Many of us use lunge work as a pre cursor to ridden work – especially at this time of year. Fresh fit horses can be a little exuberant straight out of the stable in springtime! You may also see people using lunge work as part of their warm up at shows. Young horses or new horses are often lunged first before the rider gets on, just to make sure any high jinks are dealt with. It is worth remembering that lunging can also form a valuable part of the horse’s regular work routine, no matter what age the horse is or what discipline you focus on. Lunge work should help to improve the ridden work.
There are a number of answers to this question. For exercise and/or stretching. For increasing the horses fitness levels. To improve muscle tone and suppleness. For the rider/owner/trainer to observe the horses way of going and how they carry themselves. Assess their progress, gaits or even soundness. It is also a good way to build a rapport with your horse and to train them to listen to voice aids from the ground. For young horses, lunge work is the start of the education into ridden work.
It can also help a rider at the start of their education. More advanced riders can benefit from lunge lessons too, working on position and feel for example.
How does it help?
For more experienced or established horses, lunging will help them increase their suppleness. Encouraging correct work from behind to power forwards. Engaging the hind quarters and then connecting that energy to the front end. This will, in turn, encourage the horse to lift through it’s back. Naturally then bringing their hind quarters underneath them.
Horses must work on their fitness and recovery times to improve athletically. Lunging once or twice a week is great for this and will be sufficient within the work routine. Lunge work is more demanding for the horse and sessions should be around 30-45 mins max. Factor in plenty of stretching and walking. Shorter bursts of controlled work with recovery periods in between are great. Lunging added in to your ridden work; the schooling and hacking, can help to increase fitness whilst keeping the horse mentally active too. Differing forms of exercise are much better for your horses mental well being and all round progress.
Watching your horse work is a great way of assessing how developed they are becoming in their frame and muscle tone. You can assess the activity of their gaits and work to improve this if needs be. Building the muscle tone to enable the horse to support a saddle and a rider in a better way as well.
Using your voice aid to help to develop a bond and establish greater efficiency within your training is also a valuable result from lunge work. You can use inflection in your voice to encourage more forward movement and lower the tone to steady a pace or help with a downwards transition. Verbally linking with the horse like this helps with the bond.
What should i use?
Nowadays there are a many lunge aids marketed to riders. Many advocate their specific benefits and it would be worth taking the time to look into all and assess sensibly which may be best for your horse and his training. Traditionally the use of side reins and tack, or a roller was advised. With adequate warm up and cool down periods around the use of the side reins. Essentially, you are looking to encourage your horse to stretch over their back, engage the hind quarters and seek self carriage. Any aid you use to assist with this must not be restrictive to the horses way of going. A lunge whip is carried, never to strike the horse, but to act in the same way as your legs do when on board. Creating forward movement and energy.
Traditionally horses wear a cavesson over the bridle, with a central ring on the noseband to attach the lunge line to. If you are lunging with tack on, make sure that the stirrups are secured by folding up the excess leathers. This stops them flapping about, which may spook the horse. The lunge line should be of thick cotton webbing and be at least 10m long. Horses are also advised to wear protective boots or bandages on their legs, as well as over reach boots.
What should i wear?
The person lunging should wear a hard hat to current safety standards, sensible footwear as per for riding, and gloves. Safety is paramount and making sure you are wearing the correct kit can prevent you from being injured.
“We would love to see your pictures or videos of your horse on the lunge, or even hear some of your suggestions for work on the lunge. What exercises do you do with your horse? Do you use poles? Contact us and you could feature on our next blog online!”