Answer: I am asked this question quite often. Even though I might have a well-trained and regularly ridden horse, I would still lunge my horse. Why? Well, I lunge my horses for various reasons. I lunge them to check how they move and carry themselves, if their stride is lengthening or not, if they are lame or sore in their shoulders. I also lunge them to check for any attitude or freshness.
Sometimes horse are like humans and are not always in a good mood. They can wake up it seems “on the wrong side of the bed”. By lunging your horse and stopping and changing directions a couple of times you can take care of any attitude.
If you can’t ride regularly, your horse is either in a stall, paddock, or pasture with other horses. In this case, your horse will have some freshness, meaning it is feeling good and has energy. Lunging provides a way to release this energy. This doesn’t mean you have to run the horse into the ground. It is just a way of letting the horse buck and expel energy. Sometimes if the horse is really fresh and emotional you may need to lunge them for 15 or 20 minutes until they show signs of relaxation. Common signs of relaxation are a lowered head, licking, chewing, tail swinging, and a consistent gait that is not frantic.
Another reason to lunge your horse is to get it to pay attention and focus on you. You can’t have a successful ride until your horse is paying attention to your cues. When you lunge your horse, you should watch your horse’s nose. The nose should always be in toward you (even if just slightly). If or when the nose goes away, pick up lightly on the line, just enough to get the nose back in, and then immediately release the pressure.
The tools you use for lunging are a halter, line, and lunge whip. You can lunge your horse in either a rope halter or a regular web halter. You would use a rope halter, which is sometimes called a cowboy halter, for a horse that is just learning to lunge. This type of halter is narrower at the critical points of contact (the poll and the nose) than a web halter and so applies more pressure. In most cases you will graduate out of a rope halter as your horse learns to yield to less and less pressure and becomes lighter.
The next piece of equipment is the lead line. If I have a really green horse that is not familiar with lunging, I use a 12- to 14-foot line. The shorter the line the more control you will have. When a horse has more training I can use a longer 25-foot line. I can start out lunging on a small circle and then lengthen the line until I am out on a 25-foot line and accomplish the same things as I would with my horse on a shorter line.
Lunging is a fundamental tool you can use to assess your horse’s physical health and mental attitude. It is a reliable way to calm your horse and get it to focus on you that you can use at any time or place–for trailering, shows, or anything new or spooky. It will help give you a safer ride.
If you want more information about lunging equipment, go to my website www.charleswilhelm.com. I also have lunging exercises you can practice with your horse in my book Starting Baby Jaz.
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