Horseproblems Australia
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LUNGING THE HORSE

by

John O'Leary
Horseman
1999

www.horseproblems.com.au

 

 

 

 

Lot's of horse owners lunge really well. The horse trains them that way.

Just watch them where ever you go. The horse runs around at the end of the stiff lunge rein whilst the owner runs around a smaller circle but lunges just as well. The whole time fighting against the pull of the horse. Well I suppose it is good for their health at least. Seriously though, it is your choice how your horses is trained to lunge so here are a few basic rules to go by. Here is a recent 'Tip of the Week' that I sent out to my mailing list:

"The lunging process is the time when the young, green or newly owned horses examine, probe, test and label us as the owner. Their decision will then directly impact upon their behavior, ridden and ground, going forward. Ignore lunging rules at your peril and have your horse assess you as a 'Bunny', for you are making a 'Rod for your own back' in the future"

  • Lunging endlessly to control behavior of a horse is a complete waste of time and all you achieve is a much fitter horse that has more energy to misbehave in the future.
     

  • Lunging to exhaust horses before show competition is idiotic and cruel. It is a scam that 'hackies pull here in Australia and I have heard of people lunging horses an entire night to quieten them for the next days comp.
     

  • If you do lunge, gain some benefit out of it by having the horse wear your chosen equipment to ensure it works 'Round' somewhat. Improve muscle tone as well as exercise the horse.
     

  • If you lunge in a round yard, there is no point using a rope or a lunge rein. Train your horse to stop or turn via the use of your voice and body language.
     

  • If you do use a rein or rope, never use a webbing halter. These train horses to lean and pull on the handler. A rope halter gains much more respect and will assist you to keep the horse light.
     

  • Lunging Caveson also will heavy a horse up in the head department as well as give you little control should something go wrong should you be out in the open.
     

  • If you use a rein, never let the horse go around leaning on it. This teaches resistance and causes the handler to be fighting with the horse. Check release to maintain the desired circle for your horse. Of course, if it is in a Round Yard, the wall should be the direction and position of travel.
     

  • From the point of view of ruining the lightness of a horse, the lunging rein does just that as it is like a large elastic band. No bump can travel down it to the head of the horse should they get ignorant.
     

  • Do not let a horse cut corners whilst lunging. This is a try on and disrespectful to you. They will regularly cut the corner which is furtherest from the gate. Don't allow it and flick them in the shoulder with the whip should they try. They must be more respectful of staying out of your space than the desire to be out of the yard and to the gate. Flick them in the shoulder every time they come around to cut the corner and send them out to the track where they were sent.
     

  • Keeping a strict and constant rules regime when in the Round Pen is highly important. Horses are assessing you all the while. If you don't Police the rules to the enth degree, they will judge you as weak and try to exploit you more in the future. In more ways than you can imagine and yes, right up to riding. Even bucking you off. I meet them all the time. Two during the last week. Complete ridden careers that have come to an end due to a lack of lunging regime and by playing stable games.
     

  • You should never have to move from your pivot point when lunging. If you are having to walk around, your horse doesn't lunge well enough.
     

  • I believe that the only reasons for lunging are to exercise a stabled horse, to prepare a girthy horse that may buck and then only briefly or to work a competition horse when you haven't time to ride. To maintain muscle or fitness levels.
     

  • Never let a horse change direction whilst lunging, without permission. This is an evasion, it is ignorant and the horse being the boss. A major No, NO. If one does it to you, immediately leap to the front of the horse and flick it in the shoulder to send it back the way it was going. Some do it to be smarties, others do it because it is not their chosen way of going, others because of a one sided body muscle development problem. It matters not, other than a Veterinary investigation perhaps, what their reason. They should not be allowed to get away with it. I have seen horses use that as a way to basically get out of lunging and to completely run amok.
     

  • If the horse has a chosen way of going, and a lot do, lunge them twice as much in the opposite direction than their preference, to fix the problem. That way, it will be a better ridden horse.
     

  • I see and hear of a lot of instances of horses charging their owner whilst lunging, cutting a corner and side kicking at the owner or just doing a threatening pass by at close quarters with the ears flat back. These horses are all out of control, have no respect and have elected themselves as No. 1 with you being No. 2. They do not like you because they do not respect you because you are weak. At the risk of being blunt, such horses should be simply attacked back by the handler and basically hit anywhere there is hair and with complete gusto. (strength and commitment) They must be shocked out of their attitude and instantly. It takes 5 seconds only and works every time. Just change your attitude in the future as you have been told by the horse that you lack strength of character basically. Horses love assertive people, they hate weak people. These horses are the ones that will buck you off and you have caused your own disaster, in the lunge ring.
     

  • If a horse is asked to change direction and it does so by turning towards the fence and giving me it's bum in my face, I see that as ignorance and I will not allow that on any horse that I work with. It shows disrespect and after all, we are trying to get respect in our training, surely. To fix this you can go through the following exercise.

When lunging a horse that is running free in a round yard, don't you just hate it when the horse turns to go the other way, that it turns to the outside with it's back end in your face?

Most Trainers' see this as ignorance and a lack of respect and I do as well. I feel that it says a lot about the training, attitude, respect and willingness of a horse. I get such horses here on almost the daily basis and have experimented with a number of systems to fix them. NH systems, 'Join Up' and even a system that is popular in the Northern parts of Australia, that of using a stock whip to flick the back legs every time they are pointing in your direction, until such time as the horse gets the message and always faces up.

In the end, I designed my own system. You will need to concentrate on the subtleties of your position by degrees and your timing. Like any good training behavior.

  • Stand in the middle of the round yard and send the horse off. Doesn't matter what gait or speed. You will normally find that such horses choose their own anyway.
     

  • Step across about one giant step (meter) towards the front end of the horse and ask for the horse to turn back the other way. Have a lunge whip in your hand.
     

  • The horse will turn with it's rear end in your face.
     

  • Immediately take a giant step towards the other side of the yard. Towards the front end of the horse and in so doing, smack your lunge whip down on the ground. The horse will spin back the other way.
     

  • Don't worry about upsetting the little darling, a bit of explosion in the roll backs is good. You will be quite impressed on just how good your horse can do a roll back.
     

  • Immediately take a giant leap across the other way and repeat, repeat, repeat. Set up a rhythm. The horse should not move out of an area measuring about 3 meters max.
     

  • The direction of your sideways leap and the sideways whip is creating an imaginary dividing line across the yard.
     

  • Each time the horse turns around, flick it in the bum.
     

  • After a dozen or so turns back, you will see the horse showing the whites of it's eyes as it strains to look at you over it's shoulder and to work out what the hell you are doing.
     

  • The horse must not escape and do a lap of the yard. A real no, no.
     

  • Now get ready, suddenly, you will see a slight hesitation and sign that the horse is looking for another option. A realization that there must be a better way, that it is getting tired with all the new found athletics.
     

  • THE MOMENT the horse does this, you must step directly back away from the horse and remove yourself momentarily from it's space. You must also let your body energy down and mellow.
     

  • The horse will stop. Either side on or facing you. If it goes to face you, withdraw another step or to and draw the horse towards you slightly. This will allow the horse the confidence to enter your space and to turn and face you.
     

  • If it didn't, ask it on again and repeat, repeat. It will get the message. That depends only upon you and your ability to see it happen.
     

  • If the horse has faced you, just slowly and quietly step around to one side a little, in an arc away from the horse as you move and softly, softly ask the horse to lunge on again, in the new direction
     

  • If it completes the turn inwards, let it go a couple of full circles of the yard as a 'Reward & Relief" for doing the right thing. Then stop it, rest for a while and pat it. You may also talk nicely to it.
     

  • There you are, another 4 types of 'Reward & Relief" That made 5.
     

  • Leave the round yard and give the horse the 6th reward.

So, what were the building blocks that made that system work?

  • 'Advance & Retreat'

  • Making the bad thing hard and the good thing easy.

  • Exhaustion

  • Position

  • Timing

  • Feel

  • Consistency

  • 'Reward & Relief'

This system works on every horse and inside 5 minutes. (Depending upon the goose in the middle of course.

How many different types of 'Reward' was there?

EQUIPMENT

All sorts of equipment that fits the artificial aid category is available for lunging horses. These include:

  • Side Reins

  • Running Reins

  • Draw Reins

  • Double reins

  • Long Reins

  • Pessoa

  • Chambon

and the list goes on. You choose your own weapon. I do agree that it is better to have a lunged horse work in some sort of a correct frame rather than just waltzing around with its head in the air.

THE DANGERS OF INSTALLING LUNGING AIDS

If a horse has not worn and of the things listed above, be majorly aware of the acute dangers confronting you and the horse the first time you do install anything. All of these training aids should be fitted loosely with the rule of thumb being that the normal head height of the horse is not restricted at all and that you only adjust up hole by hole as you see the horse giving in subtle ways to the restriction. Forget Side Reins as they are not worth the risk and the benefits to such horses are not worth bothering. Go here and read this:

I find the running reins to be the best, safest and most effective. I also find them to be far less restrictive and allow horses to find their own head or neck carriage and to flex left or right as well as being able to find reward and relief the easiest.

If you are a leaner, forget anything that has the horse wrapped up in ropes and knots and particularly forget anything that goes around the rump of the horse. All too hard and all too risky. I have seen some terrible accidents with this equipment.


Running Reins. (Click Photo to enlarge)

You can make your running reins with string, twine or rope. I have just invented an adjustment with a buckle on the end of mine. They can attach to the centre of any girth via a clip if the girth has a ring or by loops that the girth runs through. They must always be dead centre between the legs, after the horse is girthed up, so that they don't rub the inside of the legs.

Once a horse is used to giving to the pressure it puts on the bit and starts to give and find 'Reward and Relief' in dropping it's head and breaking at the pole, the danger is over and on a seasoned horse, you can go to your top adjustment immediately. Remember, you only want the forehead of the horse to be a the perpendicular, not behind the bit as we say. With all of this equipment, it is better to not have the horse on the end of a lunge line as you will be taking away from the specific signals of the installed aids and confusing the horse. That is not good training.


Here is a horse that learnt about them 10 minutes before.

Getting back to those people who run around chasing their lunging horse, there is a reason that this becomes a habit. It is because the handler supports the horse too much and becomes like the parent who is for ever threatening the child but never does anything about disciplining it. Those children do not respect the authority of the parent and the same goes for the horse. They are no different.

I follow this golden rule. When the horse is doing your chosen gait, i.e.. trot, do nothing. Do nothing until the horse ceases doing what it was that you instructed in the first place. Only act with your lunge whip when the horse ignores you and then when you do act, do it swiftly and briskly. Then do nothing. Don't chase the horse around, just stand there. The next time the horse breaks from the chosen gait, don't go straight for the lunge whip. Cluck to the horse, start at the bottom of the scale of pressure or demand. It may be that the horse will go with just that. Don't always go for the maximum as then, you have no more bullets to fire.

 Over time the horse will learn that whilst it stays in your chosen gait or speed, it is going to be left alone and not get a flick on the rump with the whip. In fact, you shouldn't have to even turn around and watch a horse the full circle. Just stand there or even better, sit on a bucket and read a book or drink wine like a lady I know.

I have to say that the best lunging horse is the 'Parelli 7 Games' trained one. You can lunge this horse anywhere, even into your horse float using the 'driving game'

On the subject of horses hanging on the end of the lunge line, as I said before, this is not acceptable and builds ignorance and resistance in horses in more ways than one. A horse should go around following the circle drawn by the radius of the amount of rein you give out. A lot of people think that that is always at the end of the rein but it shouldn't have to be. You should be able to lunge the horse two meters from you. At any rate though, the horse should not be leaning on the end of the rein like a white pointer shark. There should be a slight loop in the rein and horse should travel around in a perfect circle, maintaining that loop.

If you do have to pull on them, and you will, frequently, do it strongly and with immediate relief again. Check and release. Re-position the horse and leave it alone. You may remind it 100 times, but leave it alone in between those times. You will then train the horse to stay off your hands and to not pull and be ignorant. In this way, you can stand on your one spot. Remember, you should never be moved from your chosen spot. If you are, then your horse is not light enough on the lunge. If you have to shift, the problem is with you, not your horse.

HOW TO TRAIN THE HALT TO VOICE

There are probably many ways to do this but here is my favorite. Incidentally, I feel that many people insist upon using lunge reins in round yards because they do not know how to control their horse off the rein.

  • Have the horse lunging to the right. No rein.
     

  • Choose the word you wish to train the horse to. Whoa, stop, halt, wee, ho, please yourself but keep it consistent from that day forwards. It wouldn't matter if you spoke Russian, the horse will learn it.
     

  • Drop your lunge whip. Bring your body language down to a soft level. Use the voice cues. The horse will still keep trotting.
     

  • Start walking backwards whilst progressively and gradually moving out in front of the horse in an arc, but backing away from it. Facing the horse. You will be walking in a circle, staying in front of the horses shoulder. Repeat the words. If the horse continues, which it probably will, increase your arc to where you are reversing out in front of the horse but about a quarter of a lap in front of it. Have the horse then trotting almost towards you as you back up and draw the horse towards you. It will stop.
     

  • As time goes on, decrease this arc. In no time, the horse will stop when you say 'whoa' or when you back up only one step from your pivot position. In no time, when you drop the whip, your horse will stop. I regularly notice horses stopping because they saw me think stop. Yes, they are that perceptive. I have even practiced standing like a statue without giving body language cues and just thinking the horse to a stop and it has. The one thing that a horse wants to do most, is stop.

There are different ways to stop horses on the lunge. Some people want a horse to stop on the outside of the circle, still facing the direction of travel. The system that I just explained suits this. Others want horses to face up to them or even walk into the centre. The Parelli Training suits those aims. Learn 'The 7 Games' One of those games, the 'yo,yo' game, is also very useful for slowing a horse on the circle, stopping them and even backing them up after halt. To stop horses and to make them face you, you can use other Parelli moves.

Don't get carried away with where and how you stop your horse. Different types of horse people have different opinions about right, and theirs always is. It matters not as long as the horse is doing what you want, in the way you want it and when you want it.

Remember, lunge reins can be dangerous. Never wrap one around your arm and never get excess rein around your legs as your horse circles you. Highly dangerous. I don't use them for this reason and the fact that they are too light, soft and elastic which causes bad training of lightness in horses should I have to pull on their heads. Nothing happens and this is bad. yacht rope is far better as the shock wave travels fully down the rope to the halter. This is also why I only ever use a rope halter. As I have said in other articles, webbing halters are a major culprit in the cause of ignorant headed horses and horses with bad ground manners.

 http://www.horseproblems.com.au/horse_problems_on_horses_with_ig.htm

The people that seem to rely on lunging horses endlessly, in an attempt to make the horse tired so that it will behave, are mostly the people from the Hacking discipline. Others do it too though. Recently, a client was in a lesson with a Coach. The horse was being strong and excited in the canter work. The Coach told the pupil to leave the lesson and go away and lunge the horse. Last week, the pupil had a lesson with Mrs. HP. She got on the horse and cantered it enough that it would probably realize for the first time in its life what fatigue at the canter under saddle was. Roughly 20 minutes. The next time the pupil rode the horse, all canter excitability was gone and the horse was listening really well. Lunge them and they get fitter, not slower. Nothing beats the ridden work.

Here is a photo of a horse that I recently trained to lunge himself with no handler in the yard. It took me 5 minutes to train him. They are that smart. I am taking the photo.

Gazette (Grand Prix Dressage Horse)

OTHER WAYS

It matters not how you get a horse going around a Round Yard to start with. You do not need sophistication of any marketed Training Package or System. If you want, you can just let the horse loose, pick up a lunge whip and chase it. It will run and it matters not in which direction at the start. There you go, the horse is lunging. No mystery. You can then build on the technique and add sophistication in any way that you choose, later.

Some people in the English Ridden World insist upon having a lunging Caveson installed on the head of the horse in order to lunge. This is like a halter but has a series of rings going over the nose and you can choose which ring you attach the lunge rein clip to. It has never been explained to me why this is seen as such an important and essential piece of equipment but I seriously doubt it's necessity.

Finally, consistency, position, assertive, attention to detail and a keeping of the rules are the important factors that make up a successful lunging experience.

Best of luck

Dear Mr HP,
Could you please offer me some additional help/advice with a 4 year old QH mare I have just started working with. When she first arrived I didn't really know a lot about her training or background, just that she was green broke and had never left the property she was born on. I started in the round yard with a rope halter & lead rope to see what she thought about a few things. Firstly, it was plainly obvious that she did not lead well, for as soon as she felt the end of the rope her head shot in the air with resistance, as you often point out, this also meant she didn't tie up solid. She had a slight lateral bend, would move her front & back end over sort of, backed up and lunged around me both ways averagely. I took the lead rope off and sent her out around the yard. She started off trotting around for a few laps with her head pointing to the outside, next thing someone hit the turbo button and she was galloping full bore around the yard. I let her go a few laps, then backed away offering her a chance to look at me, this didn't happen so by stepping in front of her, I changed her direction. No surprise, she turned to the outside (showing me her arse) with great gusto and upped the speed in the opposite direction. This went on for a few more times with no sign of her looking for relief and by this stage she had sweat dripping. I decided to change tactics by doing nothing in the middle and squatted down looking at the ground (maybe this wasn't the best thing to do in the situation). I could have eaten a 3 course meal in the time it took for her to come to a stop and look at me. I walked over, rubbed her on the forehead (she wasn't frightened of me at all) and left the yard. I did a few jobs around the place for about half an hour, then walked in the yard, led her out and let her go. Next day I went through the same steps with exactly the same response...I wasn't sure how to deal with this galloping around full tilt and referred that night to my bible (your website !!!). After reading a section on lunging, I decided to firstly deal with the arse turning towards me. Your advice about turning them continually until they look for an alternative, worked within 2 mins. Over the next couple of days, I only had to stick the stick out in front of her and she'd turn straight in...the galloping around subsided (probably because she was so tired !!!). We have moved on a bit, working on different areas and I thought built up a small line of communication and understanding, although this galloping around in an, "I'm taking charge" frenzy does happen every now and then. I would like your advice on how to get on top of this situation with her. Should I keep chasing her up and changing directions every time "she takes control" . I feel it's a disrespect thing, as she's quite a bold horse (a quality I quite like about her). Your "guru" words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated.

Lunge her around, say right. If she breaks gait from your selected stride, immediately step out of the centre of the yard towards the fence but do it when she is about 170 degrees from reaching you so that you are way ahead of her. Use the increase or decrease in angle by moving further out or in, commensurate to the speed and attempt by her to bypass you. You have to be able to read that in advance or course. Should she be steaming along, walk out further and be going backwards as well, even to the point of getting basically in front of her and turn her. If she speeds off, go back to flicking her bum on the fence for a bit until she stops and faces you, and re-commence. Go back to the centre and give her the benefit of the doubt. Ask her on, having dropped the whip on the ground and taken all energy out of your body. If she quickens too much, lean backwards, walk backwards, move out further and look to be just warning her. If she dropped from canter to trot say, smoothly move back towards the centre again and so on. You have to be able to read it and in advance. Your position has to be in advance. You cannot allow the horse to pass between the fence and you. Not only will this cause the horse risk by climbing the fence because of you crowding her but will rapidly increase the speed, just the thing you didn't want in the first place. You may also go to the 12 foot rope and control her that way until things are calmed down, should you find the above difficult. Use the size of the circle by diminishing it to slow her and allowing her out as the reward. If she wants to be a smart alec, diminish her to 6 foot if you like. That slows them as it gets too difficult. You may be as aggressive on her head as you like as she must listen and she must not move you. Do it in a check and release, pulsating manner, tipping her nose in and letting it go. Giving her the option of drawing the circle herself, without you pulling on her head. You will be 'killing three birds with one stone' here. Lighting her up, (rope halter of course) teaching her to not hang on lead ropes whilst lunging let alone any time and teaching her that you can control her speed.

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