The Art of Lunging
Updated: Dec 13, 2019
When a young horse misbehaves, the lead mare may send them out of the herd, running them in circles until they give signals saying they accept the rules of the herd structure. Running a horse around you simulates this situation and creates a response similar to the above. It’s used to engender connection and develop a healthy relationship between human and horse, to burn off excess energy and to condition horses. It can be done using a lunge rope, a 12” training rope or no rope at all if you have a round-yard.
Lunging requires immaculate timing, an ability to stay focused and in the moment, control of your body movements and an understanding of the horse. It also develops voice commands in the horse, which can be handy when riding.
If the horse or human is new to lunging, start using a rope. Begin with it short, if you give out a lot of rope at the beginning you may find it difficult. Let the rope out slowly as your horse starts responding. If you lose connection shorten it for a while. It’s good to be flexible with the length of your rope. Ensure the rope is organised and never becomes wrapped around your hand. If this happens, stop and reorganise the rope into long, safe loops.
Be very clear about which hand is directing and which is driving, this will be of enormous help later when you take the rope off and work at liberty. Change hands when you change direction. The leading hand holds the rope, it doesn’t wave around, but steadily points in the direction of travel. The driving hand can hold a lunge or training whip, it moves and drives the horse forward. Lunging is about driving the horse from behind, not pulling them from the front.
If your horse is repeatedly turning in to you block with your leading hand while increasing pressure with the driving hand. This is the number one problem people have when they start lunging. If the horse does stop and turn toward you without you asking, and you stop driving them, give them a pat and slowly ask them to go out again, they learn this is a great way to have a holiday and will do it again and again. This can get incredibly frustrating for the human, so try and avoid it by sending the horse back out straight away. Keep the front of your body toward the horse when you want them to stay out.
Once your horse is circling nicely at the walk, it’s good to ask for halt. Use a calm tone of voice and say halt or whoa, stop driving and stop turning so they end up adjacent to your shoulder. Most horses will stop, if not, squeeze the line, look at the ground, shorten the rope and continue with the voice until they stop. Praise and repeat until the stop is instant.
Then ask for the trot. Use your voice and give an aid with the driving hand. Initially the horse is warming up their muscles, so let them come back to the walk if they want. After a few small trots, ask the horse to continue for a few laps. Ask them to transition from trot to walk to halt to walk to trot etc. When these transitions are working ask for canter. Again work on the transitions between gaits. Change sides regularly and especially after the horse does something well. Sending the horse around and around in mindless circles is of no benefit to anyone, so keep it interesting and vary things regularly.
When you’re finished, use your body language to invite the horse to face you, walk to you, and then follow you for a while to end the session. This is a very brief introduction but it will get you started. The benefits of circle work are enormous so have fun and give it a go.
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.
Happy Horses Bitless
Lismore, NSW, Australia
Ph: 0401 249 263
Facebook: Happy Horses Bitless Bridles