Ground Work & Handling

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The disappointing news of fitness is that we cannot keep repeating the same thing to get results. After a while, we need to modify exercises in order to keep gaining conditioning adaptations from them. Otherwise, the body becomes so efficient and habituated at performing movements that it recruits fewer muscle fibres to do them and operates with less involvement from the nervous system. Movements become robotic, a state in which no conditioning gains occur.

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In this debut episode, Jec Ballou interviews Jim Masterson, founder of the Masterson Method. Learn more about how body work can invigorate your horse's performance and well-being. Also in this episode, an Exercise of the Week.

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One pole? There is still plenty to do - Simple exercises can sometimes be the most effective because riders are apt to practice them more consistently. And when it comes to movement and fitness, consistency matters above all. I often use the following single pole exercises in clinics because they offer an easy way to derive the postural benefits of pole work without the logistics and effort involved in setting up more complex routines. When you are short on time or dealing with poor weather, these exercises offer a convenient way of ensuring you do not miss the calisthenics your horse needs.

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If you spend enough time around horses, before long you’re likely to encounter an injury. Some folks joke that they could bubble-wrap their horses and put them into a round room, and they’d still figure out a way to hurt themselves. Like humans, there are some horses that cruise through life without a single incident, while others just seem prone to elevate our stress level, and diminish our cash level, with frequent new and interesting injuries.

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Perhaps because it doesn’t affect one’s mark on the judge’s score card or change a barrel run time, many riders don’t put a lot of thought into teaching their horse to stand still at the mounting block – that is, until it starts to become a bigger problem. Before you find yourself doing a “Butch Cassidy mount-on-the-fly,” spend some time setting boundaries with your horse.

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Groundwork can serve a range of purposes, from behaviour modification to physical conditioning, but over the long term its greatest contribution is its alteration of neuromuscular patterns. When a horse needs to adopt a new pattern of muscular activation, coordination, or balance, groundwork is often the quickest way to accomplish it. Using focused and brief groundwork sessions daily, many horses’ postural challenges can be rewired with far less tension and confusion than under saddle.

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Stability Before Strength - Balanced muscular development cannot happen without first achieving a body that can stay stable throughout movement. In other words, a horse that is wiggling around trying to find balance, or one that has found balance by adopting a crooked posture, cannot develop strength in the ways that lead to better performance. Before a horse can add power to his locomotive muscles, he needs to find joint and limb stability while moving in his basic gaits.

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