Groundwork exercise for distracted/unfocused horses

Here’s one fun idea for a groundwork exercise that works very well for horses that are:

  • easily distracted and unfocused when ridden
  • spooky and generally either too much in front of the leg or behind the leg
  • uninterested in the rider
  • uninterested in communication with the rider


You will need:

  • a lot of random things to clutter the arena with!
  • go for objects that are safe when knocked
  • possibly boots or bandages for your horse
  • lunge cavesson or a headcollar and a lunge line (don’t use any gadgets for this exercise. You want to cut the horse some slack and believe he can handle life without those)
  • lunge whip


The play “rules” :

  • you lunge the horse navigating around the objects
  • you let the horse think for himself, you suggest the route but don’t wrestle, let the horse make mistakes and learn that when they listen to you, life is easy
  • the more distracted the horse (or inattentive) the harder routes you can suggest for them


Horses learn very fast that the game is about thinking and problem solving. They start looking to you and communicate with you which directly translates into more focus when ridden. “Lazy” horses can become much more forward, spooky horses, come more “on the aids”, unfocused horses start finding “chatting” with the rider more interesting.


The most important rule is to have fun with this. Use body language, voice, lunge aids to communicate, not to tell. Invite the horse to play with you as an intelligent creature not like one you need to tell exactly where to place the feet.


You might get into trouble at first. If you work with a horse like Mojo (the chestnut) they will be looking around and noticing everything but you at first. They will bump into the objects but they learn fast 🙂

Mojo preferred to look over at the horses being brought from the field instead of listening to my suggestion to go around the barrel…;) He didn’t make that mistake again!

They might, like Jasper (the black cob), just want to find their own routes at first.

Play. From this communication you can create much more refined aids.


2 thoughts on “Groundwork exercise for distracted/unfocused horses”

  1. I love exercises like this. If I don’t feel like schooling or putting Scottie in his pessoa after work we often do similar things in the school. He’s not very brave but very nosey. We’ve done a fair bit of lunging over fake grass and tarp in the school as well as near and between ‘scary’ objects and various pole exercises. He’s very smart and willing and he knows what I’m asking him to do. It just sometimes takes him a while to pluck up the courage to approach the scary object for the first time!

    So good for their brains!

    1. I agree! Playing like this gives the horses time to figure things out, use their brains and indeed gather the courage 🙂 The chestnut horse in the photos is a shy/backward/green horse who is really coming out of his shell with a lot of varied work that lets him think.

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