Friday, April 15, 2011

Connected groundwork

 I finally received my copy of Peggy Cummings' new book a week or two ago (they pushed the release date back a couple of weeks), and I've been doing a bit of playing with the exercises in it. The Quarters' reaction to the exercises have been very interesting.

So far I've only done the simplest head and neck exercises at a stand still, without the whole halter set-up for contact (I'm going to try that this weekend). Those exercises are:
  1. Cheek Press
  2. Jaw Delineation
  3. Shoulder Delineation
  4. Caterpillars
Cheek press is done by very lightly placing your hand over the noseband of the halter and very gently pulling the nose toward you while pressing into the jaw with your other hand, looking for a slight head tilt. Coriander immediately tipped his head, which was pretty cool. Gwen... not so much. It took multiple sessions for her to get it.

Next I did the jaw delineations, basically just running my fingertips around their jaw from the ears down. Coriander said "ho hum," but Gwen had a big reaction- she immediately poked her nose out and started licking like crazy. The next day she licked just a little, and the third day the licking was gone. Interesting.

Neither horse has much of a reaction to the shoulder delineations, running your hand down the line of the scapula. I guess this is a good thing, apparently they don't carry tension in their shoulders. I'll be trying this at a walk next to see if they have any reaction to that.

Then I tried the caterpillars, running your hand along the vertebra up the neck. This exercise is supposed to stimulate the horse to "telescope" their neck, which helps them to raise their back and accept contact. The cool thing was that Coriander immediately telescoped, he obviously doesn't have any tension in his head or neck at all- which makes me feel better, I haven't wrecked him with my shoddy riding. Again, Gwen had issues. She immediately braced against it, which is interesting since I was just running my hand up her neck without using any pressure at all. She finally started to telescope a little bit yesterday- after five days of practice.

Their different reactions to these very simple exercises has been quite an eye-opener. For one thing it seems that you don't have to be very good at doing these things to get a good result, and then there's seeing the affects of how they hold their bodies. Coriander is a very easy-going kind of dude and his body reflects that. He's pretty loosey-goosey in his head and neck (though I'll be interested to see how he reacts when I start with the exercises further along his body, he's stiff through his barrel). Gwen, on the other hand, is quite anxious and tends to crane her head up in the air and invert; she's got a ton of tension in her head and neck.

The other aspect that struck me is how quickly I'm seeing results: Every time I worked with Gwen I'd do a few exercises and then take her for a walk. Even when she was blocked during the exercises she was still better to lead after the exercises than she has ever been before. She walked off relaxed with her head long and low and actually stopped with me instead of running ahead a step or two like she normally does.

Plus- I think I've mentioned before that Gwen is incredibly stiff to the right. When I was mounted and tried to give her a treat to the right I had to impale myself on the saddle horn to get my hand forward enough for her to reach it. Yesterday, after doing these exercises with her for a week, she reached her head around to the right and sniffed my boot for the first time ever (on her own, I wasn't pulling her around). She was happy to take treats from the right and I didn't have to impale myself to do it. Impressive!

I found this video below giving a little introduction to Peggy Cummings and Connected Groundwork. In this video you'll see the cheek press and caterpillar exercises that I mentioned earlier. Give them a try yourself, you might find out something surprising about your horse.

My thanks to An Image of Grace for introducing me to Peggy Cummings. I think my horses thank you too :)


  1. Interesting to hear how your horses respond to this. Anything that helps get tension out of their bodies is a good thing, I think.

  2. For exercises that are so easy to do and seem so simple- it's amazing what results you see. Plus tension hides in many places you wouldn't suspect.

  3. Fascinating. When I massage my Australian Silky and find a sore or sensitive spot, he leans into my fingers and starts licking the air like crazy. Sounds like Gwen had the same reaction when you worked on her jaw. :-)

  4. Interesting! Do you know what it is that she has on the horse's face and what it is for? I've never seen anything like that...

  5. Hmmm very interesting! I would like to learn more so keep us updated on what you do!

  6. So nice that this worked quickly to relax your horses.

  7. Kristen- I think you Laz is like my girl, he might like these too.

    Wolfie- that is really interesting. Weird things can happen when you start relieving tension.

    TBA- it's a snug fitting halter with fleece over the noseband. You then take a length of cord, wrap it once around the noseband and tie it onto the halter on each side. It's supposed to give you "fine tuning" and help the horse learn how to accept contact.

    Golden- will do!

    Carol- I was amazed at how so little did so much!

  8. Sounds like a great book... I've added it to my Wish List. I have a few others I'm reading now, but once I'm done with those, I'll probably order this one. Sounds like your horses have really been responding well and I've heard good things about Peggy Cummings!

  9. Super cool Shannon - thanks for posting about this book. It's on my list as soon as I finish with Mary Wanless. :)

  10. Hmmm...those are very interesting little exercises, if anything else, as a test for reactions.

    My Fabian is awfully stiff to the left--it takes quite a while to get him to bend, while to the right he immediately does it. I always find it interesting how, like people, horses have a "good" side and a "bad" side.

  11. Super interesting! I would live to try this with my boys - new book to get.

    Love the new header!

  12. I2P- don't those wish lists get long? There are about a bazillion books that I want right now.

    CFS- Mary Wanless is another one on my list. I've got her on my Giddyupflix queue right now.

    Jessie- give these 4 exercises a try. They really worked well for Gwen's stiff side.

    Juliette- I like the new picture too, the old one was bumming me out. This one looks like spring to me: shaggy and muddy :)

  13. Interesting concepts. I'll be interested to know how Gwen continues to come along with the exercises. I find that Dusty is stiff to the left and I have the same feeling while feeding treats, minus the saddle horn.

  14. I am so getting this book! My big TW mare is one of the 'stiffest' horses I've ever seen--I know part of is due to her growing into her big body, but she has a very hard time bending her body. My paint mare sounds a lot like Gwen as far as tension in the head-neck area. Thanks for posting about this. I always learn a lot from your blog :)