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Q&A: Ground Tying

advanced groundwork horse training tips Oct 12, 2023
Reata Horsemanship clinic participant

Q: "How do I start working towards teaching my horse to ground tie?"


A: Ground tying is a wonderful skill I believe every horse should have.  It is an indication that your horse is listening to you and is mentally connected to you.  The concept of teaching to ground tie is simple, but finding the commitment to consistently work on it until your horse is very good at it can be challenging.


First of all, I will explain what ground tying means.  A horse that ground ties is one that will, during working hours, stand wherever I leave them and not move until they are asked to, either by driving, leading, or riding them away from that spot.  Whether they have reins, a lead rope, or are at liberty, horses can be asked to ground tie.  Horses that will ground tie do not believe they are literally tied to the ground, as some might believe with a lead rope lying on the ground and attached to her halter.  They ground tie because I’ve convinced them that standing still and relaxing are easy and desirable, and moving off that point is difficult, because when they do, they have to go to work.  


I will start the process of ground tying in a round pen.  When round penning, I like to ask my horse to follow me to the center of the round pen for longer rest periods.  Once I halter her, I will then allow her to rest in the middle of the round pen while I “desensitize to rest”, teaching her that standing still while being desensitized is the best thing to do because it’s the easiest thing to do.  Once I enter the arena, usually days after starting in the round pen, I will continue the process of performing numerous sensitizing exercises and then desensitize to rest in the middle of the arena.  Most importantly, I will allow her to make the mistake of walking away from the spot I left her.  


Horses that have high anxiety, are buddy or barn sour, and also very young horses (2-4 year olds) usually struggle more with ground tying because they are less motivated by rest.  This means that after being asked to do numerous sensitizing exercises, such as lunging, lead beside, backing, etc., usually they are a bit winded, and might even be sweaty, and I will desensitize them while standing and resting.  I will then leave their location and go to one end of the arena or even outside the arena.  These horses will continue to walk off in the direction and to the location they want to be, despite being tired, more often than horses motivated by rest.  


Horses that are motivated by rest, ones that love to have the chance to rest, will learn to ground tie very quickly, while the young and anxious horses couldn't care less how tired they are - they still want to walk off to the location they’d rather be.  Most horses will walk off because they are magnetized to an area, be that a gate for example, or an area close to or in the direction of their buddies.  Once my horse makes the mistake of walking to that area, I will go pick up the lead rope and start performing other sensitizing exercises in the area they want to be, lunging with hindquarter and forequarter yields being my favorite, and then allow her to rest where I want her to stand ground tied.   


Remember that every time your horse walks off, she gives you the opportunity to improve her sensitizing exercises, so try not to feel or show frustration when she does.  After a few minutes of moving, when she is craving some rest and oxygen, I’ll take her back to the spot I want her to rest.  Early on, I’ll desensitize to rest every time.  Over time, I may desensitize less as her need for it decreases.  


Most horses, even those with very high anxiety, can learn to ground tie, to stand where you leave them and stay there until you ask them to do something different.  Even with other horses in the arena, or out on the trail, horses can learn to ground tie, but it starts in the round pen and arena, and most of the learning happens here. 


I can also use this technique while riding. I may ride for a few minutes and then get off where I want my horse to stand ground tied, hook the reins on my saddle or horse as necessary to avoid my horse’s stepping on them if she walks off, and then walk away expecting my horse to stand quietly.  If she walks off, I’ll go to where she walked, get on and ride her, performing different sensitizing exercises such as loping circles and roll backs and helping her get to the point of craving some rest and oxygen.  This also helps me improve all her riding exercises, so I don’t mind when she walks off.  Eventually, my horses stand relaxed at the location I leave them until I ask them to move.  They are considered ground tying experts at that point! 


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Pictured: Reata Horsemanship clinic participant working on ground tying while desensitizing to rest