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Lunging Horses – For Developing Obedience, Balance, Strength and Gymnastic Aptitude.
Lunging is a vital step in the training of horses from breaking in, right throughout their working life. Correct work on the lunge produces a more compliant and elastic horse, through the development of back muscles and progressive building of aerobic and non-aerobic fitness.
Lunging is a valuable aid for establishing unconditional obedience to the forward driving aids and teaching the horse to accept a steady balancing contact with the bit, which facilitates confident compliance and a willing acceptance of training.
When lunging a horse, the handler will use body language, the lunge line, lunge whip, and voice commands. The horse should already accept vocal communication from his early training. Horses respond well to verbal commands and quickly come to understand the words "whoa," "walk," "trot," and “can..ter” The tone and emphasis of the voice should reflect the instructions. i.e. calm slow tones for downward transitions and more animated instructions to encourage upward changes of gait.
The rider should be positioned as shown in the diagram, as this “V” placement allows the handler to effective drive the horse’s hind legs forward which encourages correct contact and acceptance of the bit.
Lunging can be used to help resolve many training and behavioural problems. A skilful handler can correct crookedness or stiffness by addressing resistance to the bit and non-acceptance of the rider’s influence. Expert, systematic training on the lunge is often used to overcome the more serious vices, which could make riding dangerous.
A short period of lunging is often employed as a warm-up and suppling routine prior to a ridden training session. This procedure helps to settle the horse by giving him the opportunity to expend energy that might otherwise cause exuberant or dangerous behaviour.
Lunging should take place in a marked circular area with radius of approximately 15 metres. As the horse progresses with lunge training, the circle size can be decreased and increased as part of the suppling and balancing exercises. If the horse's nose is positioned to the inside of its chest, the circle is too small and the horse will struggle to maintain balance.
Ideal lunging position, flexion of the horse and control by
If possible, the lunging site should be fenced with great care taken to remove any sharp or protruding edges. A non-slip even surface, free of holes or hazards is very important. An unsuitable or dangerous surface invites resistance and the risk of injury. Lunging is not recommended unless secure footing is assured.
A round yard is ideal, but if not available, a small rectangular yard with a suitable surface will provide a safe lunging environment and help to contain the horse until obedience and understanding is established. Well-trained horses become familiar with the lunging routine and can be safely lunged in open areas. However, this is not recommended for young or inexperienced horses, as they are easily frightened and the handler could lose control. Flailing lunging reins present a risk of injury to the handler, horse and property.
The Position and Objectives of the Handler:
The handler should adopt good posture and stand in the centre of the lunging circle and contain the horse between the lunging rein and the lunging whip, always keeping watch on the horse, concentrating on the response, energy and acceptance. The lunging rein is to be held in the hand on the side of the direction of travel with the unused portion of the rein in the hand holding the whip. The handler must always be aware of the position of the lunging rein, never allowing it to drape on the ground, as loose ends cause accidents.
The same training objectives apply whether lunging or riding and the horse should demonstrate adherence to the “Training Scale” - i.e. 1. Rhythm 2. Suppleness 3. Contact 4. Impulsion 5. Straightness 6. Collection.
Note: Straightness on a circle or corner refers to the even bend with hind legs following the same curved track as the front legs.
A simple snaffle bridle with a cavesson or Hanoverian noseband may be used.
Take care to ensure that the bridle is correctly adjusted with the noseband firmly (but not too tightly) fitted with padding to protect the horse’s jawbone.
Correct and comfortable fitting of all gear is important to prevent the horse from becoming resistant or resentful.
The roller is a padded surcingle with “D’s” attached at various intervals, which should correspond with the position of the reins when riding.
The roller is fitted and girthed in the same position as the saddle.
While some people “exercise” their horse on the lunge without fitting a roller, “training” on the lunge requires the use of equipment that replicates the work under saddle.
It is recommended to place a soft saddle blanket or sheepskin pad under the lunging roller to aid comfort and help to prevent any movement.
Leather or webbing side reins with easy adjustability are a must. Side reins are often made with elastic inserts to allow some “give” in the contact with the horse’s mouth. The side reins are affixed to the bit at one end and the roller at the other, with options of buckle or clip fastenings. The length of the side reins must correspond with the horse’s level of education. Premature shortening of the side reins will cause the horse to stiffen and shorten the neck and this fault will be difficult to overcome. Remember, training and muscle development takes time.
The lunging rein will usually be made of cotton webbing, nylon, leather or a leather look material of approximately 30 mm in width and 10 to 12 m long. Experienced handlers will have a preference for the weave and thickness of cotton or nylon webbing lunge lines. A thicker rein with soft rounded edges (usually soft cotton or a poly/cotton blend) can be preferable for inexperienced horses that may pull or jerk the line. Thin edged webbing can burn or cut hands, especially if gloves are not worn. Finer webbing is suitable for more experienced horses and has the benefit of being less bulky to store.
Warning: The handler should never wind the lunging rein around hands or arms as a way of securing or adjusting the unused length. It is recommended that the spare end be carried, loosely wound over the palm of the whip hand where it can be easily adjusted for added control. This method prevents the hands or arms from being caught up in a tangle and risk the handler being dragged along, should the horse break away and pull the rein tight around the hand. The loop at the end of the lunge rein should never be placed around the handler’s wrist, for the same safety reasons.
The loop in the end should be knotted or stitched closed. A swivel snap hook will attach to the lunging rein to the bridle.
It is highly recommended to wear thicker work gloves to reduce the risk of “rope burns” or other damage, particularly if the lunge line is fine nylon.
Gloves allow the handler to maintain control, even if the horse pulls or resists.
Horses legs should be fitted with protective boots to ensure that brushing or impact injuries are avoided.
Lunging necessitates working the horse on a circle which can become smaller than ideal for the horse to remain in perfect balance.
Unbalanced steps increase the risk of brushing or over-reaching and these injuries are difficult to treat and often need rest time and ongoing care.
Fitting bell boots protects your horse from coronary band injuries, brushing or cuts to the bulb of the heel.
The lunging whip replicates the action of the riders’ leg by creating forward thrust, which is the basis of impulsion, contact and balance. It is important to use a specially designed whip, as it is the correct length and weighted to give a balanced feel, which facilitates the delivery of refined aids.
An incorrect whip encourages the handler to move about to make contact with the horse and this risks losing flow and continuity which affects the horse’s rhythm, diminishing the benefits of the lunging session.
Lunging can be a very rewarding part of training your horse and developing a special understanding. These benefits flow on to the training under saddle and help to improve the horse’s understanding. This will ultimately enhance the harmony between horse and rider. Happy lunging!
Your local Saddleworld Store has a comprehensive range of lunging equipment and expert advice to help you make the most of this beneficial and proven training system. Go to www.saddleworld.com.au for store details or a link to the
2016 Saddleworld Product Guide for more product information and prices.
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