How to lunge a horse
What is lunging a horse?
When you lunge a horse, it moves around you in a circle on the end of a lunge line.
Why lunge a horse?
The reasons for lunging include:
It’s a way to let a horse safely burn off extra energy without you riding it
It’s regarded as the ideal basis of all training because it develops the strength and straightness required for a horse to carry a rider without damaging effects
It’s helpful in developing balance, rhythm, and to improve the horse's paces e.g. a more cadenced trot, better canter transitions and when done correctly, it can even help you to solve some problems under saddle
It can be used for students who are either new, nervous or need help with their position
It can be used to detect lameness.
What do I need to lunge?
Make sure you have everything you need before you start. You’ll need the following for your horse:
Lunge cavesson or sturdy headcollar. Some people opt for a headcollar as they find a cavesson too cumbersome. Equally a cavesson is not a necessity, it’s just that many horses are trained to lunge with one
A lunge line is essential and should be about 30 to 35 feet long. Go for a flat webbing line rather than a rope because it's lighter and easier to handle
A lunge whip
Exercise boots or wraps, and overreach boots help protect your horse's legs.
And you’ll need the following for yourself:
Sturdy and comfortable boots or shoes are essential, so you don't trip or slide
Gloves as these will help to prevent rope burn if your horse pulls
Finally, your voice as this will be the primary aid you will use to cue your horse.
How do I lunge?
Follow these simple steps below:
Enter the Ring: Lead your horse into the ring or arena. Place your horse where you want it to travel and walk to the centre of the circle you want your horse to work on
Hold the Lunge Line and Whip: If your horse will be working on the left rein, hold the lunge line in your left hand and your lunge whip in your right. When your horse is working on the right rein, the lunge line will be held in the right hand and the whip in your left
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. Both of your arms should be bent at the elbow and you should be standing relaxed
Make the horse walk forwards: Ask your horse to "walk on." 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
Maintain the circle: As your horse moves off on the circle, you will be holding the lunge line up not dragging on the ground. Keep elbows bent and the whip pointed at the horse's hocks. Remember to maintain the triangle. If you move at all, keep your circle very small. You may find yourself getting dizzy, so don’t just spin in one spot
Doing up and downward transitions: use your voice for upward transitions from walk to trot or canter, or trot to canter. These can be reinforced by the position or use of the whip. For some horses it will only take a wave of the whip, others may need the lash to be cracked. This is done by flicking the whip sharply. You may need to practice perfecting this before you try lunging
For downward transitions from trot to walk, walk to halt, canter to walk, or trot to halt, try lowering the tip of the whip to the ground
Halting 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 it doesn't drag on the ground as the horse approaches.
How long should I lunge a horse for?
Lunging should never last much longer than 30 minutes. Think about the frequency of lunging too as a horse shouldn’t need to be lunged 4-5 times every week on a regular basis.
Hints & tips for lunging
Lunging a horse well is an art that takes patience and application to develop. It’s not easy to be able to control the horse's body and way of moving at a distance.
Keep the pace controlled: keep to slower paces when you start to lunge. Teaching your horse to lunge quietly and respectfully will make the work being done more effective and useful.
Don’t permit bad behaviour: Many horses see the freedom of a lunge line as the opportunity to misbehave. Try not to permit poor behaviour like bucking, rearing, or bolting on the lunge line. Establishing these ground rules will lead to a safer, more enjoyable lunging experience for both of you.
Hold the lunge high up: One of the greatest dangers in lunging a horse is that a horse might get his front legs hooked over the lunge line. Stay focused while lunging and always hold the lunge line high enough so that your horse cannot get tangled in it or you don’t trip over it
Keep the lunge line organised: the lunge line should be untwisted to ensure clear communication. Holding the lunge line in two hands allows you to feed or collect the line as needed. Never wrap the extra lung line round your hand while lunging your horse. If your horse spooks or bolts, your hand can get stuck in the line and you might be dragged.
Practice holding both lunge line and whip so that you can use them effectively.
Lunge on soft and level ground: only lunge your horse in areas where there’s good footing. Lunging on hard, unlevel or deep footing greatly increases the chances of your horse injuring himself.
Maintain a contact: The contact in the lunge line, i.e. the constant connection between you and your horse through the line, is absolutely essential to good lunging. However, it is very common to see lunging being done with a slack line and therefore no contact. This is because most horses naturally avoid the bending influence of the lunge line contact by falling-in on the circle, and it takes skilful use of the whip and perseverance to correct this. Lunging a horse with no contact in the lunge line means lunging with no bend which has no value.
Moderation is key: Many people lunge their horses to burn off energy and provide exercise. Be careful that you don't make your horse fitter than you are as it will lead to it taking longer for you to take the edge off your horse.
Keep your circle large and round: your circle should be 15m to 20m. The faster your horse is going, the larger the circle needs to be. You can make the circle bigger by letting out more of the lunge line. Bear in mind that lunging on a small circle can be very hard on a horse's legs.
If you start walking around in the centre of the lunging circle, the horse’s circle will move to accommodate the shape you are creating. If the horse cannot make a symmetrical circle because the shape keeps changing, they will not be able to engage and find roundness, suppleness or rhythm.
Use your voice: one of the most effective aids you have when lunging is your voice. Volume tells your horse both how confident you are and keeps their attention. Intonation tells your horse the direction of a transition, e.g. if the tone goes up, tr-OT, this tells the horse go up to trot.
Use your body: you can move your body to influence your horse. The neutral position faces the direction the horse is travelling, turning more toward the direction of travel if the horse needs to be encouraged to move forward. To slow the horse down, use a slight tug on the lunge line and move toward the front of the horse facing slightly backward.
Look for floppy ears: look at his ears, the more relaxed your horse is in his jaw and poll the floppier his ears will be!
Practice, practice, practice: practice as much as you can and with as many different equine partners as you can.
What are the disadvantages to lunging?
Whilst some riders like to lunge their horses to “let off steam” before riding them, there is a great opportunity for injury if the horse runs around uncontrollably, jumping and leaping on the lunge line. The horse can fall, get away from the person lunging or misplace a step, causing a risk of injury. While this is rare, there’s still a risk.
Other disadvantages include:
lunging a horse increases excitement instead of calming them
when done excessively, or daily, it also carries possibilities to lameness.