LEO – ASPIRE JOURNEY: Groundwork for posture

By Wiola Grabowska & Leopold The Last

This snapshot is taken from a short video made for me by Christine. It’s good to watch the horse work “from the side” from time to time so you can catch details you might miss when positioned at his head. 

In Leo Aspire Journey series, Leo and I will share with you our weekly work with photos of any groundwork set ups we do, why we do them and how they work. Leo will share his top tips too 😉

February 27th 

Today’s set up: raised circle poles (I use them at walk to encourage core muscles to work, joints to flex more as well as to focus on the rhythm and bend). I like to stand on a block to see the whole spine of the horse as it lets me observe the quality of the bend through the whole body.


I need to work on stretching Leo’s intercostal muscles (muscles between the ribs) on the left side and this exercise does quite a good job as it makes me pay attention to each step and to how he organises his balance through the middle of his body.
The poles at the background are set for trot at about 1m40 distance in between and I use them to again increase his core engagement, flexion of the front and back legs (stifles, pelvis, hocks).

On photo above you see Leo dropping his neck forward and down. I generally encourage this neck carriage but think it’s important to constantly observe how supple he remains in this posture for it to be of benefit. To test this I can ask for a little flexion at the poll via the lunge line attached to the cavesson. If his reaction is to softly flex as I ask him, I continue, but if he responds by bracing against the flexion or pulling me outwards, I go back to short neck and poll suppling exercises which I will write about another time.

February 28th

Today’s content of the early morning groundwork for Leo is 30 min pole work & 10 min trot & canter work on gradient in the field.


I focus on lateral flexibility in the first part of the session. The three poles just behind Leo are set at random distances and we full pass/side pass in walk over them. He finds it tricky and I change between turn on the forehand and side pass as the first movement is a good introduction to the second.

In side pass/full pass there’s no forward movement like in a leg-yield or half pass, the horse simply moves fully sideways. Adding poles increases difficulty but I do it very slowly, letting Leo take it all in and stop often.

It’s a good exercise for improving proprioception, handler’s skills at maintaining balance and horse’s dexterity. Great suppling exercise too.

After 15 min of the lateral work I move him onto the second exercise. I set a rectangle out of 4 poles with 5th one across. We walk over the corners, then in and out and through in fairly slow walk paying attention to footwork, bend through the whole body and shoulder control.
After 10 min I put him on a circle around the rectangle which gives us 6-8m diameter depending how far from corners I guide him. I jog him for one circle, then walk 3-5 steps, back to jog. I find that the slower the pace in trot, the more weaknesses and strengths can be spotted that can go amiss when horse is driven forward into active tempo. In a slow jog everything happens in slow motion, you can really see which hindleg works harder, which one less so, which foreleg bares more weight, how each hip moves, which one tends to drop more, how back muscles move etc etc
The arena work done, we move into the field for working trot and canter work. It’s sunny but very chilly which keeps the ground firm enough for this work.

Leo’s Top Tips for fellow equines 

  • to avoid whole body bend when she stands in the middle on that block, keep turning slightly in facing her to check if she would give you a treat (never underestimate the cute factor)
  • another tip to avoid the bend, especially on the side you don’t want to be bending, you can walk a little quarters out whilst barging your shoulders inwards a fraction. Just arch the neck, you might get away with murder as long as you arch your neck. Or you might not, depending on your human.
  • drop a tiny more weight onto your outside shoulder but not all in one go, do it so slight that she finds it hard t notice so you can get away with less bend on some quarters of that circle thing
  • lift your legs extravagantly – all humans love it and forget about everything else
  • arch your neck from time to time, again, humans love it and even if that’s all you do you might get a treat
  • over the trot poles, give a mighty push from both hind legs, takes you over them faster and if human isn’t observant you can get away with less belly muscles work!
  • keep checking for treats as often as you can, they are there, you just need to be persistent
  • to avoid side passing, keep going back or forward, you can also jack-knife your body and test their skills in keeping you aligned. Plenty of scope for ideas here to be honest, you can also scatter the poles, I don’t like touching them but know plenty folks that don’t care so give it a good bash.

Happy ground working 🙂






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