Jack and Paula Curtis

"Helping People Understand Horses"

Ground School

We view any handling or interaction on the ground as ground school.  This includes daily handling during feeding, turning out, grooming etc.   It is important that daily handling of the horse is consistent with the training of the horse.  i.e. A horse should not be dragged from the paddock to his box stall, he should lead up with a float in the lead rope.  He should also be courteous of the humans space, and quiet.  It is essential that the horse is handled correctly always.  If during the daily routine he is handled one way and during his training he is handled another, it can be very difficult for him to decipher what is expected of him. 

A person must take the time during daily handling to help the horse understand what is expected of him. Utilizing teachable moments as they arise, in a tactful and meaningful way.  He will then become confident in what is expected of him because he understands our clearly communicated intent. Building a horse that is calm, confident and curious.  Because the human is teaching appropriate behaviour in the little things, it is unlikely that the horse will learn bad habits that will lead to inappropriate  behavior.


Basic Ground School

During our basic ground school we establish the ability to direct all four quarters of the horse.  We do this first by gaining the horses attention.    Once he is focused on us we will ask him questions and try to set him up to find the correct answer.  As long as the horse is trying to sort things out and come up with an answer, we offer guidance and support.  If he becomes unfocused and disinterested we encourage him to focus, and adjust our presentation.  Once he is trying, it is the humans responsibility to guide him and make the right answer obvious.

        **Many times when the horse stops focusing on the human, it is because the human is putting too much pressure on the horse and the horse is looking for a plan of escape.   It can also be because the human is not offering enough clarity, meaning or purpose.  At the other extreme, if the human asks for too little or the same thing over and over, the horse will loose his interest.  It is a delicate balance!

If you do not have the horses attention you have nothing.

Now that we have the horses attention, we can do something with it!

First we need to be able to direct his attention.  Ask him to look at various things, the cat in the corner, the horses playing in the pasture, the tarp on the ground.  How effectively can we tip his attention from one thing to another?  We get this very good from the beginning.  It needs to be so good that when we look from one thing to another he is right there with us! This is where it starts, it is all in the small things!!! (soon it will be tipping his mind from the red oxer to the triple combination, to the vertical across the diagonal and so on)

Here Jack is redirecting the horses focus.

Once we can direct his attention then we need to be able to bring up his life and set it back down.  (we should note that we stress a clear difference to the horse between simply flexing, and turning, which involves the feet.) We may ask "See that tarp, go over to it, now stop and smell it".  We just directed his focus, brought his life up, and set it back down.  Next, we may have him pick up his life and do a circle around us to the right then as his right hind leaves the ground we may ask it to step under the horses barrel and now the horse yielded his hindquarters to his left by stepping his right hind leg underneath his center.  Because our timing was correct it weighed little to the horse and was very easy for him to do.  (we set things up so the right answer was clear)  Without letting the life come down we shift his weight to the hindquarters and bring the front end through to the right, he is now circling around us to the left, and because we set things up correctly it was very simple for him to do.  To the horse it felt good, and harmonious.  He found it was easy to follow our feel. This is because we presented our feel to him in a way he could easily understand and interpret.  Through this simple exercise we established control of his mind, energy, hindquarters, and his forehand. We were able to effect his weight distribution.  We will also teach him to back up and combine the movements so they flow from one movement to another.  Between movements we will have the horse face us standing straight and square with his weight back and his shoulder free. 

The horse should remain calm in his work and confident in what we ask of him.  We will increase the difficulty of tasks as the horse progresses, but not overexpose him, or put him in a situation where he will lose confidence in himself or in us.  We set him up for success, and he becomes proud in his work and confident in what we ask.  He finds a friend in the human.

Once we establish the basics:

  • Direct horses mind (establish direction)
  • Bring up the horses life and set it back down
  • Guide head and neck up, down, left, and right.(in movement and while standing square)
  • Horse understands how to follow our feel
  • Direct the hindquarters
  • Direct the forehand


We then move on to more discipline specific ground school exercises. These will incorporate different Ground Exercises, Lungeing, and Free Jumping. We will also Pony green horses outside of the arena with a more experienced horse.


  We prefer simple equipment such as rope halters. Rope halters provide a clear line of communication.  We will then attach lines of various lengths with a Knot and never with metal snaps hardware etc... A stick a flag or a lariat to be used as a extension of the hand. A surcingle for long lining/ground driving. Well fitting tack, saddle etc.. Bosal and snaffle bit. Snaffle bits are used in conjunction with leather reins,braided reins, rope reins with slobber straps, or mecates style reins. We have found that much of the time horses are more willing without a bit. Often the choice to ride in a bit is due to competition requirements and guidelines. We also prefer to leave the noseband in the tackroom rather than on our horses although at times we need to introduce the noseband for (dressage) competition purposes.


Cavalitti, Jumping Grids, man made Obstacles, and most importantly Nature. Liberty work may occasionally be done in a round pen or enclosed space, such as arena or paddock.


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