BY Emily Elek
I believe that every horse should be trained on how to lunge properly. This is a safety issue so that anytime they need to rehab, are stuck in inclement weather, need to stretch off-site, or simply put their mind to work and relax, every horse can have the option to be lunged in a productive manner for the rest of their life.
Unfortunately, lunging often has a similar reputation to bad lunging. Bad lunging is a terrible thing for your horse. It leads to injuries, sour horses, dangerous situations, frustrated staff, and could also land you on a list of barns to whom I (and many others) will not lease or sell ponies.
Correct and proper lunging is all about relaxation and building better fitness, musculature, blood flow, and establishing training boundaries for the next stages. Think of lunging like riding—good lunging, like good riding, is a positive experience for every horse.
Good lunging starts the second you see your horse. Having good boundaries about your bubble and your horse respecting you while leading will all come through while lunging. You can start in the aisle or leading to the paddock reinforcing your verbal commands. Use “whoa” to halt from the walk when you arrive at the cross ties, and “walk on” heading out of the stall or cross ties when the lead rope is properly fastened. If your horse is climbing in your lap or constantly in your personal bubble, lunging will always remain difficult.
Your horse should never peel away from you on a tear. If that is their instinct or something they have learned along the way, take the time in the barn or at home in low-stress situations to redefine your expectations. Horses should walk on the lunge line at the start until they are told otherwise. Establishing this reduces injury and helps the goal of having a happy and relaxed horse at the end of the training session. Any horse that is frantic or cross cantering or launching around is counterproductive to the goal of lunging.
Most of the lunging I do is to get horses to stretch and relax and so that is usually best accomplished without any tack or gadgets. Given the expectation for good behavior and practice calm lunging at home, I am comfortable lunging with a lunge line clipped to only the bottom ring of a halter on most animals.
With that said, tack (like all training) comes down to individual needs. The young horses and ponies I am starting will often lunge tacked up with a halter over their bridle so that they can grow accustomed to tack and moving around and getting comfortable with their bit, bridle, reins. I will start young horses with the stirrups securely up and then will over time let the stirrups down so that they can calmly be accustomed to a rider’s leg moving around a bit while they’re trotting and cantering around.
If you build a jump on your lunging circle, which can be a great training tool for a horse to learn to study a jump on their own, make sure any tack you use is compatible and safe with jumping.
Lunging should never be a job for someone rushed or a brand new hire to the barn. Proper lunging allows horses to stretch in the morning at a horse show and relax, build muscle and cardiovascular fitness at home and relax, or to get a horse out of their stall during inclement weather and relax. Persons who are not well trained will not be able to facilitate the relaxation part, and persons who are rushed may not spend the proper time walking both before and after the main workout.
If you and your horse are both learning to lunge together, schedule sessions to be under your trainer’s watchful eye. If you are able to learn from your trainer with a more experienced horse, that is always ideal so that you can get comfortable with the expectations for you before you work on a younger, greener, rehabbing, or otherwise more challenging horse.
The more you can relax with your horse, which comes with experience, the better you will be at lunging them correctly. The more you do groundwork and handle your horse on the ground, the more comfortable you will get. Make sure that everything you do before, during, and after lunging, is done with intention and fully present attention.
Emily Elek breeds, trains, leases and sells top hunter ponies from the first ride to Pony Finals winners. She is known for THE SPREADSHEET, which is updated daily. She sells or leases over 150 ponies per year and her passion is starting young ponies for their horse show careers and matching them with appropriate riders.
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