Why should you lunge your horse?
Most of us have som sort of system for when and why we lunge our horses..and my general impression is that a lot of you lunge your horses to 1) blow of steam or 2) because you do not have the time or energy to ride.
For me, lunging a horse well is the ideal basis of all training because it develops the strenght, balance, and straightness required for a horse to carry a rider without damaging effects. It is also one of the easiest and most efficient ways to help your horse relax, remove tension, connect, warm up and also rehabilitate different kinds of injuries. But, it is essential that the lunging is done in the right way for it to be beneficial for the horse.
The most important advantage of lunging is that it makes it possible to work the horse in the correct bend, both sideways and for the longitudinal stretch. This stretch is the foundation of all correct work. This stretch is what reises the horses back like a suspension bridge, (in biomechanics referred to as the bow and string theory). This is what makes the horse strong enough to carry a rider without damaging compression of the horses spinal column.
Lunging the horse makes it easier for you to observe how the horse moves and helps you better analyze how the horse is feeling about it's work. Systematic lunge work will help you develop a whole new level of training your horse, it transfers straight over to riding and gives you a better understanding of your whole horse.
In example - this horse joined us into rehabilitation a few years ago. If you see the marking you will observe a poor topline, a lot of tension spots - and the only way to start this horse in training is with correct groundwork, lunging and healthy management.
Under you will see the result after only two months with four lunge sessions a week. That means under 30 sessions of training! It was still a way to go - but there is a complete change in the horses conformation and how the horse chooses to posture itself. This result is caused by good management and tension free training.
Common mistakes while lunging
1) Lack of contact
The contact while lunging should be the same as when riding. This means that the horse should move forward through the body and into the contact. There is quite often I see lunging being done with a slack line, and no contact. This is because most horses not are thought to be in self carriage or self balance, this you will experience as the horse falling-in on the circle by avoiding the bending influence and the correct contact of the lunge line. It takes skillful use of the body language and whip by the handler to correct this. Lunging a horse with no contact in the line means lunging with no bend, lack of balance and will have no gymnastic value. This contact also encourages the longitudinal stretch. With this I do not mean you should hang on to your horses mouth with all force - but make sure the horse moves in balance with good contact onto the bit - so you help it relax.
2) Using tight side rains or other lunge systems
Side-reins and and an attempt to create a fixated head and neck position are often used in lunging. People have an idea this would make the horse "round". The roundness of a horse is created with the work in the back. The head and neck position of a horse should always be a result of straightness and carriage. We should never create an artificial head carriage. Forcing a horse to work in side-reis prevents him from finding balance and is both mentally an physically damaging. Side-rein can be used to make the horse stay correctly in the contact - but then they need to be fitted so the horse can actually move it's head back and forth, up and down so you can observe and teach the horse to move forward and stretch into the contact.
Your horse should be able to move correctly without these aids. If your horse is not relaxing, balanced and using its back without this system - then you need to develop your skills in groundwork or lunging - or your horse has a physical problem preventing him from moving correctly. It's one of the two.
3) To much speed
I often see horses run in the lunge line, either because they have to much energy or because the owner rush the horse by aggressive use of the whip, or a simple lack of sensitivity. In order for a horse to engage his postural muscles and relax, it must slow down. A horse racing in the lunge line has no chance of learning to balance properly and carry himself in engagement. As the horse strengthens it's posture, the power of the work can increase without balance and engagement being lost.
Learn how to lunge your horse correctly
Anyone can learn to lunge well, and not only is it great for the horse, but it is highly beneficial for the rider. To lunge a horse towards engagement allows you to see the dynamics at work, which are the same as when you ride. This will better help you understand your body language, your horses movements and helps you develop you horse in a positive way!
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about our lunging philosophy or if you would like to book one of our "Lunge your horse into relaxation" clinics!
Tips and trick for lunging
1) Work on the relationship with your horse first.
2) Give your horse the best possible preparation with the correct learning theory and groundwork.
3) Use the correct body language
4) Take a class of studying anatomy, biomechanics and natural asymmetri (or book one of our clinics) to better get a understanding og YOUR horse
5) Do not use side reins (unless you have spent time studying and learned how to use them correctly)
6) Follow a step by step training.
7) Ask for help if you lack experience in lunging and need help with your horse.