Potty about lunging? Insights into how to lunge your horse
Lunging has so many advantages. It can be used as part of the breaking and training process, as an alternate method of exercise, as a rehab tool, as a time saving way to work your horse, as a way to allow a horse to let off steam or relax before you jump on or as a way for you to take a look at how your horse is moving.
After learning to be led and handled, the next thing most horses learn in the initial stages is how to be lunged. The primary goals at this early juncture are letting the horse learn how to travel forwards and find his own balance and learning voice commands and obedience. Both of these things are vitally important for the ridden horse.
Lunging is the staple part of the breaking process and provides some security for the horse. As you add more tack and eventually (hopefully) a rider, the horse will find safety in being lunged as it has always been a part of his training. It doesn’t change for him even when other things do.
Teaching a young horse to long rein and then to lunge on the long reins is another vital stage. I sometimes find that older horses will lunge better on long reins than they do on one rope with a lunging aid, especially with a tricky or hot horse.
There are so many lunging aids on the market that it can be hard to know where to start. Your choice needs to start with the question ‘what am I hoping to achieve?’ You must also keep in mind that any device is potentially destructive when used in the wrong way at the wrong time – never be afraid to ask for help, or to try something else.
The most common lunging aids are –
These have their critics no doubt, but they have often been a friend to me-especially when teaching a young horse being broken to expect a contact and become accustomed to slight pressure in his mouth. Side reins are also the only apparatus allowed for lunging at horse trials. They are definitely useful to have in the tack room.
The De Gogue can be very helpful in teaching a horse to stretch down and forwards in his frame and to lift his back. It’s very important with a device like this that you use it as a suggestion to the horse and not as a demand. The horse should still be able to lift his head if he needs to.
The Chambon is a useful device and is probably the safest of all lunging instruments if you aren’t too experienced. Fitted correctly, the horse is still able to lift his head and it has the added advantage of being easier to fit than a De Gogue. It is used similarly to the De Gogue,to encourage stretching and a long top line.
The bungee is a handy little item and can help to teach a horse to be a little more elastic in the contact, but without feeling choked or over-restricted.
There are of course MANY other things you can use-the Pessoa, the Lungee-bungee, the Equi-Ami, Elastic Training Reins and the Kavalkade to name a few. Whatever you choose to use, it is important that the horse lunges properly to begin with. The horse should stay consistently on the same radius of the circle, he should be obedient to voice commands and he should be physically and mentally capable for whatever you require from him. You can use the lunge whip to encourage forward momentum, but also as a guide – for example, raising it slightly and pointing it towards the horse’s eye can help him to learn to stay out on the circle. You should have a good contact on the lunge line at all times and it should never drag on the floor.
In a more established horse or as a part of a rehabilitation programme, lunging over poles can be a fantastic exercise. It teaches a horse to look at what he’s doing, to take his time and also to use himself just a little bit more. Using three poles on the ground, 4.5 feet apart is a good start. Some people use them on a fan shape but I find it better to use them laid out as normal so that the distance between poles remains the same no matter how the horse approaches.
I use potties (yep, pound store baby potties!!) and raise the middle pole to make the exercise a little more difficult. Using five poles and my potties – again, in a straight line and not on a fan shape – you can raise alternate ends of the middle three poles as a variation.