Lunging has so many different functions with one of it’s main benefits, being used as a training tool for young horses.
Each of my horses will have a different relationship with lunging so I thought it may be interesting to talk about them case by case. I will explain why I lunge, or do not lunge, as the case may be. I will detail what I am looking to achieve with each horse and how sometimes, the benefits of lunging are not just physical, they can be mental too.
Before I do that, let me highlight some of the positives and negatives that I have experienced when it comes to lunging. This is by no means an exhaustive list and I’m sure you could add many from your own personal experiences so feel free to share them!
Lunging teaches young horses the basic voice and body language of “Go & Whoa”. It helps us to bridge the lines of communication for when the time comes for them to be under saddle and it can give the horse confidence in knowing what it is the rider is asking of them.
If a horse is feeling fresh, lunging them can allow them to burn off any excess energy prior to the rider mounting. This can often be a much safer option for the rider and on many occasions, my motto is “If in doubt, lunge”.
Lunging can allow a cold-backed or stiff horse to warm-up its muscles without the weight of the rider.
Lunging can aid relaxation and reduce any tensions in the horse prior to the rider mounting thus helping to increase positive associations between horse and rider.
Riders don’t often get to actually “see” their horses being ridden, so lunging gives them the opportunity to look and examine how their horses are moving.
As a result, lunging is a great way for the rider to “check-in” with their horse and potentially adjust their training.
Lunging allows young horses to work on their strength, balance and “way of going” on their own first, before adding the rider to the equation. As horses progress in their careers, it can be an excellent training tool to build strength, helping them to take the step to the next levels.
The negatives of lunging usually arise with it being executed poorly or with excessive use.
There is often a tendency for people to lunge simply because they couldn’t be bothered to ride. As a result, the session will usually lack purpose and will be aimlessly executed without any “training” in mind. Aimlessly letting the horse run around in circles will not do them any good, neither physically or mentally. It could in fact, do harm which takes me onto my next point.
As lunging is done on smaller circle (around 15m give or take), it is physically harder on the horses bodies. It can add pressure to their joints and muscles. It is worth noting that the smaller the circle, the harder the work for you horse. Excessive amounts of lunging, or poor quality lunging, will increase the wear and tear on your horse.
To help prevent injury, you should avoid overuse of small circles, ensure the horse is warmed up and cooled down appropriately and strive to have them in a balanced “way of going” throughout.
Case by Case
Zarra - “A Check-In”
As part of Zarra’s management for her “head-shaking”, she gets lunged once a week and this is done in just a headcollar, lunge-line and boots. Not what I would recommend for all horses but with her, less is more. Without the added lunging equipment, I can really look at her body and assess her for muscle changes, tension etc. As Zarra was already established in her work, she naturally carries herself in an outline, is balanced and will stretch down when she feels she needs to, hence why there is no need for any additional training aids. This weekly lunge is a way for her to let her body get really loose and for me to closely monitor her natural behaviours so that I can be proactive with anything that may need tweaking in her management.
Pearl - “The Tight Back”
Anyone that is familiar with Pearl will know that she has a lot of power in the engine. As a result, her body has taken time to mature enough to be able to cope with the physical demands of being a “Ferrari”. This abundance of power has presented itself with tight muscles in the weakest of areas, her back. This tension in her back can cause her to become tense overall. It has been a case of trial and error, but I have found that she works best for me under saddle, when I have allowed her to warm up on the lunge. By allowing her muscles to warm up in a more gradual way, I feel that I get a much happier, workable horse.
On the occasions that I am unable to lunge her prior to mounting, I simply ensure that we spend a little extra time in the warm up phase of our session.
Hallie - “The DO NOT Lunge”
My angel Hallie is a unique one. Her natural way of going is long and low in the frame but instead of pushing from the hind end, she loves to pull herself along. This “way of going” is tricky to correct on the lunge and is much easier to improve whilst being in the saddle (with the use of a million half halts!). She is also one of these horses that is so well behaved under saddle, yet on the lunge becomes a crazy person! She puts the fear of got into me that she will injure herself with her athletic “hooplas” so we have come to the conclusion that lunging just isn’t for her as she gets little to no benefit from it and she can save her extra moves for her turnout.
Dawson - “The Big Guy”
As with many big horses, it can be hard to “keep them together” during work. By lunging Dawson with side-reins, and doing plenty of transitions, it helps to promote self carriage and prevent him from leaning on his rider. It allows him to figure out how to tip his balance behind and does so quicker than he would under saddle. Dawson also enjoys the odd free-lunge and so once in a while, we will let him loose in the arena to show off a little. He’s always so well behaved, bless him!
I hope you have found this interesting, informative and possibly even relatable.
As with everything when it comes to training horses, there are pros and cons. Lunging has been proven to be hugely beneficial to our horses and yet, if used incorrectly or too much, can have very negative effects.
As you can see, the relationship that each of my horses has with lunging is unique to them and their specific needs.
I encourage you to adapt a similar protocol with your own horses and if you think you need help, seek advice and book a lunge session with your trainer. I am happy to help however I can so feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org with any queries.
I have also recently posted some tips on the fitting of side reins on the Equicoach Online Patreon. Click here to find out more.
Best of Luck,