I have decided if you didn’t have patience, teaching a horse how to lunge could make you a bit crazy. When we broke our horses on the farm (racehorses/riding horse s) we almost always taught them how to lunge and then lunge with tack on.
I’m not at all a person who spends a lot of time lunging horses but lunging has it’s purpose. I find it to be a necessary part of training any horse because it is a TOOL and you can never have enough tools. I’m bringing along a lovely 3yr for a client and the mare had 30 days put on her as a 2yr and then was just turned back out. When she arrived I went to work on the lunge line assuming she knew how to lunge. I was thinking perhaps I was missing something but her owner said she didn’t teach her to lunge and didn’t think the trainer lunged her. Ha, okay no wonder she was acting clueless
I really like lunging for three main reasons. The first reason is that lunging is a very good tool to have when you get to a show and the horse is having a major panic attack and you really don’t want to sit on their back without getting all the silly behavior out. Sticking a horse on a lunge line for one minute can tell me a lot about what their mental status is at the moment. For example, with the said 3yr she got to her first show and needed extensive amounts of lunging. She demonstrated moves that made me think I was totally OFF my rocker to consider getting on her. My trainer was scared for me and came to tell me not to worry about making my schedule times which was code for keep lunging until she stops scaring the living crap out of everyone. We lunged until she tired out and she was pretty decent to get on and ride. The next show, I gave her one turn on the lunge line and she was totally relaxed and just flicked her ears back and forth in a relaxed fashion. I knew she was good to go and I got right on up. I use the lunge line as my gauge of what is the best protocol. She recently made a first trip to the indoor and I did the same throw her on the lunge line and see what I have test. One turn around and she was again super relaxed and I got right on. Very important tool to have when training young horses and it can totally save you from getting hurt/having a bad ride/getting on and then having to get off which enforces bad = rider gets off.
Reason two is that lunging is a fantastic way to teach a horse about contact using your choice of side reins, vienna reins or the pessoa rig. I use different things based on the horse and where they are at in their training. Some horses like the 3yr filly that I am working with are naturally balanced and they figure out contact right away. I don’t even have to visit this step. Shoes is learning to lunge because he has no concept of contact at all. I find it next to impossible to ride horses that carry their head straight in the air and feel like pogo sticks. I mean really what are you teaching them if they can’t make the correct shape? By correct shape I simply mean they stretch down and out and go forward to the hand. Why spend months trotting around on a horse with it’s head up in the air. I don’t need them to go round or even be steady but I want to show them that contact does not mean go slower or backwards. Riding incorrectly just develops incorrect muscle which further slows down your progress. I spent some time this year having one of my most fantastic lessons from my trainer. She spent an hour working with me to show me how to use the pessoa rig for client’s horse who was struggling to find his hind end in the canter. One session and this horse was absolutely transformed. You would have to see it to believe it but OMG what a difference.
The final reason that I really think lunging is a great tool is that sometimes horses need to be reminded where they stand in the order of society and that as a human I am still the boss. I get to make the rules about how to behave, how to go forward, which direction to go and that my space is absolute and you don’t cross into it. Natural horsemanship or just plain horsemanship is a really important concept in working with challenging horses or young horses. Seems as though I end up with a lot of horses who are extremely smart and think it is okay to challenge me at every step of the way. I occasionally find the need to put the horse back on the lunge line and work with some boundaries and iron out the respect issues. Great tool to have for a horse that is challenging you under saddle and you think you might not win. I find by fixing it on the ground it most always translates under saddle. If the horse doesn’t understand stop, go and steering the lunge line can be my best friend in showing them how those things apply without getting in a fight while riding.
So back to Shoes and his lunging session. Shoes is a super smart and a horse who wants to be a good boy. I have just been getting him fit and making sure the leg stays nice and tight. It looks beautiful! I haven’t asked for much of anything when riding him besides straight lines and going forward. He struggles with going forward because he likes to carry his head up and his back is pretty tight. I wanted to teach him how to use his body.
I am not really sure if he has lunged before. He at first acted like he had no clue what I was asking but then figured out the circle to the left pretty quickly. He was wearing his bridle, a surcingle and side reins not attached. I lunged him at the walk and trot without the side reins first and he wanted to stop and turn around a few times but then got quite good. He seemed to know the voice commands???
Once he was comfortable it was time to put on the side reins. I adjusted them so that when his head was level there was just a tiny bit of slack in them. I put him on the circle and that didn’t seem to be tight enough as they were very loose when he raised his head. I wanted them snug but not so tight that it would make him feel restricted. You have to have them snug enough to establish the contact though. I put him back on the circle at the walk and encouraged him to keep walking forward and he was starting to stretch down. Good boy!
When he picked up the trot he went OMG which I knew he would do and he immediately came to a stop and started backing up. I gently encouraged him to walk forward and then went back to the trot once he was walking forward. It was taking him a bit to figure out why there was contact and what he should do about it. His response was to stop or go so slow in the trot that he looked like a western pleasure horse. My job was to keep encouraging the trot ON not just the trot. He would hit the end of the side reins and go NOPE can’t do it and then slow trot again. I was just very patient with him and within five minutes this guy went from upside down to slowly starting to stretch and come forward. We did some walk trot transitions letting him feel the contact in the transition. The side reins were loose when he was on the vertical but when he got way above the vertical there was a steady pressure.
He got super consistent and then I had to get cocky and think I could reverse and go to the right. Ha! Yeah lunging to the right on a horse who is just figuring out to lunge is super hard. It was more like he walked one step forward and then spun in toward me. Again..and again and again. I had to keep sending him out on the circle (keep the circle small so you can control the body) and encouraging him to go ALL the way around the circle. I had it down at the walk but he swore it was not possible to trot a circle to the right. We played with this until he got one full circle of trot to the right and I made a huge fuss out of him and let him be done. He was so good.
I’m betting he is going to be even better tonight because he is just that smart. I will see if Kurt is around to take some video.
I had a fantastic ride on Jacob under the lights. He is such a brave guy and tries so hard. He feels really good under me and I couldn’t believe how relaxed he was for his first ride under the lights. My cats like to make it interesting and at one point I was coming down the long side in the canter when one ran out from behind the jump right in front of Jacob and then ran up the telephone pole. I almost had a heart attack but Jacob did nothing more than look around like OMG what in the heck just happened there. Too funny!
I love the peacefulness of riding at night and just hanging out with my horses. I feel very thankful for all the great things that I have in my life and each night as I am riding I look around and think about how much I love my farm and the opportunities I have to work with all these neat horses.