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Lunge Your Horse - Correctly
Might as well admit it -- most horses get little riding during the cold winter months. But in a matter of weeks, we'll all want to get back in the saddle again. Some horses are just plain hard to handle when they've had a long vacation from regular riding. Others are always calm and dependable. In either case, lunging may help get your horse ready for whatever type of riding you're going to do this spring.
"The point to lunging is to set up pecking order and train for obedience and correctness," says trainer, instructor and clinician Valerie Netto.
Here, Netto gives a private lesson on lunging your horse:
Decide the direction you will teach first and stick to it. I am going to start out going to the left. Going to the left I will always hold the lead in my left hand, the whip or excess of the line in my right hand. (I will always switch hands when I switch directions.) I will point to the left, leading the horse's nose to the left, start moving my feet and lifting the whip or swinging the rope end toward the horse's hip to indicate forward motion. I will keep the whip low and move my feet at a quiet steady pace to show the horse that my intent is for him to follow my body quietly at the walk.
If my feet are moving, his feet need to be moving. I will position my body off behind his withers to avoid inadvertently causing him to stop. I will keep my eyes relaxed and not staring at his face. A fixed stare at a horse's eye can unsettle him
If the horse stops I will keep my feet moving and bring the whip forward toward the hind legs to remind him to keep going until I stop my feet. The feet's moving is the most natural way to communicate "moving on" to a horse. In a herd a horse does not wait for the leader to yell, "let's go!" He sees the leader move off.
The rate of speed desired is also noted in the body position and feet movement. Because this is so natural, a horse can easily see your intent. Now you may add voice commands.
When your body is communicating well it is easy for the horse to make the association between body and voice.
All the while, you are teaching yourself body control. Your body control will aid the horse in his way of going and transitions while mounted.
To stop, simply stop all forms of communication. Stop your feet. Lower your head, exhale and softly say "whoa." Remember ,your horse is supposed to be responding to you. If you would like a smooth relaxed stop, act like it!
I will keep my horse on the circle -- not on an oval. If the horse fades out I will pull and release his nose until he comes in. If he leaks in I will point the whip or swing the rope at the shoulder until he moves back out. I will do this consistently until he stays on the circle. Once he becomes steady for several strides I will stop him and pet him.
Once you are both good at starts, stops and walking a nice round circle, change directions. Repeat the process, going the other direction. When you and the horse are good at the walk, you may add the trot, then the canter.
To trot, raise the whip a couple of feet higher. Elevate your shoulders and walk with more energy. If the horse does not respond by trotting, cluck to him. If that does not work, become more aggressive by cracking the whip. The horse will keep trotting until you drop your arm/whip position and slow your energy.
For the canter, raise the whip a bit higher than for the trot and kiss to the horse. Keep a steady cadence in your body rhythm.
The most certain way to make a great horse is to be a great leader. Don't expect a calm secure and willing horse to come from a loud and rowdy training session.
Lunging will remind your horse that you are the captain of the team, while helping him get in shape for the season ahead.
Equipment needed for lunging:
Protection for the horse's legs--splint boots, sports medicine boots or leg wraps
Properly fitted halter or lunge caveson
25-30 foot lunge line
Lightweight lunge whip
An enclosed area for lunging--preferably a round pen*
* Want to build a round pen? Panels and expertise available at your local Southern States store.
Valerie Netto is a clinician, certified Resistance-Free™ trainer. and is certified by American Riding Instructors Association. She lives in Placerville, Cal.