How to Lunge a Horse
When you lunge a horse, it moves around you in a circle on the end of a lunge line. Lunging is a useful exercise for both horse and handler. (This article describes how to lunge a horse, not how to train a horse to lunge.) To lunge a horse you will need:
- A horse trained to lunge.
- A lunge line about 30 to 35 feet long - I prefer flat webbing to rope because it's lighter.
- Lunge whip.
- Gloves-if your horse pulls you can get rope burn.
- Sturdy boots or shoes-no flip-flops, heels - you don't want to trip or slide.
- It's not a bad idea to wear your helmet.
- Exercise boots or wraps help protect your horse's legs.
- Lunging cavesson or sturdy halter. (Some find cavessons too cumbersome.)
- Ring, arena or round pen.
- Your voice, as this will be the primary aid you will cue your horse with.
Lunging is useful to:
- Teach obedience-especially to voice aids.
- Calm down a fractious or overly energetic horse or introduce one to a new environment.
- Help the horse learn to move on a circle and help encourage bend.
- Observe the horse's movement (looking for lameness or way of going).
- Provide controlled exercise.
- Increase fitness.
- Allow riders to work on skills while another person controls the horse.
How to Lunge
To lunge your horse, it should be outfitted with a lunging cavesson or a sturdy halter. A cavesson is not a necessity and many horses are trained to lunge without one. Lead your horse to the ring or arena. Place your horse where you want it to travel and walk to the center of the circle you want your horse to work on.
If you horse will be working to the left, hold the lunge line in your left hand and your lunge whip in your right. Hold the line and the whip so that they are the sides of a triangle and you are the apex of the triangle. Your horse will be the base of the triangle. When your horse is traveling in a circle to the right, the lunge line will be held in the right hand and whip in the left. Both of your arms should be bent at the elbow and you should be standing relaxed. Ask your horse to 'walk'. It's important to help your horse understand your voice aids by using the same tone and inflection each time for each cue. Most people use a low drawn out whooooaaaaa for halt, and sharp energetic words for walk, trot and canter.
As your horse moves off on the circle you will be holding the lunge line up, not dragging on the ground, elbow bent and the whip should pointed at the horse's hocks. If you move at all, keep your circle very small. I tend to get dizzy easily, but don't be tempted to walk in a circle yourself. You should always be the top point of the triangle.
Upwards and Downwards Transitions
Your voice aid for upwards transitions-walk to trot or canter, trot to canter can be reinforced by the whip. For some horses it will only take a wave of the whip, others may need the lash to be popped. This is done by flicking the whip sharply-you may need to practice perfecting this before you try lunging. For downward transitions, trot to walk, walk to halt, or canter to walk, trot to halt many people lower the tip of the whip to the ground. At no time does the whip ever touch the horse. When you ask your horse to halt it should stay out on the circle, and wait for you to approach. Some people like the horse to come to them when called. If you do this, gather the lunge line up so there is none dragging on the ground as it approaches.
Halt and Change Direction
Ask your horse to change direction by asking it to halt, step backwards asking it to turn, change your whip and line hands and send the horse off in the opposite direction. This will take some practice for you to get coordinated and your horse to understand what you are asking. Very soon, you will not have to ask the horse to halt, but be able to change direction in one fluid motion at a walk or trot.
The faster your horse is going the larger the circle needs to be. This can be done by letting out more line. Lunging on a small circle can be very hard on a horse's legs, so increase the work gradually so the horse can become supple, fit and balanced without strain.
There are a few things to keep in mind when lunging. Many people lunge their horses to burn off energy and provide exercise. Be careful you don't make your horse fitter than you are! Lunging isn't just about firing around in circle. The horse should be as obedient on the lunge line as being led. Not only should lunging be physical exercise, but mental exercise as well.