Work on the lunge
Today I want to share with you a few tips on how to work on the lunge. It doesn’t matter if the horse is new to the task or already knows the basic concepts of the lunging as you will hopefully be able to take something with you either way. In my world lunging is not just about a person standing in the middle and a horse running in a circle as many people see it and use it in their training. I see lunging as a way of refining the body language between horse and rider, I see lunging as a way of teaching the horse how to move in a way that will help his body become stronger and more supple. I also see lunging as a way of teaching new exercises without the weight of a rider and lastly I see it as a way of becoming better at guiding the horse myself. To me lungeing is so much more than just making the horse run on a circle…
I often hear people talk about how hard it is for horses to walk/trot/canter on a circle instead of going straight forward. That it is actually unhealthy for them because they will be worn out from it. Actually I can see the logic in that, but in my opinion that is not because the circle is a bad thing, but because the horse has not learned how to move properly on the circle. The most common “mistake” I see with horses getting lunged is that they are putting extreme amounts of weight on their inside shoulder with their heads sticking out of the circle to keep their balance. It is not hard to imagine how that must be devastating for the body of the horse in the long run if he is overcompensating on the inside shoulder all the time. On the top of it all the horse will physically not be able to step under his point of weight when he is hanging on the inside shoulder.
In this photo below I am starting the lunging session in walk. I want him to bend a little more around the “inside leg”/the whip so I either point or tap lightly where my leg would have been during riding while I guide with little movements on the cavesson. As soon as he responds I remove my whip and becomes silent on the lungeline and cavesson to praise him for his nice effort and for listening. Also I always praise with my voice, but that is just how I like to do it. Here I find him to go a little bit too deep. I always wants him to seek forward and down so that he stretches his upper line, but when goes THAT low he easily will put too much weight on his front legs. Therefore I keep asking him to go with the whip by simply pointing in his direction and at the same time lifts the rein as a signal to take his head slightly upwards. Sometimes especially young horses need to stretch all the way down to give themselves a short break since carrying themselves takes effort and strength. Therefore I NEVER punish for it, but simply wait a few seconds and asks him to go up again. Usually I give him a break shortly afterwards because that is a sign for me that he needs a minute off to regain his strength. I would at any time rather see him go down instead of up in tension!
Above you also see the reason why I personally don’t appreciate nor use any kind of side reins or similar as I do not believe it is a good thing to lock the horse into a certain frame. Especially not a young horse who still hasn’t got the muscle and strength to stay in the position that those reins most often only allow. Instead I wish for my horse to be able to express himself by showing me the honest picture on how he feels (tired, stressed, pushed too much etc.) which can easily be hidden with the side reins. Also I want him to be able to figure out his body on his own and rather guide him into a good way of moving instead of forcing him into it. Not only do I believe that to be better for the horse, but you will also become a much better trainer when you suddenly don’t have and devices to make your life easier!
That was much better! He choose to respond to my lifted hand and as soon as I see him respond I immediately take it down and into a more neutral position. He lost a bit of his bending in the process though which is why I am pointing with the whip again and this time a bit closer to him. Another moment of which I very much like his posture. His upper line is relaxed, his inside hindleg is stepping under him, he carries his head without tension and he is round in his body. Also notice how much wider his neck suddenly looks when he is working in a more optimal way and how my whip is completely out of the picture to signal to him that I am satisfied with what he is doing. No need to correct or interrupt when he is doing so nicely on his own. To teach the horse a good way of lunging is not an easy process nor something that you establish in 30 minutes. It takes effort from both horse and rider which means that you will have to just as much work as your horse. You will have to be observant, precise and move with your horse. You will have to train your eye and your body to do the right thing and your horse will have to slowly build strength and understanding for the aids. Lunging is not just an easy way to get the horse worked out while you can drink a cup of coffee in the middle of the arena and he is just running around circle after circle.
And then Torrin became a little happy and decided to show off. He is still maintaining some bending and roundness though (which is lovely) and it is always important to have space for fun and playing too so I am just going along with his idea and letting him express himself for a moment!