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Why lunge a horse?

Lunging a horse is a great form of training for the horse, and not only in the work they are doing at the end of the lunge line. It’s also ideal for getting them to listen and learn the handler’s commands by voice and body. Lunging helps the horse’s rhythm and balance, and regulates the gaits. There is much more to it than just going round in circles; you can make use of the whole arena or field.

Lunging a horse, young or old, before you ride can help loosen and warm up the muscles and the horse’s back, whilst having the added benefit of getting the horse listening to the handler.

Not only is lunging a horse a great way of training, it is also a form of exercise and helps fitness and flexibility. Due to the strain lunging can put on the horse, it is advised to only lunge for around 20 minutes at a time. This makes it a good alternative if you’re short for time and your horse needs to be exercised, or even if you just want to switch up your schooling work.

As with anything else, if you don’t do it correctly it can be bad for the horse. With lunging, if the ground is too soft or even too hard, it will be more strenuous on the horse and could lead to an injury. You want to ensure the horse doesn’t wizz around on a tight circle, and don’t push a horse that is unfit, as this too could cause an injury.

Exercises to try

There are many exercises you can do with the horse on the lunge. So let’s start off with some obvious ones that I do with my own horses. Whenever I lunge, I use the whole school, working from one end and moving around towards the other end.

So, I call my basic lunging “schooling lunging” which I do with or without gadgets, and there is no other equipment required (such as poles etc). What we focus on will vary depending on what I find he needs more work with. One exercise I use involves transition work; lots of direct and indirect going up and down gaits. This gets him listening and more engaged in his hind end. (Direct transition – a transition up or down where the gait misses a gait in between - e.g. halt to trot, walk to canter. Indirect transition – a transition up or down to the gait you are doing - e.g. walk to trot, trot to walk). Another exercise I use is about lengthening and shortening the gait, changing this every circle and a half. And last but not least is the spiralling exercise; this is great ridden and on the lunge to encourage the horse to bend and be more flexible and supple. As the name suggests, the horse spirals into a tighter circle, then you push the horse out onto the bigger circle.

Another way to lunge your horse is over poles. There are a number of different layouts you can try. Here are some of the main ones I use;

  • The red poles shown are set at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock and you can try this in all 3 gaits.
  • The green poles are standard trotting poles that allow you to set a standard distance, long or short.
  • The blue poles are set up on the corner, meaning the horse will have to pay more attention, as navigating them uses more balance and control. Bringing them on the slight inside track would make the distances short for a more collected trot, and pushing them more to the outside track will be more extended.

The final way of incorporating lunging into your exercise routine is to mix jumping with lunging. You are advised NOT to use any training aids whilst doing this.

Due to the horse being on the end of the lunge line, you don’t want to work the jumps too high; it’s all about maintaining the rhythm and tempo. You can put a jump up at 12 o’clock on the circle and then once your horse accepts that, you can build it up to have another jump at 6 o’clock. You could also put a canter placing pole before and after the jump to get the horse more on its back end. Then, when your horse is fit and ready, you can include a bounce on the circle.

Don’t forget, once your horse has mastered this, you can start to include raised poles to really get your horse to pick up and engage the muscle even more.

Lunging aids and gadgets

This is certainly a controversial topic. It is a typical marmite case; some love it, some hate it. This also goes for each individual gadget and aid. Each gadget is designed to work different parts of the body and will put different levels of pressure on the horse, meaning some horses may prefer certain gadgets to others. So, make sure you do your research on the gadget and what outcome it is that you want to achieve.

Everyone has their own view on lunging aids and which gadget they think is the ‘top dog’ on the market. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you’ll notice that I only lunge my horses without gadgets or with a Pessoa. I have always been a firm believer in this gadget and it provides everything I need in a lunging aid. It helps guide young horses into the correct shape and also ensures they use the correct muscles, working from the hind end up through the back and into the bit, whereas other gadgets I believe are only designed to get the head down.

I always make sure the horse is confident to be lunged without any aids, before I even think of introducing any.

Here’s a list of training aids you can use on your horse while lunging;

  • Pessoa – A system of ropes, clips and pulleys that run along the sides of the horse, with an elastic tensioner behind the hindquarters, to help the horse work correctly and take the weight off the forehand.
  • Side Reins – These run from the bridle’s bit to the saddle or surcingle to encourage flexion and softness in the horse’s mouth.
  • Chambon – This prevents the horse from raising their head above a fixed point to encourage the horse to work in a longer, lower outline.
  • De Gogue – This consists of straps that run from the girth to the headpiece and back, designed to encourage the horse to raise the neck, free the shoulders and engage the hocks.
  • Bungee – A strong elasticated cord with a clip at either end, that runs from the headpiece, down the sides of the face, passes through the bit ring and between the front legs, and clips onto a loop attached to the girth. It puts pressure on the poll to encourage the horse to lower the head, while the pressure on the bit ring keeps the nose in.
  • EquiAmi – A specially designed self-centering loop that runs round the whole horse’s body to encourage the horse to bring their hind legs underneath their hindquarters, lower their head and shorten their frame by developing wither lift.

  

Equipment required for lunging

Here's a brief list of basic equipment needed to start lunging your horse.

Handler;

  • Gloves - When lunging, I always wear gloves; just like riding, it ensures you have increased grip and better protection from rope burn if the horse pulls the lunge line.
  • Hat - If I’m lunging a horse that is a youngster, or hasn’t been lunged or worked in a long time, I always wear a riding hat. I’m sure you’ve probably seen a horse kick inwards towards the handler, or even run in towards the handler, so it’s worth having some protection.
  • Footwear – Whenever I’m around horses I always make sure I have the correct footwear -closed toe shoes such as my boots - because at anytime the horse could accidentally tread on your foot. The correct footwear should be worn right through from preparing the horse to be lunged to taking them to the location at which you’re going to lunge.
  • Lunge whip – Not all horses will require this, but it is always handy to have one on you, in case you need to guide the horse to go out on the circle.

Horse;

  • Lunge line
  • Bridle/cavesson
  • Brushing boots (optional but advised) – due to working on a circle, it’s always best to have leg protection on your horse, especially if they have fine legs and no feathers to protect them from brushing.
  • Roller (optional) – this is sometimes required depending on what training aid you wish to use, such a Pessoa or side reins. If you are planning to ride afterwards then you can use your saddle instead of a roller with most training aids (apart from the Pessoa).
  • Gadget (optional) – options listed above

I hope this article has helped highlight the benefits of lunging your horse, whilst giving you some inspiration for exercises to try and ways to incorporate lunging into your exercise and training routine.

Rachael Skinner - Eventful Eventing
Horsemart Brand Ambassador
Published on 16-06-2020
Rachael is an amateur Event rider from Kent and Bailey is a 7 year old 17hh gelding, and together they go by the name of Eventful Eventing. Rachael says "I may not be at the top of the game, doing 4 star Eventing, but I am a realist. I like to include the lows as well as the highs in training and competing, and general yard to yard activities. Although our main aim is within Eventing, I like to dabble in other disciplines too."