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From the Essentials to Mastery

The Relationship Based Horsemanship pathway is your step-by-step roadmap to safety,
fun, and excellence in Relationship-Based Horsemanship.


Relationship Based Horsemanship

Have you ever wondered how to teach your horse to come when you call? To trailer load at Liberty? Or to do fancy movements like bridleless riding, lead changes, or piaffe?

The Grades of Horsemanship is an intuitive, sequential pathway designed to help you advance your horsemanship and assess your skills regardless of the discipline you pursue. Think of it as a roadmap with checkpoints along the way. Whether you simply want to go as far as being safe and having fun with your horses, or if your goals extend to artistic horsemanship or competition, the GOH will mark a path for you to follow.

The GOH is a collaborative, living document. It is a work in progress. We are open to suggestions and recommendations from members so that we can make it the best tool possible to help anyone interested in Relationship-Based Horsemanship achieve their goals.

The Six Skill Sets

Ground Skills

Playing on the ground using a
rope 10 to 50 feet in length.


  • Share a means of communicating to facilitate trust and understanding
  • Strengthen the horse/human bond and develop a horse eager to respond to the human’s suggestions
  • Train the same skills on the ground that will create more positive and safer responses in the saddle
  • Teach the horse physical and mental skills in a biomechanically correct manner while maintaining the dignity and playfulness of the horse.

Recommended Equipment

  • Any of these: a halter, cavesson, bosal, bitless bridle, or neck rope
  • Stick with or without an attached string
  • Rope of a length and weight appropriate to your level of skill.

A Word About Ropes
In the beginning when you are first learning to handle the tools properly, we recommend you begin with a thicker, 10 to 15-foot long rope. When you play with a horse using a rope, it’s like carrying a portable corral with you. So, however long your rope is that’s the size of your corral. A heavier weight rope will help you ‘push’ the horse away if needed.  As you refine your communication with the horse, you can test your skills with a lighter weight or a longer rope, up to 50 feet, or even longer.  These lighter and longer ropes require more skill and precision from the handler and build up to other Skill Sets such as Liberty and Long Lining.

What Ground Skills Teach The Human
First you will learn how to interact safely with horses on the ground and teach them to be calm, willing and to listen to your requests.  This will help with leading, feeding, saddling, hoof care, grooming, vet visits, trailer loading, and the like. Through the physical connection of the rope, you will develop a feel for how willing or unwilling your horse is about any given request and how to keep yourself safe if your horse has objections while staying in control.

Ground Skills teach you how to reward your horse for positive responses by releasing pressure. They can also help you discern where your horse’s weight is positioned and how that is affecting his ability to perform. If you think of the rope as a rein, practicing with ropes on the ground can much more quickly improve your knowledge and ability to communicate with reins in the saddle. As your skill progresses, you can learn how the horse must be positioned for lateral maneuvers through to artistic endeavors like tempi lead changes and levade.

What Ground Skills Teach The Horse
The horse learns to trust you and your ideas.  The first most important lesson the horse learns when ground work is done correctly is to give to the pressure of the rope rather than panicking when the rope touches him or holds him in some way.  This gives you the ability to use positive reinforcement, by releasing pressure, to reward an appropriate response to your request. The horse also learns that you can influence him from a distance.  Groundwork teaches the horse to yield his body parts to move forward, backward, left and right. Horses can gain an understanding of how to move on a circle, navigate around, under, over and through obstacles, and develop the ability to travel with smooth gaits and transitions. As the horse’s understanding progresses, he can learn to shift his weight, strike off at a gait from different feet, learn lateral maneuvers through to artistic elements, and more.

Bridle Riding

Riding with equipment
on the horse's head.


Playing on the ground without attachments or boundaries.

Free Riding

Riding without equipment
on the horse's head.


Playing with high-level maneuvers on the ground at close range.

Long Lining

Playing on the ground with
two long reins.

 Your New Favorite Tool

The Grades of Horsemanship pathway has many applications. Whether you're a horsemanship student or Recommended Professional, you may use this educational resource in a few different ways.

As a Student

  • Improve your personal horsemanship skills.
  • Obtain official recognition for your achievements by submitting assessment videos.
  • Keep track of your horse's skills.

Additionally, as a Professional

  • Create teaching curricula and lesson plans for your students.
  • Map out the progress of your client horses.
  • Evaluate the horsemanship skills of your employees.
  • Apply your new skills to your interactions with client horses.

Jump-Start Your Learning

Access the Grades of Horsemanship pathway with a Digital membership or higher.