Considering lunging to a person on the outside, it just looks like a horse going around in circles, but it really isn’t that simple. Lunging can be a great tool and is used for a variety of different reasons. It’s used for exercising the horse, a way to get it fit, for rehab work after a horse returns from injury, for getting a young horse used to work and building a relationship between the animal and its rider and for lameness diagnostics. More recently lunging is becoming more popular as part of a horse’s gymnastics work and with that comes a minefield of different gadgets and gizmos, and to an owner it can be confusing what to use.
In my 18 years have I have used and tried quite a few different aids, the pessoa, side reins and roller, chambon and the German rope. As time has gone on and I’ve learnt more about the horse and taken more interest in their biomechanics the more I have steered away from gadgets. I am not saying this will work for everyone but I do strongly believe everyone should give it a go. After seeing my horse hate being in a pessoa, trapped and pulled in by all these ropes. She looked as though she was working in an outline, but that’s all it was, a pretty shape made with her head, but no real impulsion or effort or ability to work over her back. I thought there has got to be another way. This is when I discovered Manolo Mendez, this isn’t a plug for him,( you can if you want read more about him yourselves) but I did find his way of working to be very interesting and set about adapting some of his ways to use with my own horses. This came at a perfect time as I was just about to start work with my two young home-breds.
Before lunging even took place I did a lot of groundwork with them, halts, rein back, changing of direction on figure of eights and shoulder in. These would help get them used to commands, working with me, and help to get them supple. I then progressed to lunging, all gadgets were taken away, and all I used was the leather cavesson with a single ring in the middle of the noseband. This way the horse is completely free to move, there is nothing to lean on, brace against or rely on, they have to truly learn how to use themselves and achieve self-balance. Most importantly it can encourage and allow them to stretch all the way through the neck, along the back and to the base of the tail, working correctly and building up that all important top line. Now the tricks to be careful of when starting this sort of work is that the horse doesn’t get used to being on the forehand, once the motion of forward and down has been achieved ( the eye level needs to be between the wither and hip) then you need to start work on energy and impulsion, to help keep the horse pushing from behind and tracking up, incorporate pace changes and different circle sizes as well as using the long side to add variety and to keep the horse moving forward with energy.
Once and only when they are more established in this type of work will I bring in a couple of my favourite aids, these being the German rope and the Theraband for the quarters. The rope (pictured) clips on to the bit, I find it creates a gentle consistent rhythm of pull and release on the mouth created though the movement of the body, this encourages the horse to seek the contact. I find this to be really useful when introducing a youngster to a bit before being ridden, it would also help if you are finding your horse a little resistant about letting the neck forward and down. I will still only put this on for about 15 mins of a 30min session. Giving them 5 mins to warm up and 10 mins to work loosely and cool down at the end. The other item I mentioned was the Theraband, this is like a resistant band that you attach to a roller and it wraps around the hind quarters. This encourages the horse to really think about and use their hind end, and to bring their hind legs up underneath them, creating power from behind. Again I would only use this for about 10/15 mins of a 30 mins session. I think with training horses, variety and balance is key, you don’t want to over-do one thing and do too little of another, mixing it up like this means the horse is always thinking, always having to adapt to these subtle changes which helps develop good all round muscles.