Lunging is an important component for every rider’s toolbox, whether you’re using it to exercise and condition, burn off some energy before you ride, or train your horse to the aids. The primary idea: the horse learns to work around you on a circle at the walk, trot, and canter, while responding to your voice cues. Whatever your purpose for lunging, here are a few lunging tips and basic principles you’ll want to keep in mind.
Equipment: For You:
- Hard-toed boots
- A helmet
- Gloves (rope burn is NO joke!)
Equipment: For Your Horse:
- A 30–35-foot lunge line
- A bridle, halter, or cavesson
- A lunge whip
- Protective exercise boots or wraps for the legs
How to Begin
Especially if your horse is new to lunging, beginning in a controlled environment such as an arena or round pen is important to help minimize distractions and keep your horse contained. Start in the center of your lunging circle, with your line properly coiled (never wrap it around your hand!). As you ask your horse to move out and away from you at the walk, think about maintaining a triangle position with your horse and your aids: Your lunge line and your whip, if you’re using one, are the sides of the triangle. You are the apex and your horse is the base.
A Few Pointers…
It’s important to keep the size and shape of your circle consistent as your horse lunges, while also maintaining the same triangle position with your aides. Your elbows should be relaxed and bent, with your lunge line up, not dragging on the ground. Keep your own movements at the center of the circle to a minimum; the horse should move around you.
Note that if your horse is walking and trotting, it will likely be on a smaller circle than when it’s cantering, when most horses need more line and space. Make sure you’re comfortable with the motion required to let-out and reel-in (i.e. coiling and uncoiling) the lunge line before you begin, especially if you suspect your horse may have excess energy.
Finally, use your voice to train your horse to upward and downward transitions (walk, trot, canter, and halt), reinforcing voice cues with your whip as needed. Remember, the whip itself should never touch your horse.
In an ideal world, your horse should become as obedient and well-mannered while lunging as he is being led on a leadline.
Lunging is a great way not only to condition your horse but to help him find his own balance, according to Israeli rider Dani G. Waldman. “I’ll put my horses in the ropes [or a lunging rig] with the bridle on, and I like them to stretch down on the lunge line,” she says. “If you can find a place [such as a round pen] where you can let them lunge freely, that’s ideal.
“As long as they’re not stupid about it, I think it’s better for the horses to find their own balance instead of holding them on a line.”