2015-12-15: Hi! You're probably here because you did a Google search for 'plus sized horseback riders' or you saw my content quoted elsewhere. There are a couple of things I'd like you to know.

I am still here! But I am living away from my horses and not riding often. I could tell you a lie and say that I am, but I have always endeavored to give you the truth here. As a result, I'm not feeling terribly motivated to write blog posts and I feel out of touch with the community.

I'd love for you to stay a while and look back through the archives. Visit the links listed below. We still have an active forum community and I post on the Facebook page from time to time.

I have tentative plans to try to get more involved in the horse world in 2016, and I will absolutely share whatever that adventure becomes with you, so keep checking back!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Building Confidence: Groundwork is GREAT.

I think one of the biggest concerns for plus sized riders, right after 'being too heavy to ride' is getting hurt - particularly if you are a middle aged or older and have realized that you don't bounce so much anymore as splat.

Some of the health complications with being plus sized (and I am not even talking morbidly obese here) really bring to the forefront the worries. For example, though I don't worry much about myself (except that I hate falling and used to bail off of a horse the minute that it started to get a little naughty, which Bronwyn has "unlearned" in me), I worry about my father. He has an old back injury and I worry that his centre of balance will be different and less effective than it used to be. It seems like recovery from injuries are longer for plus sized people.

Though there is no surefire way to avoid getting dumped or hurt on horseback, I am a big fan of groundwork as a good way to work on avoiding it in many cases.

A lot of people think of groundwork as merely a stepping stone in the process to preparing a horse for riding, and only in that context, I have found ground work to be an excellent tool for many other things.

- > Of course, a horse can never NOT benefit from longeing or ground driving as reminders about their cues in the saddle. With my own horses, I am always 100% sure that they know what the verbal cues mean from the ground so they can translate to the saddle. This means a cluck the clues for upward transitions, downward transitions, and complete halts. I like knowing that these are really deeply instilled in a horse before I ride (especially the "whoa!" so that if, for some reason, I am incapacitated or something happens that I no longer have control (ie drop a set of split reins or something), I can still get a response even if the horse does not have seat signals down pat.

This was useful earlier this winter when I dropped one side of my english reins riding Bronwyn bareback in the snow, in the dark. She got a little scared and no doubt would have continued - if I had done a one rein stop and pulled her around, I probably would have fallen off myself, so I gave her the "Whoa" command, and voila... nice, square, FULL stop.

- > Spook proofing! You are at a much safer advantage, if you are an aware horseman, from the ground when introducing your horse to things that may scare them on the trail or in you day to day rides and adventures. The more things you introduce a horse to, fortunately, the less scared they are of the next new thing, and eventually, you have a three year old that bravely and confidently walks out of a barn, into a county fair with huge rides going, music and loudspeakers blaring, hot air balloons firing close overhead and children running underfoot.

One of my favourite things to do is go to the local dollar store and buy as many "scary" things as I can find. Hula hoops, tarps, noisemakers, cap guns, and ribbon-shooting pop guns are some of my favourites. I am known to love bringing home new "toys" to expose my horses to. I also saw, once upon a time, a fantastic set of CDs with parade noises and the various noises a horse would encounter in various situations. If anyone has a link to that or Google skills that are marginally better than mine, I'd love to see a link to them in the comments! I thought they were great and think it would be awesome to invest in some of them this winter!

- > Ground work, especially prior to a saddle session, can give me a really good idea of where the horse's head is at, mentally. Should I be looking out for spooks on this ride? Would we be better off in the arena or confined riding area today, or is a trail ride an option? I guess I am most interested in all of this because I have been routinely dealing with green horses for the last ten years. In fact, I haven't owned a "broke" horse in that long! If I can work on things that, at least for the time being, are going to be acceptable to the horse's mental capacity that particular day, I stand less of a chance of getting dumped, and that, my friends - is a very good thing.

- > Frequent ground work really helps you know whether your horse is off. When you use it as a tool often enough, you really get to know your horse. There is a constant debate about green rider plus green horse equals black and blue, and I generally agree with that point. With that said, I think there is a great deal of benefit to a horse and rider relationship if the rider doesn't immediately get on and spend all their time riding but instead spends a lot of time on the ground, watching their horse and learning what their normal way of going and behaviour is. You become so in tune, at that point, that you know whether your horse really needs to be longed or if he can handle just a quick turn or two around on the longeline, or if they are off or minimally unsound.

Add to all of this that you can teach your horse things from the ground that will truly benefit you as a plus sized rider - for example, to sidle up to a fence or large mounting block and stand still... patience and appropriate behaviour in situations that might be found to be scary (ie getting tangled up in a rope or things blowing against the horse's legs).

I have found that ground work and play (since I don't just do things related to saddle work, I also clicker and trick train/play with Bronwyn) truly cement the bond you have with your horse and how well you are able to read them and gauge 'normal' or irregular behaviours in them and how quickly you can assess a situation that might get you injured.

There are absolutely no cons to spending time on the ground with your horse and I truly believe that is the making of a true horseman, and not just a horseback rider. I think more people should become interested and well versed in reading horses and their behaviours and mindsets before mounting up - a ton of accidents could be avoided this way.

Winter is a great time to get this done if you don't have a place to ride indoors or aren't able to balance the equation of dressing warmly but still being able to ride.


Right now, we are getting a crazy amount of wind and snow. I sure wish this would all go away so I could get some riding done - I am definitely envious of you out there with indoor riding rings and heated barns. Take advantage of them with me in mind! :)



    I think too many people want to get to the "fun" part, riding, and rush good ground work and bonding. I have lots of fun teaching tricks, (isn't it all tricks really?) and getting them used to funny stuff?

    I bought a dog toy, a round yellow life saver type toy to use with Kinsey. OMGosh was she afraid of it. LOL. So glad I am taking a step back and getting her used to these odd things.

    I admit, I also like to look around the dollar store too. :)

  2. I love this post and totally agree with it.

    In college I rode school horses all the time...these horses were used in team practice and lessons at least 4 times a week...I never had a great bond with any of those horses.

    I got my 4-year-old back in May and rode/longed him several times a week until we turned the clocks back...I was at a loss for about a month. I realized there are a lot of things I can do from the ground to help my horse and our relationship...especially since he is 4! I mean most 4-year-olds can benefit from ANYTHING you do with them. Right now we are working on squaring up and ground tying...

    I've probably learned more about him from ground work then from riding.

    I've noticed he is getting a lot more patient since I've really been doing the ground work.

  3. Also, I've been wanting to get into ground driving...could you offer any tips, equipment I need, etc...?

  4. I am by no means an expert on ground driving and we just do a little bit of it to start our kids off before we ride...

    I have used a surcingle for ground driving and also used loops off the sides of my saddles (in the picture of Bronwyn standing with the saddle on, you can see where I position the baler twine loops), and a regular bridle with a snaffle as well as a set of reins - I usually make my driving reins out of soft rope or yacht rope. You just have to remember that the pressure you exert from that far behind takes far longer to release than when you are sitting on their backs and have a direct line to the mouth.

    I always start with making sure the horse understands lateral flexion from the bit, and knows "whoa" firmly. I usually also always start with a walker at the horse's head, just to be there to guide them so they don't get in a mess. I am not particularly adept at handling the lines and keeping the horse straight so it helps me remember how to do it as I don't do it so frequently. I will try and find some pictures of ground driving my filly. We actually did very little ground driving with Bronwyn because I did not feel qualified to get behind her and she is deathly afraid of my father (who ended up being the one behind her as a result). She got the point we were trying to get across and I did a lot of work with the bit and lateral flexion from the ground - I should try and dig up some pictures to show you as I have tons of pictures of me just standing there, asking for her head, asking her to give to the bit, backing her up, etc, from the ground.

    I agree with you, Beth - it's a lot of fun. Some people get antsy because you're showing them things that they probably won't see (when would Bronwyn EVER have a hula hoop thrown in the air over her and land and bounce off of her rump?), but even if they don't see the specific things that you're showing them again, the more new things you show to them, the less likely they are to be afraid when something else new and scary comes along.

  5. Since my big fall in 2008 (I would have hoped that being a little chubby would make me bounce - nope!) I have been religious about groundwork before riding Susie, who is my coming 5 year old STB/Perch mutt. While recovering from my injury and before she went to training, I would do some lunge work as a way to get out and spend time with my horse without putting my back at further risk.

    Since then, and I should note Susie does not get consistently worked, I've always lunged before a ride. When she was in training, the trainer had me do it, and I kind of just kept up with it because I realized it was a great tool for assessing her mood.

    As a young mare, she's definitely full of surprises, and lunging her lets me see what her brain is like on a particular day, before getting on. See what's spooky today, or what kind of new mischievious trick she's come up with. It also lets her get her sillies out before I mount.

    After she came home from training, I got cocky once (which, unsurprisingly, is how I got hurt in the first place) and mounted without first lunging. I ate dirt.

    The next and most recent time I didn't lunge first was at our second show ever, it was a schooling show and I didn't feel like there was time or room to lunge. I sensed she was in great cheer and ran with it. She never gave me trouble except for she had to pee through all eight classes and I only realized it afterward. If it wasn't for that I think we would have seriously cleaned up, hah. My new trainer was also surprised when she learned I hadn't lunged.

    So I think we're progressing, but lunging and groundwork in general will probably be a part of my routine for a while. I'm still working on my confidence, but I know I'm definitely moving forward!

    I hope that made sense or wasn't too horribly rambly. My god I type a lot when I'm telling a story.

  6. I love ground work! I totally agree that you can never have too much ground work.

    I have two youngish Arabain geldings that weill be learning the value of ground work this season. My youngest (2) will just be getting the basics without a ton of work. He still has a ton of maturing to do, both mentally and physically.

    But my 4 yr old will be getting the works, slowly but he will be exposed to anything and everything. I have set a goal for he and I to make it to the Scottsdale Arabian show this time next year. The only way to do that is to start with a great foundation from the ground.

  7. Funny thing is - I enjoy the ground work almost more than the riding.