In part one of this series, in the September/October issue, you learned that by lunging your horse using the correct alignment, pushing the right buttons and using the right amount of energy, you’re speaking to him in a way that makes sense to him. His balance, posture and relaxation will improve while building strength in the muscles he needs to carry a rider without stressing him physically or mentally. Now you will be able to use lunging as a vital part of your horse’s training and fitness plan.
Lunging with consistent contact and true bend will improve your horse’s suppleness and posture through lateral work. Incorrect posture, like leaning into the circle with his nose tipped out or with a hollow back, causes imbalance and tension, which stresses your horse’s joints and muscles.
Lunging with contact on the line allows you to help your horse be more balanced and in true bend. Whether you use a lunging cavesson, a well-fitting leather or web halter or a bridle, by attaching the lunge line to the inside ride ring you encourage your horse to release more at the poll instead of just tipping his nose. (On a bridle, run the lunge line clip through the inside bit ring, over the poll and clip it to the outside bit ring.)
Send your horse out on a small circle at the walk, keeping the alignment of your navel to his shoulder as described in part one. Keep your own posture correct, joints soft and absorbing your horse’s movement, elbow close to your side (without being locked in place) and your hand softly holding the line. You should be holding the lunge line in the same way you hold your reins when riding.
If there is slack in the line, and your horse is falling into the circle, send him further out on the circle by focusing the pressure into his shoulder, turn up your core energy, point with your arm (nearest his body), or the whip. Be careful that you don’t walk toward your horse as you do this movement, otherwise the distance between you won’t change.
If your horse is pulling on your hand, he will be pulling out of the circle. Soften your core energy while still keeping it aimed at the centre of his shoulder. Point your hand (nearest his body) or your whip toward his hip until the line feels lighter in your hand.
In either case, as soon as your horse is where you want him to be, stop sending the pushing energy. You will need to keep making adjustments as your horse will not stay out in the contact all the time on his own.
As you’re able to keep your horse walking on contact and maintain the correct alignment, gradually make the circle bigger by encouraging him to move further away from you. Push your core energy into his shoulder and add the whip only if needed. At the same time, open your hand slightly to release the line. If you don’t release the line, he can’t move away from you and you’ll be sending him conflicting messages. Close your hand on the line and stop pushing his shoulder when you want him to stop moving out on the circle.
Establish a good balanced, rhythmic and relaxed walk before asking your horse to move up to the trot.
How your horse does transitions affects how well he is using his body. When your horse is carrying himself with balance, rhythm and correct alignment at the walk, ask him to move up to the trot while maintaining contact on the lunge line. Use your voice cue and point or twirl the whip lash gently toward his flank while keeping your correct alignment. If he counter bends, rushes or hollows his back, bring him back to walk or ask him to turn in by sending his hips out as described above.
Correcting Rushing or Pulling Out of the Circle
If your horse rushes or pulls out (counter bends), push his hips out and step backward a few steps – away from his head and in a straight line – to invite him to turn in. Keep your hand closed on the line, but without pulling him in, as this can create the opposing reaction of him pulling against you. Asking him to turn in toward you in this way encourages him to come into true bend and stretch his spine which helps him balance and relax.
If he doesn’t respond right away, walk up your lunge line – sliding it through your left hand with your right hand to maintain contact – and push his hip out again. Repeat these steps until your horse has turned in. Reward him before quietly and calmly sending him back out on a circle at walk. Patiently correcting him in this way every time he rushes or pulls out – in any gait – helps him regain relaxation and balance.
Adding Lateral Movement for Suppleness and Balance
With the contact on your lunge line you’ve created boundaries that help your horse carry himself aligned from poll to tail, balanced and in true bend. Next, you can ask your horse to move laterally to increase his suppleness, which will encourage him to stretch along his spine.
Begin with the simple exercise of spiralling circles. Send him onto a large circle establishing contact, rhythm, relaxation and balance, core energy and pointing hand or whip pushing into his shoulder. Open your hand on the lunge line slightly to allow him to move away from you without losing contact on the line.
To spiral into a smaller circle, take the pressure off his shoulder (soften your core, lower your hand or whip and close your hand on the line). Keep your core softly aimed into his shoulder (not pushing energy), point your near hand or whip towards his hip and close your hand on the lunge line. As his front end moves in, draw the lunge line through your left hand with your right hand to maintain the contact on the line. This manoeuvre takes some practice, and if you’re using a whip, you need to be aware of where it is pointing so as not to give an unintended signal to your horse.
As you continue to have him spiral in and out between large to small circles, keep the focus on his relaxation, rhythm and balance. You’ll soon notice that his topline and step have lengthened, his neck is reaching forward and lower and he has more swing through his back.
With practice, you can use the same technique to move your circles around the arena. Going from one corner of the arena across the short side to the opposite corner, you’ll make several moving circles.
Send your horse away from you with pressure to his shoulder in the same way you did to send him out on a larger circle, but instead of releasing the line you’ll walk a slightly larger arc. Your horse may start to get in front of you. At that point, close your hand on the line, push his hips out and walk a smaller arc until you’re correctly aligned with him again. Alternate sending his shoulder and hips out and adjusting the size of the arc you’re walking.
By using these techniques to lunge your horse, he’ll be balanced, supple and relaxed while building the correct posture and muscles he needs for a long, healthy life and improved performance. They take practice, commitment and a lot of awareness, but the improvement in your horse’s well being and your partnership will be well worth your efforts.
Adjust Your Core Energy
To turn up your core energy, stand taller and with assertiveness. Lift and open your chest. Imagine a laser beam coming out of your centre (navel). Aim it at the part of your horse you want to move away from you and picture the beam becoming stronger.
To soften your core energy, feel like you’re sending that laser beam behind you from your centre. Make sure you don’t collapse your posture by dropping your upper body forward.