Happy New Year everyone!

Solo has had an unexpected hiccup in his training since boxing day. We had a huge downpour of rain and ever since then we seem to have ice growing out the ground! As a result, Solo has only made it to the arena once since Christmas Day. This is an unheard of situation here and we are hoping to remedy it today with some major machinery and manpower. The path to our arena goes for about a half kilometer on gravel and bluestone – normally fairly easy to clear sufficiently for us to hack up and down. Since the downpour, no matter what we do, it seems to have patches of ice developing in certain areas within about two hours of us clearing it. It has been very frustrating and must be coming from some type of underground flow but it’s hard to work it out. UGH, what a winter this has been for ice. I am hoping to use the trailer to ferry them up and down as of tomorrow IF we can get the trailer out the ice!!!

Several people have asked me about our lunging program for the horses. We lunge everything that is sound, over four and under sixteen at least once a week. We use the Pessoa Training System for most of the lunging; lunging is a serious tool in the horseman’s box.

The problem with a powerful tool is that it has the power to do as much harm as good. At the Royal Winter Fair this year I watched some of the most appalling lunging I have ever seen in my life. The persons lunging seemed much more interested in how much they could crack the whip and draw attention to thier new hair do, than they were in the welfare of the horse which ran around frantic, unbalanced and unhappy for the whole session. Lunging is an art form just like riding and can be taken to extraordinary lengths of delicacy and training. I have watched horses in Europe do Grand Prix movements on the lunge, it’s absolutely amazing to watch.

Lunging is hard on unfit horses, very hard indeed on the soft tissue because the horse is continually working on a circle. If the horse is unfit, unpractised, untrained or unbroken, lunging should be started very gradually. We usually begin with five minutes each way maximum and build up to 10-15 minutes each way for a Training/Prelim fit horse. Some fitter horses may go to 20 mins each way but that would be quite extreme, probably horses that are three day fit. Twenty minutes good lunging puts about the same amount of stress on the horse as an hour of good riding.

I also lunge with side reins and a de gogue. I am not big on the chambon. I have also used the Abbot Davies Balancing Rein to lunge with. It was a good tool but fiddly to attach for lunging. I have to say that The Pessoa is by far my favourite piece of lunge equipment. I bought the original one at the Royal in 2007 and then Selena took it with her to Florida for three months. I was bereft! This year I have a new one just for me.

The first basic I insist on from the horse is an even circle at an even pace. The lunging is not doing it’s job when the circle is not even all the way around.  Some horses take a lot of training just to get to the point of obedient work in walk and trot on an even contact with a stationary lunger.   Once I have the circle I look for the horse to either overtrack or track up with the outside hind foot. This second prerequisite may also take a long time to learn… so what… lots of things take a long time to learn, have patience and get both of these lunging foundations in place. For these two foundation blocks you don’t really need any tack but if I were working with a fit horse I would use tack and either side reins or an equivalent on the basis that a mature horse needs to be asked to work his body more thoroughly each day than loose lunging requires.

Sometimes we will lunge over a spray of poles to increase the movement in the horse’s back muscles. With fit horses these poles are often raised asking the horse to elevate and balance on the circle, this is a great body building excercise but work up from one or three flat poles to five or seven raised poles over a period of a couple of months to be sure of not straining back, hock or stifle.

It’s important not to ‘tie down’ the horse’s head. That won’t build the muscles of his back and help your training program, quite the opposite. The length you want the horse’s neck to stretch to should be a given, and when the side reins or other useful items are attached, they should be attached at the correct length. If the horse never reaches the bit but stays behind it, then this is where lunging can truly help you if you are patient. Lots and lots of transitions (just like the books say) and over a period of time, not necessarily in one or even a score of days, but eventually, the horse WILL stretch it’s neck into the contact. If you just shorten the attachment, you are missing the whole point of working your horse’s back and muscles from the ground instead of when the horse is weight bearing on the self same muscles. Lunging develops self balance and cadence in the horse.

Above all don’t become a bully from the ground like the people I watched at the Royal. Lunging is just like riding, you have to control the horse with your voice, body position, hands and whip(legs). In actual fact the whip should never be cracked in lunging, the whip movements are your leg movements and you don’t want to be giving a great big KICK but subtle regular reminders to go forward at a certain pace. I hope we will be getting Solo lunged nicely in the Pessoa tomorrow so that I can enjoy riding him afterwards.