Lunging is a great tool to have and has many benefits. It’s something that I have discussed before, but I’d like to revisit the subject with the focus on what the goal of lunging is. What should the results of proper lunging be in regards to the horse physically and mentally?
First we are going to briefly discuss what the goal of lunging is not. Lunging should not be used to run a horse around wildly until he is exhausted as a means to get a nervous or scared horse to calm down. Too often this is done with high energy horses because people don’t know how else to handle them. So they lunge the horse at high speed until he is too tired to fight back. The problem with this method is that the horse doesn’t learn anything from it and every time you lunge him you will have the same fight. Most of the time horses are either scared or confused. Either way, we want to teach the horse how to behave in a calm manner, not simply make him exhausted. Lunging in this manner actually has the opposite effect in that it only makes the horse more nervous. It is important to understand the difference between when a horse is simply energetic and when he is truly scared.
When lunging is done properly, there are three things that we are working towards- the horse moving forward with energy and impulsion, the horse being relaxed, and the horse being focused. All three are related and interconnected, and improving one will improve them all. The goal is to achieve all three simultaneously.
First goal- moving forward with energy and impulsion. This means that the horse is moving forward with purpose, not plodding along. His hindquarters are engaged and he is reaching forward with his hind legs, stepping well underneath his body. His back is lifted and his neck is round, allowing him to move forward with ease. He is balanced and in control of his body. When asked to move forward, he does so willingly. This will be the focus of your work with colder type horses that do not have a natural forwardness. This does not mean that the horse is running around frantically; you need to have relaxation as well.
Second goal- relaxed. The horse moves in a steady rhythm; he is not speedy, inconsistent, or frantic. His back is lifted, his neck round, and his head down. Head up in the air and back hollow is usually a sign of tension. He maintains the pace you ask for, without speeding up on his own. This will be the focus of your work with hotter type horses that have a harder time relaxing. This does not mean that the horse is asleep! You need to have energy as well.
Third goal- focused. The horse is listening and paying attention to you, not looking around, calling to other horses, or ignoring your requests. Horses, in general, are easily distracted. It is important to teach them to focus on you for safety, but also because it creates a better partnership and makes for a more enjoyable ride.
The end result of proper lunging is that you have a horse that willingly moves forward, is relaxed, and is focused. The horse is now in the best state, both physically and mentally, to have a rider on his back. If you’d like to learn how to properly lunge your horse, it is best to work with an experienced, qualified trainer who can guide you through the process.
To learn more about how to achieve a better relationship with your horse, visit our website or blog, where we feature information about French Classical Dressage training, as well as care and maintenance of the horse!