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Feet on the Ground: It’s All in the Balance

 
Equine ground work exercises build relationship between horse and human  

PHOTO: KIP MISTRAL

Stacey Kollman working the Appaloosa stallion Sage in hand. “A lot of this work is about taking the time to make a relationship with him,” says Kollman. “Why should he respect me otherwise?”

 

Nearby, Stacey Kollman is working with Sage, a three-year-old Appaloosa stallion. Sage came to Epona after having been restricted for some time to stall rest due to a stifle injury. He is healthy now, but Kollman is bringing him along carefully. Sage is working happily, clearly relaxed while also concentrating on Kollman’s requests.

“I can do very easy work with a stallion whose soundness I’m not sure about. As a bodyworker I can get a great deal of information from simple diagnostics; is he able to step across, how far can he step or reach forward, does he drag his toe or step cleanly through? Later, when I’m designing exercises or a bodywork system for him, I may decide he needs massage or chiropractic based on these findings. Also I have an ace in the hole; as a bodyworker, I know that every horse has a favorite body part to be rubbed or scratched. I personalize each horse’s reward system by working with their bodies.

“A lot of this work is about taking the time to make a relationship with him. Why should he respect me otherwise?

“From that basis, I begin to work with his body. For instance, from his throatlatch, I can teach him to release and give a bend from the poll by using a nice massaging motion to teach him to stretch that neck. This is also getting him ready for the bridle. I bring the nose toward me and send the shoulder away with just a little pressure and he steps under himself. I’ll work across the neck, asking him to step across, like a ropewalk [as she gently pushes him off balance]. Yes, where are you going to put your foot, Sage?

“What I’m asking from him is not so much academic lateral work but to free up that front leg and really step through in the hind. I want this hind leg to move not from being pulled along by the front but from the push. I want that wave of energy to come up the spine. It gets them to breathe, and if they’re breathing, they’re more relaxed. I’m doing this by putting my elbow behind his shoulder, lifting his ribcage and his topline, and incidentally, where my forearm is now is where my leg is going to be when I am riding him. And I will get him to raise the base of his neck and his topline in selfcarriage, all from groundwork.

“This is asking him to use his muscles. It’s also building up trust. Anything I ask him to do may be new, it may be less comfortable than the last thing, but it’s not going to hurt him. And someday, I may ask this stallion to jump something for me, or step off a ledge on a trail. But if I’ve never hurt him, he may say, ‘well, she’s never gotten me in trouble before so I’ll try.’ And I love that ‘I’ll try.’”

From "Understanding Stallions Part II" by Kip Mistral, Equine Journal, March 2006

 



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