What is the difference between in hand work and groundwork? And when is it appropriate to use either?
Defining both can be a little confusing, because both are done on the ground, both can be done in a halter, cavesson or bridle, and both serve the purpose to educate a horse to the basics.
But a simple way to think of it is this-
Groundwork is the teaching of basic skills, responses and mindset in our work. It involves things like leading, circling, backing, and other movements that make up the basic building blocks of what a horse might be expected to do in his life. This is where I start a horses education.
This can be done from the ground, from horseback off of another horse, from a fence- wherever. It is the essence of teaching the horse to follow the lead line and connect it to his feet.
Groundwork can be a great tool to introduce new things, like a flag, a tarp, a log to drag, or more, because it requires nothing of the horse that they don’t know clearly. When you add a new stimulus the horse might be unfamiliar with, you can direct them in movement without restricting them, yet still guiding them and helping them understand what you want- it’s a nice bridge between escape and trapping them with the scary new thing, and the movement you’ve asked them to do is one they are already very familiar with, so you aren’t stacking too much on at once.
In hand work I tend to think of more specifically toward postural development. With in hand work, we can teach alignment, posture and positioning, and build strength and carrying capacity, without the impeding weight or confusing aids of a rider.
With in hand work we can teach rythm, straightness, lateral movements, stretching and much more.
The appropriate time to use either can depend a lot on the hose and scenario. Both require skill, coordination and thoughtful connection from both horse and rider. Neither should be done carelessly or sloppily with just the intent to burn off energy, but to connect and educate. Both are useful and necessary tools in the tool bag of a horse and rider.