This article was originally posted in August 2012. But, I thought it was worth repeating because I see many people struggling with lunging their horses in a way that benefits the horse.
At a recent clinic, one woman had given up lunging her horse because he was so difficult to control.
Others are afraid of hurting their horses (or getting hurt themselves), because their horses behave ‘wildly’ on the lunge line.
And, then there are the people (like the one who sent me the following email) who are frustrated because their horses simply ‘won’t go out to lunge’ and always turn in to face the person.
“I have a young Gelding who was broken in without any lunging experience. When it come to introducing this to him it seems like we are working backwards. I am really struggling to teach him to understand what i am asking of him. We get a couple of good circles which always follows with him turning to face me. Would really appreciate some advice on how to improve this in the correct way. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated. Regards Emma”
“My horse won’t lunge” is a common complaint of many horse owners. Lunging can be a positive and effective way of working with a horse when it is done in a way that helps the horse be balanced and relaxed. Some of the problems people have when lunging their horses are:
- the horse won’t go forward
- the horse turns in and faces the person
- the horse bucks, rears or bolts away from the person
- the horse races around the circle unbalanced and counter bent
If your horse won’t lunge properly and safely then the problem just might be your alignment and where you are sending energy in relation to your horse.
When you’re lunging, you’re really just pushing the horse around you in a circle. Since horses communicate through body language, they are super sensitive to your posture, energy and alignment to him. Alignment simply means where your core hips and shoulders are aimed in relation to your horse’s head, shoulder and hips.
If you lunge using the traditional method I was first taught, you create a triangle with your horse as the base, you as the point and your arms as the sides. Then you lead with your left foot (lunging to the left). The problem with this position – especially for sensitive horses – is that the horse reads the line of energy coming from the left side of your body and that energy gets in his way. Depending on your horse’s personality, he will either turn in to face you, refuse to move forward, or buck, rear or bolt away.
The photo below illustrates the best position for lunging your horse. My core or centre (where my belt buckle is) is aimed into the centre of the horse’s shoulder. My left shoulder is open – that is pulled slightly away from – the horse’s head. My right hip is angled towards the horse’s hip. I am walking around a small circle with my right foot stepping slightly towards the horse’s flank and my left foot stepping slightly towards his girth.
One way to get a feel for this posture and way of stepping is to push a wheel barrow in a circle. If you want the wheelbarrow to move in a circle to the left, you must angle your body slightly into the arc of the circle. Your left shoulder (on the inside of the arc) will be open or slightly behind the right (outside) shoulder. Your hips will be aligned with your shoulders. Your right foot will step forward and slightly out of the arc. Your left foot will step forward and slightly towards the outside of the arc. Try taking the same position and stepping in the same way when you lunge your horse.
From this position, you can direct your horse’s forward movement while controlling where his shoulders and hips go by sending pushing energy to the appropriate part of his body. You can talk to him through your own body – your hip, arm or core can all send pushing energy. If necessary, the end of your lunge line or a lunge whip can be used to create stronger driving energy. For example, to ask your horse to go forward, push into his flank with your nearest arm or by swinging the end of your lunge line or the lash of a lunge whip towards the flank area. The flank is the “button” where one horse pushes or bites another horse to tell him or her to “go forward”.
Always bring the rope or the whip’s lash from the ground upwards towards the horse. For more push, continue with this movement increasing the RPM’s (rounds per minute) of the lash in this circular movement. You don’t need to hit your horse with the whip, just twirl it faster. This movement is much less aggressive to the horse than snapping the whip.
The photo above (taken at a recent clinic) shows how you can use the same technique to send your horse’s hips or shoulders away from you. For example, if your horse is pulling out of the circle, you would push his hips out which will bring his front end in If your horse is turning in towards you, you would block or push his shoulders out.
Once you are working with the correct alignment between yourself and the horse, and pushing the right “buttons”, your horse should go forward in a relaxed, willing and cooperative way.
Click here to watch my video showing the correct alignment for lunging.Try adjusting your alignment when lunging your horse then share your experiences in the comments below.Enjoy the journey. My book is now available! “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”. Click here to order.
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You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).
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Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship