse that has an education has a much brighter future than a horse that is lacking.
I have spent years training horses professionally and have gotten to work with an eclectic variety of equines. Although I adapt my program to each individual horse to work with their different personalities, I still maintain my same principles and expect every horse to be proficient in these seven skills, whether it is my personal horse or a training horse:
1. Stand Tied, Quietly. This one is number one for a reason. I feel it might be the most important one. All horses should be able to tie, be left alone and be quiet. Doing so builds patience, not to mention we need our horses to be tied for so many reasons.
2. Yield Body to Pressure. This skill can be built upon so you are able to move all parts of the body with a lightest touch. Work on isolating shoulders, hips and ribcage. This is great at building respect and helps with under saddle communication — not to mention moving the horse out of the way or off of your foot!
3. Lead in a Mannerly Fashion. Horses should lead quietly next to you or slightly behind, and be light on the other end of the line. They should stop when you stop and back when you back. They should not root their noses or pull you.
4. Desensitize to Touch. All horses need to be touched all over and be okay with it. They need to be okay with being groomed and bathed and having their legs and feet messed with. Even be okay with having their legs wrapped. There may be a day when they need to be bandaged for medical reasons, and you won’t want to be fighting with them to put a quilt on while they are bleeding everywhere. Also, your vet and farrier will thank you.
5. Desensitize to Sights and Sounds. You never know what will happen and when, so the more you can show them, and they learn to be okay with, the better. It might even save you from having a scared horse out on the trail.
6. Drive Forward on the Ground. You should be able to get them going forward from on the ground. This is important not just so your horse can lunge, but so you can direct its feet to where you need it to go without always having to lead or touch him. This can also help troubleshoot other issues.
7. Load Onto A Trailer. To get this down pat, your horse will probably need to be proficient in the first six skills. When a horse does not want to get on a trailer (or any obstacle for that matter), being able to direct its feet, move its body easily and send it forward become the keys to success. Your horse should be able to hop right on/off without too much hesitation, stand while being tied/untied. If you want to be a little more extra, you can train them to self load!
When I think about the worst horses I have ever worked with, what they all lacked were these basic skills. Most of the time the owner didn’t realize that all the “little things” they had been letting their horse do on the ground were actually creating big problems in the saddle. They would drop off a horse because it was bucking or rearing, but the horse also wouldn’t back up on the ground, wouldn’t yield its body to pressure on the ground, wouldn’t stand tied quietly, walked in front of them when being led, etc.
This is where the problem started — on the ground. So this is how I fixed the problems — by starting at the ground and working my way up. Makes sense, right? If a horse doesn’t respect you or have patience on the ground, why would it respect you or have patience when you are on its back?
Whether you have a weanling just learning the ways of the world, a been there, done that who may need a polishing or a horse who needs a deep dive into manners 101, all of these basic skills can be improved and built upon. They are the foundations to so much more than just good ground manners. So next time you are hanging out with your favorite equine partner, instead of tacking him up right away to go riding, put him through the paces of these seven skills to see if there is anything can improve upon right now. It could save you a headache tomorrow.
You never know — maybe the next time you are at a show, you can actually leave your horse tied to the trailer all day instead of hand walking it around in fear it will bust loose. Or feel confident that this time you won’t be stuck at the show grounds until 9 pm because your horse refuses to load. Also, never be afraid to seek guidance from other horsemen or trainers! Especially if a horse is having a bigger issue with something or you find yourself stuck.
“Asking for help does not mean that we are weak or incompetent. It usually indicates an advanced level of honesty and intelligence” – Anne Wilson Schaef
Note: There can always be more to why a horse is having a behavioral issue. Therefore, it is advisable to have medical or equipment issues ruled out in addition to brushing up on ground work.
Nicole Cammuso has been training horses professionally for years, tackling everything from starting horses under saddle to horses with major problems. She is a graduate of the Ohio State University where she earned degrees in both Horse Science and Animal Science. Combining her schooling with years of working in the veterinary field, she is able to utilize her knowledge in horse health to run her boarding and training business in Plum, PA: NC Equine, LLC. She has found a passion in retraining horses, especially OTTBs, and watching them go on to do amazing things in their new homes.