Lungeing - The Basics

I get many requests asking for help with horses with various riding problems and the cause can often be attributed to holes in its basic training. So, I often suggest with many of them – especially OTTBs – that their rider take them right back to the beginning and, in effect, restart them. The one bonus being that as they have already been been backed you don’t have that part to worry about, at least.

The methods described here work equally well for a genuine green youngster or a re-trainee.

You do not need a tack store full of equipment to get started. A well-made lungeing cavesson is a very useful tool (another article dedicated to it coming soon) although - as in the case of some TBs, who find them too over-powering - you can make do with a snug-fitting nylon head collar. And I mean snug. Ideally, it must be adjustable in two places so that it can really lie snug against the head and not pull round into the eye, in the same way that a lungeing cavesson lies against the head; i.e. the noseband is done up much tighter than an ordinary noseband so that it doesn’t slide sideways when you pull on the rope.

Basic equipment for the horse:

Lunge cavesson (or snug fitting h/c);
Lunge line;
Lunge whip;
Surcingle or saddle;
Boots or wraps, if he’s inclined to knock himself.

Basic equipment for the handler:

Gloves – lunge lines can inflict very nasty burns if the horse attempts to pull away;
Sensible footwear;
A hard hat is recommended for lungeing all but the most seasoned – and obedient – horse.

But before we progress on to lungeing proper there is a vital pre-lungeing stage for the horse to go through, namely learning the vocal commands. The standard commands are “Walk” / “Walk on”; “Trot” (or, more commonly to distinguish it from the short ‘walk’ command; “Ter-rot”) and “Can-ter”. For canter, I tend to use the word 'UP' spoken quite abruptly as it distinguishes it from the other two syllable word ‘ter-rot’. For slowing down I use “Whoa” /”Ho” – in a long drawn out tone. Horses have been taught various words to come to a come to a complete stop. Unless you have lunged your horse before you may have to pick from “halt”, “stop”, “stand”, “brrrr” (the German command – useful if you’ve imported from there)  or whatever other possibilities there are!?

You can put a bridle on if you wish, but it is only the headpiece – no noseband – and make sure that the cheek pieces are outside the head collar or cavesson. 

Sue Morris

You may have to undo them to do this depending on the way your cavesson is made. It makes for a more comfortable fit(see photo, right). >

If he has to be introduced - or refreshed - to the voice aids put him in the HC or cavesson and lead him correctly, up by his shoulder so that his head is in front of you.

Something to watch out for when leading is that, frequently, the horse stops because the leader stops - he has not listened to the voice. Time spent on this stage is never wasted; it's invaluable to make sure that the walk - halt - walk-trot-walk etc, happen from the handler’s

voice command and not from their body language, which will be different when lunging as opposed to leading. It is also a good idea to practice this leading stage on both sides of the horse for your own, as well as the horse’s, ambidextrousness!

The next stage is to make the horse familiar / comfortable with the lunge whip. I always let the horse inspect any new equipment, letting them smell and touch it themselves. Mares will often attempt a tentative nip as a final reassurance to themselves. Once they’re satisfied that it’s not going to eat them, I begin by lightly stroking them on the shoulder and legs and then trailing the lash over their back, down their legs and touching them from all angles until it elicits no negative reaction.

 When they know the voice aids and are calmly accepting the lunge whip, you can ask the horse to walk an increasing distance away from you and when he is comfortable at being a few metres away lungeing proper can begin. Remembering that the purpose of lungeing is to prepare the horse physically and mentally to carry the rider. What you do now sets the tone for the rest of his working life.

There are two very important points to be made here:

1) Move the horse away from you
2) Stand your ground

The first point is one that may need some work – and it applies in all handling situations, not just lungeing. It is very common to see the handler back away from the horse and some horses will use this to their advantage and, literally, walk all over the handler when they are asked to move off. If, however, the horse is taught to respect the handler’s space by being the one to move away, this ‘bolshy’ behaviour is much less likely to occur.

The second point is another one that is so rarely followed. It means exactly what it says. You should stand your ground and rotate around your outside foot. Some people seem to have a problem with dizziness doing this and for them it can be easier to describe a circle - no bigger than a manhole cover or dustbin lid – concentric to that of the horse. However, the whole purpose and point of lungeing is wasted if the horse can pull you off this clear circle.

The next topic is how you stand when lungeing the horse. The optimum position is shown left. The handler stands at the top of a triangle and the front and back of the horse form the base. The handler should be facing towards the horse’s middle. They are connected by the lunge rein to the front and the whip to the rear.

If the horse is being a little sluggish, you may move a little sideways, so that you are more behind the horse and if he is tending to rush on too much you can position yourself more towards his head – again in a sideways movement – and raise the lunge whip in front of his nose as a barrier.

I try to have the same feel and tone through my body as if I were riding. Elbows are bent with the hand holding the lunge rein with the same elastic contact as if it were a rein on a bridle. And don’t forget that using your core muscles will also transmit down your arms, along the lunge rein and to the horse.

The horse must be encouraged to have freedom of forward movement. You don’t want to have to use the lunge whip continuously to keep the horse forwards - remember aids are for a change in the way of going, not to be  given all of the time. The horse is now comfortable with the lunge circle and the freedom to move controllably forwards around this circle in at least walk and trot.  You are looking for him to begin to relax in his work and lift his back, arch his neck and relax from his poll. He may offer this on his own, but it is more likely that he will fall on his inside shoulder and twist his head to the outside. You must gently encourage him to straighten by gentle, elastic ‘pulls’ on the lunge line. You want to ask him to bring his nose onto the line of the circle. This is backed up with the lunge whip asking the horse to step forwards with his inside hind. If you pull too hard he will bring his neck in and swing his bottom out.

There is a subtle nuance of timing the whip and rein aid here; the whip is used first to create the bigger step forwards and under and is given at the point that the horse has broken over from the carrying phase and is entering the thrusting phase as he pushes off with the inside hind leg. This is quickly followed by the rein aid as the hind leg leaves the ground and before it enters the carrying phase again.

The horse is now moving forwards on the circle and invited to look for a contact. This is the start of the longitudinal stretch that will improve the topline. For this to be complete the horse must be straight i.e. when the inside hind steps into or over the hoof print left by the inside fore – on both reins.

Once he is working happily like this you can introduce side reins. When riding we would not simply ride with leg and no hand otherwise all of the energy would rush out through the front door. The horse must be shown the forward driving signals and the restraining signals.

Side Reins

Lauffer /Viennese Reins

The Chambon

Copyright © Sue Morris 1998-2011

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