Lunging is a technique that is invaluable in the training of the horse – a precursor to the double-lunge, work in-hand, and ridden work. I therefore use it quite extensively with any age or ability of horse.
The equipment needed for lunging includes:
- Bridle – if the reins are left on then they must be twisted up safely through the throatlash.
- Lunge cavesson
- A saddle with stirrups removed or run up and tied, or a lunge roller
- Brushing and over-reach boots, especially for young horses
- Side reins (optional)
- Lunge line at least 10m (33’) long
- Lunge whip
While lunging the trainer should wear a hard hat, gloves, and protective footwear. The lunging ring should ideally be a 20m circular fenced area; the next best option is a corner of an arena. Try not to lunge in big open spaces, which will invariably lead to the horse trying to drift away from you.
12 Tips for Better Lunging
1. The idea is that a triangle should be formed between the horse, the lunge line and the lunge whip. If you move more in front of the horse, there is a possibility that the horse will stop and turn in. By standing a little more level with the quarters, you will be in more of a driving position to help encourage the lazier equine to proceed more forwards. Always keep the whip up and pointing towards the tail at the same height as you are carrying the lunge line. Once you have started and the triangle is formed, stand still.
2. To show the horse that he can be ‘brave’ and start to walk a little further away from you, carry the lunge whip horizontally in front of you so that the handle of the whip is touching the horse’s shoulder.
3. When you start to lunge your horse, never step back away from him. Always invite the horse to move away from you, because if you step back, the horse follows you in and then you end up chasing him away from you with the whip.
4. In general, for an upward transition you raise your voice at the end of your command and for the downward transition make the command long and slow. Make sure the horse is starting or stopping from your voice and not your body movement. (You can fortify your voice with a ‘cluck’ on upward transitions and a calm ‘whoa’ on downward.)
5. If the horse will not go forward and you move towards him without shortening the lunge line, then he may simply move further away from you. Shorten the lunge line as you move nearer to him so that the horse stays on the original size of circle as you urge him forward. Move back to your centre point as soon as you can.
6. You must exert a positive body language or you might find that the horse decides when it will trot or break to walk, etc. Be in control and be assertive; this does not mean be rough or ‘whip happy,’ but simply when you ask the horse a question make sure you get the right response.
7. Transitions are always a good starting point. When you ask for a walk-trot transition, the horse should move crisply up into the trot without raising the head and neck. Look at the length of stride that the horse first offers. Normally the horse will take a short stride and gradually build up to the trot that you want. In this case the horse is under-utilizing the hindquarters, so encourage him with voice and whip to make the first stride of trot the same as the second and third and so on. This will mean that the horse is pushing himself more through the transition.
8. With the trot-walk transitions the horse will probably try to take shorter steps leading up to the point that they change from trot to walk. This means they are not carrying the weight of their body onto the hindlegs through the moment of transition and so cannot push properly into the walk. Observe and repeat these transitions to achieve these aims and you will find that you can encourage your horse to start to shift more weight onto the hind legs.
9. Also look at the quality of the gaits in between the transitions. The walk should be purposeful without rushing, have a clear four-beat rhythm and the horse should be over-tracking. The trot should be tracking up with a clear two-beat rhythm. Both gaits should be giving you the impression that the horse is moving forwards in a workmanlike fashion.
10. When the horse is being lunged for exercise, side reins are not necessary. When the emphasis becomes lunging the horse to improve gaits, then side reins can play a beneficial role when used correctly. The most important point to remember when using side reins is that their job is to provide a contact that the horse is encouraged to work into; they should never restrict or fix a horse’s outline.
11. People always ask “how tightly should I adjust the side reins?” The answer very much depends upon the level of the horse’s training. The concept with all of our work is that the horse is encouraged to move forwards and seek the rider’s contact. Then, and only then, can the whole top line of the horse stretch out and the full extent of the movement of the horse be utilized. Too often a horse goes with very short, choppy strides with no flexibility through the back or hindlegs because it is pulled in at the front and then sent forwards. When starting a young or novice horse off, the idea is that they are taught to look for the contact, so the side reins are adjusted so that the horse moves with the nose in front of the vertical line. The more established the horse, the nearer the nose can come to the vertical.
12. With side reins attached, work through more transitions and vary the size of the circle. You are looking for the horse to stretch out to the contact. If in the first instance the horse just goes around with its head up in the air or backs off the side reins, try to gently feel along the lunge line so that the horse looks a little to the inside, and back this up almost simultaneously with a whip aid. This should encourage the horse to give to you. Be careful not to exaggerate the flex to the inside or the horse will just learn to swing the quarters out.
When this work is established your horse should be more attentive and obedient, supple, forward-going and should have started to use the hind legs. You should also notice a difference in the way the horse goes for you when you ride him.