Lunging your horse can be a really valuable component in their training. We delve into the what, why and how of lunging to bring you a comprehensive guide…
What is lunging?
In simple terms, lunging is a form of equestrian exercise that involves the handler holding the end of a long line (known as a lunge line or lunge rein) while the horse travels in a circle around them. The horse is trained to respond to voice commands, body positioning and occasional gentle pressure on the lunge line.
What are the benefits of lunging?
First and foremost, teaching a horse to lunge is a good form of preparing the young horse prior to ridden work. Lunging will help to strengthen the horse prior to having a saddle and rider on his back, as well as helping to build up a firm basis of trust and communication through voice commands.
In addition to lunging being fundamental to the foundations of training a young horse, it is also a great way of assessing the horse throughout his career and establishing good training and relationships. Lunging your horse is more than just a simple way of exercising. It can be a great way of maintaining fitness and suppleness when time is of the essence and it should be regarded as an important element to training.
Lunging a horse correctly has a multitude of benefits, including…
- Teaching the horse to respond to voice commandments and body language.
- Implements a good foundation for training both from the ground and when ridden – particularly for young horses.
- The opportunity to strengthen a horse without the weight of a rider.
- Developing bend, suppleness and enhanced muscle tone.
- The chance for a handler to watch the way their horse moves naturally.
- Quick and effective way of exercising a horse when short of time.
- Improved straightness and self-carriage.
What equipment do you need to teach your horse to lunge?
- A safe area to lunge in, on a supportive surface. Ideally a round pen but a well-fenced arena is fine too.
- Lunge Line/Rein – look for one that is soft and webbed for hand comfort and grip.
- A Lunge Cavesson or bridle suitable for lunging such as the Micklem Bridle
- Lunge Whip – this is longer than a standard schooling whip.
- Surcingle – we like the Mark Todd Fleece Training Roller as it is nice and soft on the horse’s back. You can place this over saddlepad for additional support and comfort.
- Side reins or other lungeing aid. We are big fans of the EquiAmi as it provides a loop, rather than fixed point, to allow the horse to keep a soft and consistent contact without tension or rigidity.
- Protective boots or bandages for your horse – sometimes a horse can take the chance on the lunge to have a ‘whoopee’ so protecting their limbs is advisable.
- Gloves – good quality riding gloves for you to help ensure grip on the lunge rein.
- Riding Hat – always lunge in a protective riding hat that meets the required safety standards. To find out more about riding hats see our previous post here.
- Correct footwear – always wear suitable footwear when handling horses.
Seven basic steps for teaching your horse to lunge…
- Before beginning to lunge your horse you should have established some basic ground manners. The horse should be used to having the equipment on, he should respond to basic voice commands and should move politely and confidently around you in a circle.
- Ensure your horse is fully confident with the lunging equipment and is used to the lunge whip.
- In a safe and secure area, begin by having the horse lead by an assistant in a small circle from the outside, while you position yourself at the centre of the circle. Your body should always be pointed at the horse’s girth area or shoulder and the whip should form a triangle and point at the horse’s hocks. Imagine a triangle between the lunge line and the whip, with you being the point and your horse being the straight edge. Teaching a horse to lunge takes time, but when the horse is confidently walking on the circle, allow the assistant to gradually step away until the horse is happily responding to your commands.
- Get your horse used to walking on and halting confidently by pointing the lunge whip towards the haunches to create forward movement, whilst also using your voice. Similarly, use your voice and point the whip towards the ground to slow the pace and halt him. If the horse falls in, point the whip towards his girth gently to move him back out onto the circle.
- Gradually allow the circle to increase in size and as the horse gains in confidence you can begin to introduce trot work.
- Don’t forget to work in the same way on the other rein, and don’t be surprised if one direction is wobblier than the other. Just like when under saddle, a horse usually has a stronger and weaker rein.
- Be patient whilst you teach your horse to lunge and remember to reward your horse regularly. Lunging can be tiring so limit the time to short bursts to begin with and no longer than 20 minutes approximately even for established equines.
It is always advisable to seek the assistance of a professional if you are unsure on how to teach your horse to lunge. Do not attempt to lunge a young horse for the first time without the support of a trainer unless you are fully confident.
There are some common issues that people often face when it comes to lunging horses, here we try and help solve some of the pitfalls…
CONNECTION. There should be a steady connection between the horse and handler through the lunge rein – however it is not uncommon to see a slack line, which results in a lack of contact. This significantly reduces the gymnastic value of lunging, as the horse will effectively be ‘falling in’ on the circle and therefore not bending and stretching correctly. To help counteract this, use your body position and the lunge whip to help push your horse out onto the larger circle and encourage more connection. Don’t forget to be patient when you teach your horse to lunge – perfecting lunging can take time!
FORCING. The over-tightening of gadgets – such as side reins – can be a hindrance to your horse’s progress. While they are a valuable tool in lunging when used correctly, when over tight they force a horse into a shape, which has no benefit and only restricts the horse from stretching long and low and therefore building up soft, supple muscles across the body. This will ultimately impact his way of going and strength when it comes to carrying a rider. It can be tempting to implement this force, however patience and a gentle approach will pay off eventually as you teach a horse to lunge.
SPEED. Some horses have a tendency to rush away from the lunge whip when being lunged – however to truly engage his postural muscles he should be slow, steady and in balance. Try and encourage a steady rhythm to enable him to establish engagement. Ensure he is listening to voice commandments and bear in mind your whip positioning as he could be ‘running away’ from something that he is fearful of.
How often do you lunge your horse? Share your experiences and tips in the comments below and post your lunging photos on our Facebook page.