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Every lesson with Derek Frank begins with ground work. My lazy habits of the past are showing once again. How many clinics have I attended back in the USA? So many, I can’t count actually. How many ground work sessions have I eagerly taken part in- only to have those clinic lessons slip away once I’m home again? Far too many.

Casimere is a patient lesson horse and he’s more than willing to stay with me as long as I give him a reason to do so. The emphasis in this program is to be as subtle as possible. Derek demonstrates the basic ground work maneuvers of walking beside the horse, trotting, stopping and backing. His body movements are nearly imperceptible. Casimere willingly follows Derek’s every move on a light loose rein, the horse’s attention never leaves him. He hands me the reins, I start off and Casimere is walking beside me. “Stop please”, Derek commands, “you ask and the horse responds, but you don’t relax, you just keep asking.”

Derek demonstrates again, “attention horse”, he says to me; but he is saying this to Casimere with his body language. Once Casimere is walking off with Derek, “I tell him thank you horse,” Derek relaxes, he is not looking at Casimere, he’s not pulling on him or touching him with the whip; he’s simply walking. Apparently, I’m as guilty of being a “nag” as anyone. It’s no wonder an otherwise willing and cheerful animal becomes frustrated and wants to be somewhere else. We can pet the horse all day, groom him; feed him treats. What they really want from us however, what actually gives the horse a sense of well-being when they are with us is leadership. Leadership and being badgered or bossed around however, are two very different things.

My complacency and lazy habits are slowly being corrected but this is a long-term project. I’ve taken so much for granted over the past several years, I can see that it’s time for a renewed commitment. I have an opportunity to truly improve my horsemanship; it’s an exciting prospect.

Tracy Schumer is the editor of High Minded Horseman. A Florida native and lifetime horse enthusiast, she is currently based in Europe where she rides dressage, enjoys carriage driving and is always on the hunt for new experiences with horses.

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