Lunging horses properly seems to many (non) riders just an uncomplicated way to move the horse if you don’t feel like riding yourself. Far from it, because lunge work can do so much more than that! Here you can read about what it is used for, how you both benefit from it, and what needs to be considered.
General Information on Lunging
Lunging a horse properly is not that easy. Because many do not know that it is difficult for young and inexperienced horses to run cleanly in a circle. They are simply not anatomically built for this and can sometimes become unbalanced when lunging. So it’s no wonder that every now and then some animals defend themselves against lunging. They try to run away or do not move on the circle at all. It is therefore essential to carefully introduce the horse to this training so that it can slowly learn to balance itself on a circular line and not “fall into the circle”.
However, your horse will benefit much more from proper lunging training. It not only learns to keep its balance in a circular motion. It also builds better musculature, carries itself better, and kicks under more with the hind feet (this means that it puts more weight on the hindquarters than the forehand). In all gaits, you will see that it is more relaxed, develops more expansive movements, and specifically relieves muscle tension.
You also benefit from all these positive results of the lunge work when riding. The lunge work is ideal both as preparation for riding with young horses and as supplementary training for beautifully ridden horses. Lunging offers a variety of ways to move and exercise your horse optimally. In addition, you can watch your horse’s movements while running, which is not possible when riding.
But not only your horse has to practice walking on the lunge, but you also have to learn lunging as well as riding. If you do not do this, wrong lunging has no positive effect and it is more damaging to your horse. For example, if the horse leans too much inward, the inner foreleg is stressed too much on the circular line. In addition, the beveled edge puts the hooves on the edge, which overloads tendons and joints. If you do not recognize these mistakes and correct them, this can have dire consequences for the health of the animal. Therefore, you should first learn to lunge properly yourself and only then work on the lunge with your horse.
The Right Equipment
Before you can start lunging, you need to get the necessary accessories. First of all, the equipment for the lunge guide includes a good lunge. This should be so long that a circle radius of 15m is not a problem (however, the long circle should not be smaller, as otherwise, the strain on tendons and joints will be too great). It should also have a functioning carabiner on one side and a loop on the other. The best thing to do is to use a cotton lunge: it has no sharp edges, is stable, and reliably passes on your aids. This is not the case with elastic nylon strands, and they also tear more quickly.
A lunging whip, which is used to propel the horse, is also important. It should be long enough that it just barely touches your horse as it moves forward. In addition, the following applies: the lighter the better, otherwise lunging will quickly become tiring for your whip arm. Gloves are indispensable because horses can always make a sudden leap: If you then don’t wear gloves, you will get serious burn injuries from the friction of the lunge, which is quickly pulled through your hand. Lastly, you should wear clothing that does not restrict you and sturdy shoes.
The horse’s equipment should always be complete. To be on the safe side, always put on your four-legged friend leg protection in the form of gaiters or bandages when lunging. The next point concerns the correct bridle, which amounts to a question of faith among horse owners. Basically, three types of bridle are used:
- loosely on the halter;
- on the bridle;
- on cavesson.
The problem with lunging on the halter is that you cannot give precise help. The halter can slip on the opposite side of the head without you noticing it as a lunge guide. If you are lunging on the bridle, be sure to remove the reins. However, it is often criticized that pulling the lunge on the bit permanently exerts an uncomfortable pull on the horse’s mouth.
If the lunge pulls harder on the bit, it can stand up in the mouth or even be pulled inwards through the mouth, which is very painful and harmful for your horse. There are similar difficulties when lunging with so-called lunging glasses. Such problems do not arise if you use a cavesson, as there is no mouthpiece here and the lunge is hooked onto the chin or noseband. Here the aids work by applying pressure to the nasal bone, which is just as precise as aids using the teeth but is gentler on the sensitive mouth. It is important that the cavesson sits correctly so that it does not rub.
A big discussion in the horse world revolves around other accessories as well as the bridle. Ultimately, it is up to you whether you use a saddle or a lunging belt when lunging; The use of auxiliary reins is also related to it. Basically, you should choose a lunging accessory with which you lunge your horse patiently and softly and do not force it into the desired position that is lost as soon as you remove the auxiliary reins: After all, your main task with a horse should be that your horse learns to lunge properly to balance yourself on circular lines. Strangling the head is not very useful here.
The Aids Used
If you are now equipped with your horse in a suitable place with a non-slip, springy, and level floor, the lunging work can finally begin. The same aids and tasks are available here as when working in the saddle. You should use various aids for tasks such as changing gait, stance, and bending, as well as parrying. There are four of them in total:
- Tuning aid;
- Lunge help;
- Whip aid;
- Body language help.
Tuning aids are an important part of lunging. This is where the emphasis and depth of your voice matter and less the volume. With the pitch and sharpness of the commands, you can additionally stimulate and reinforce positively. It is important that you give clear, clear commands. Since you can’t pat your hand on the neck like when riding if your horse is doing something well. As long as it’s on the circular line, don’t forget about vocal praise.
A tip: Make sure not to permanently sound your horse: The more often you give a command with the same intensity and without consequence, the less your horse will react to it. So try to drive consistently and increase the intensity. The first click, then use the whip, then drive with body language. At some point, it will “give way to the pressure” and get faster. It is important that you give him the chance to react himself before you ask more intensely and immediately take the pressure off as soon as he follows your request.
The lunge, like the reins, represents a connection between hand and horse and conveys aids. It is important that you are soft with your hand, i.e. that you do not hold the lunge too hard or too stiffly, otherwise you cannot vary between accepting (driving) and yielding (relieving pressure) aids. In addition, do not pull the lunge jerkily, as this will cause pain in the horse.
When you pick up the lunge, hold it so that it is released over your index finger and held in place with your thumb. So you can comfortably pick it up and slide it out if you want to give more space, and if necessary drop it without it wrapping around your hand. Make sure that you put the lunge around your hand in neat loops and that they do not reach below your knee so that you can still handle it comfortably. Also, be careful not to knot it as you work.
The whip is used as a driving aid. You can easily dose the intensity of use: Sometimes the hint of use is enough, but you can also touch the horse with it to drive it intensively. Under no circumstances should you use it as a “whipping instrument”, it serves much more as an extended arm. Make sure you don’t forget that you’re not at the circus: so there shouldn’t be any pops or hisses.
Your body language is the fourth and last aid you use when lunging: Therefore, you should always be aware of your movements in the lunge circle and maintain body tension. After all, that’s what you ask of your horse too.
For a neutral basic position, move parallel to your horse’s shoulder. From here you can act sensitively and optimally coordinate your aids. If you get to the height of his head, your horse will slow down because you are standing in his way (it doesn’t matter whether you are standing one or six meters away, because horses react very sensitively to signals from body language ). If, on the other hand, you let yourself fall back and come at the height of its croup, the four-legged friend will accelerate its pace.
Basically, you should only move the horse in the smallest possible radius in the center of the circle, otherwise, you will bring too much restlessness into the horse’s mouth through the leaning movement, which in turn disturbs the support and concentration and thus the success of the training.
Lunge Horses Properly: an Art in Itself
You see, lunging horses properly is much more than just standing bored in the middle. It is an art to coordinate all four aids perfectly and to lunge the horse optimally. Remember to change hands every ten minutes, i.e. not let the horse run in one direction all the time so that both sides are trained and stressed equally. How your lunge work now looks like, you have to adapt to the age, level of training, and condition of your animal. It is important that you do the lunging sensibly: This is the only way you can work with your horse in a varied and beneficial way on the lunge.