Mar 27, 2022

Horsemanship Hints: David O’Connor’s Take on Natural Horsemanship and Groundwork

By Meagan DeLisle - USEA Staff
USEA/ Meagan DeLisle photo.

The 2022 eventing season is full of exciting updates and new additions, one of those being the proposal of a USEA program dedicated to the development of professional grooms for the sport of eventing. Led by USEA President Max Corcoran and top-level eventers Lauren Nicholson and Shannon Lilley, the program was born from the recognition of the challenges in our sport due to a lack of professional grooms available. This program enables these talented young professionals to receive the development and training to be top-class performers and to be acknowledged and rewarded for their accomplishments, as well as to gain access to the resources for expanding their career opportunities.

With each session led by a different speaker, participants had the opportunity to glean wisdom from various industry experts. One such expert was Olympian David O’Connor who facilitated a session over how he incorporates natural horsemanship when teaching proper groundwork practices.

“There are no smart mistakes,” O’Connor said at the start of his presentation. “A lot of the times when people get into trouble with horses is when they do two things: they don’t look and they don’t hear. They could be overwhelmed with so many horses still yet to do at 3:00 p.m., but that horse doesn’t know that. That horse doesn’t know that Kentucky is in six weeks. They don’t know when they walk out of the stall what they are going to do. So just having that understanding and taking the time to understand that and take the time to look and to listen to your horse is huge. They might say something to you and you miss it and then both of you can get hurt. Ray Hunt used to say that 85% of the time the horse is just trying to save itself. Let that sink in. That is all they are trying to do.”

“They don’t speak human,” O’Connor continued. “They don’t speak Spanish, English, German, Japanese, they don’t speak human. So we have to learn their language, it is not their job to understand our language. And we communicate with them by putting pressure on and taking pressure off.”

Some of the topics O’Connor addressed in his seminar included:

  • Leading
  • Tying a rope halter
  • Release to pressure
  • Trailer loading
  • Treating an area such as a stall like a round pen
  • Washing your horse’s face in a wash stall

Watch O’Connor’s entire demonstration on the USEGA and ERA groom’s page or below:


About the USEA Grooms Program

This program is being designed to create a holistic approach for ensuring current and future eventing grooms, the sport’s unsung heroes, receive the development and training to be top-class performers in the role. The program aims for grooms to be acknowledged and rewarded for their accomplishments, as well as to gain access to the resources for expanding their career opportunities. The program aims to provide education and resources for educating U.S. eventing grooms, with a pipeline for future candidates.

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