Lunging is a training tool with a multitude of benefits. It is the perfect way to calm a fizzy horse before the rider mounts, it helps to warm up cold muscles prior to a training session, enables young horses to be exercised without the weight of a rider on their backs, and it is the ideal way to reintroduce a horse to gentle work following injury or time off. It can help to improve flexibility and balance, rhythm and movement, as well as encourage the correct outline without using force. It is also an excellent aid for inexperienced riders who can hone their position and balance while their instructor controls the horse.
“Get lunging wrong and you could put your horse and yourself in danger”
It is only the perfect training tool, however, when the right equipment and environment are used. Get it wrong and you could be putting your horse and yourself in danger.
Don’t contemplate lunging unless you have the right tools for the job. This includes a cavesson, which has some similarities to a halter. The main difference is the heavy, padded noseband which comes with metal rings attached. The lunge line — another essential piece of equipment — fixes to a ring on the front.
Additionally, you will need a lunge whip, a roller (or a saddle), a breastplate to stop them slipping backwards and brushing boots on all four legs to prevent injury from kicking. Remember, too, that the handler must wear a hard hat and gloves.
The cavesson can integrate with a snaffle bit and bridle, with the bridle cheek pieces placed over the cavesson noseband. You may need to lengthen the bridle’s cheek pieces for fitting and remove the bridle’s own noseband, as well as the reins. Ensure that the cavesson noseband sits just below the horse’s cheek bones (a two-finger distance away) and all straps are done up firmly to stop the cavesson slipping round into the horse’s eyes.
Fit side reins by slipping them under the girth straps and then attach the other end to the snaffle bit rings in a light contact while the horse is in a standing position.
An enclosed school with a non-slip surface is the perfect place for lunging. However, a flat, dry field with no ruts would be suitable alternative. Bear in mind, that circling places stress on a horse’s limbs, so an undulating paddock with uneven ground is likely to cause injury, while lunging on wet grass is dangerous and can cause slips and falls.
The horse should walk, trot and canter on both reins on a circle 20m from the handler, who stands with the lunge line in their left hand and the whip (pointed at the horse’s hind quarters) in their right, forming a triangle with the horse as the base and the trainer at the apex.
The lunge line should be neither too tight nor too loose and the whip should never be used to hit the horse, but it should be flicked near his hocks to encourage forward movement. The perfect device to control the horse while lunging is the handler’s voice, which should be used to increase the pace and slow it down, with the whip only used to back up the voice in an unresponsive horse.
Never wind the lunge line around your hand. If the horse panics and bolts it could drag you with it. Instead lay it in equal loops across the palm of your hand, close the hand to keep a contact and then open it to let out the lunge line when necessary.
Do not lunge a schooled horse for more than half an hour. Reduce this time significantly for an unfit horse or a youngster.
It is vital that you seek help from an accredited trainer and learn properly before you try lunging for the first time.