When time is short, lungeing can be a great way to exercise your horse if done correctly.
“Lungeing helps to make the horse supple, engaged and obedient as well as keep him fit,” says dressage rider and BHSII instructor Stef Eardley. “Horses will often stretch better over their top line without the weight of a rider, and it can really improve their balance, especially in young horses.
“From a rider’s point of view, you get to see how the horse is moving and working from the ground.”
Lungeing also adds variety, plays a major part in training young horses and can be an effective part of rehabilitating an injured horse.
You should aim to lunge your horse on a non-slip surface that is as flat as possible.
“Lungeing is quite wearing on joints, so use the best surface you can,” advises Stef. “Unless your horse is a practiced lunger and well-behaved, opt for a smaller area to lunge in rather than an open field, as you may find you don’t have enough control.”
As well as a lunge line and lunge whip, you will need either a bridle or lungeing cavesson.
“I use a bridle with a lunge line attached to the bit, plus a roller with a training aid dependent on the horse,” says Stef.
During lungeing, try to maintain a triangle shape, with you at the head of the triangle, your lunge line and whip creating the two sides and the horse as the third side. This will ensure you are in the correct position and make it harder for the horse to get in front or behind the movement.
A proper workout
“A session on the lunge should be similar to a riding session. I start by allowing the horse to naturally stretch down in walk and trot before working them in trot and canter, doing upward and downward transitions, followed by another stretch before walking them off,” explains Stef.
“The horse should have even suppleness through the body in the direction of the circle, tracking up or slightly over-tracking, and shouldn’t be falling in or out. He should have a good swing through the loins with a soft tail and his neck in the right place depending on whether he is working up into a contact or down into a stretch.”
5 common lungeing mistakes (and how to avoid them)
1. The horse over-bends and falls out through the outside shoulder
Solution: Either use a training aid, such as side reins, to help keep control of the outside shoulder, or if you are capable, use two lunge reins — one rein is attached to the outside bit ring and either goes behind your horse’s quarters or over his withers which will give you control of the outside shoulder.
2. The horse is strong and pulls against you
Solution: Practise using half-halts as you would if you were riding to steady and balance the horse and use a smaller area to lunge so you have more control.
3. Poor handling of the equipment
Solution: Dropping the lunge line on the floor or getting them in a muddle is potentially dangerous, so practise handling them before you start lungeing. You should hold the reins in large, neat loops held well off the ground and be able to shorten and lengthen them easily. You must also be able to use the whip independently in the other hand.
4. The horse comes in on the circle
Solution: Keep the horse out by pointing the lunge whip at his shoulder. If you are teaching the horse to lunge, ask someone to stand by his outside shoulder to guide him and keep him out on the circle in walk.
5. The horse runs off
Solution: If the horse decides to take off and you can’t stop him, gradually decrease the circle size and use half-halts and your voice to steady him.
This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (2 October 2014)