There are certain times of year that a horse isn’t going to be ridden much. Then there are some horses that really have had any experience with riding. Whether it’s been a few months since the saddle has been on or the saddle has never been on, a horse can be difficult to handle when regular riding isn’t part of the routine.
There are some horses that are always laid-back, calm, and very dependable. Properly lunging will help them just as it will help the horse who needs to be lunged for the first time.
If you want to know how to lunge a horse for the first time properly, then here are the training techniques that you’ll want to consider using.
What Is Lunging and Why Do I Need to Do It?
In the United States, it is typically referred to as “longing.” In the UK, it is referred to a “longeing” or “lunging.” This technique asks the horse to work at the end of a lunge line while responding from commands issued by the handler. The handler holds the line as the horse walks in a large circle of a real or imaginary ring and the trainer stays in the middle of this ring.
The lunging technique provides many benefits for both the horse and the rider or trainer. When lunging a horse for the first time, you’ll be able to teach the horse how to respond to specific voice commands and the body language of the trainer. It will also help the horse begin to get accustomed to the feeling of a bridle and saddle. Lunging also introduces bit pressure and the feel of the reins.
It is not uncommon for a horse to be on a lunge line for the first time and be asked to do everything it would be asked to do during a ride. This includes all gait movements, hand and voice command response, and staying calm during situations that may be viewed as stressful for the horse.
In basic terms: lunging helps the horse become familiar with your expectations as you become familiar with what the horse can do.
What Equipment Will I Need to Lunge a Horse for the First Time?
To properly lunge a horse, you’ll need to have protection for the horse’s legs. This means you’ll need wraps, orthotic boots, or splint boots. A properly fitted halter is beneficial, with a lunge line of up to 30 feet commonly being used. Some trainers prefer to use a lunge whip while others do not – that choice is up to you.
Although a pen is not necessary for lunging, it may be useful to have a round enclosed pen for a horse that has is being lunged for the first time.
You’ll also need to be working on your own body control. It is this control that will help the horse begin to learn your expectations and what the transitions are going to be like when mounted.
Here's a dope pic of my dad riding a horse while wearing a turtle neck pic.twitter.com/e4LWKcQLCt— Nik (@nikkimucha) September 26, 2016
What Commands Should I Work On When Lunging?
The first thing that you’ll likely want to work on when lunging a horse for the first time are the starts and the stops.
If you want the horse to stop, then you must be able to stop all forms of communication with the horse. You can do this by stopping your feet, lowering your head, and exhaling. Then softly issue your stop command. Your horse is going to respond in the way that it interprets your command and body language. If you want the stop to be relaxed and smooth, then that’s the way you must be as a trainer.
Then encourage the horse to start again by issuing your start command. A gentle tug on the lunge line to encourage walking as the command is given will help the horse associate the need to walk with the command that is given. As with stopping, the horse will start walking again based on the body language it senses from you. If you’re frustrated at the horse’s performance, then the starts will reflect this frustration as well.
Remember to reward your horse when good stops and starts happen. Steady strides deserve positive attention. You’re learning the lunging process as the horse is learning the commands, so it is important to remember that the two of you are in this together.
Once the starts and stops are good and consistent, then focus on walking in the circle. The horse may want to come inside the circle, turn the circle into an oval, or become curious about what it sees in the corner of its eye and just make more of a square. Use your commands, restore the horse to the path you want, and then continue the lunging process.
Take Time to Teach the Horse How to Change Directions
Starting and stopping is a good first step to take when knowing how to lunge a horse for the first time. Before skipping ahead to the various gaits that you’ll want the horse to practice, it is important to teach the process of changing directions. Work with the horse and your commands to switch which way around the circle you want the horse to walk. Repeat the start and stop process if necessary until the horse become accustomed to what you want done.
Once you and your horse are good at the walk and at changing direction, then you can introduce the trot.
If you’re using a lunge whip, then you’ll want to raise it a bit higher when introducing the trot. You’ll also want your body language to communicate an extra level of energy. Elevate your shoulders, be in proper posture, and most importantly be confident about what you are doing.
Not every horse will respond to a trot, especially if this is the first time with the lunge. You can encourage the trot by talking or clucking at the horse to bring more speed. If that doesn’t work, a more aggressive encouragement, like the crack of the whip, can get the trot started.
The horse needs to associate the raised lunge line with the command to trot. The horse should not stop trotting until you lower the line. Restore the trot if the horse ends it early. If you do want the trot to stop, make sure that you slow down your own energy as well.
Initiating the canter follows the same process. Raise the line or whip a bit higher than what you had for the trot. This will indicate to the horse that you want it to move even more quickly. If the canter does not develop, use the same process for initiating more speed. Stay steady and keep in rhythm through each speed variation, remaining confident in what you can do and what the horse will be able to do with enough training.
“I’ve Tried, But My Horse Just Won’t Lunge.”
This is a common complaint. Some horses don’t go forward. Some turn and face the trainer. There is the bucking, rearing, and bolting. Sometimes the horse just likes to race around the circle and you’d swear he was laughing at you.
In these instances, there is probably an alignment issue.
Lunging might seem complicated, but all it really entails is you pushing the horse around a circle. And, since horses primarily communicate through body language, there’s a good chance that a horse is being stubborn because it senses the trainer is equally stubborn.
If you are talking to someone who has their arms crossed in front of their chest and their weight on one leg, that would be considered a defensive alignment. That would make you uncomfortable talking to that person because of their body language.
Horses are the same way. Align your hips and shoulders so they are aimed in relation to the shoulder, head, and hips of the horse. Create a triangle with the horse as the base, you as the point, and your arms as the sides of the shape. Then lead with your left or right foot, depending on the direction you want to go.
That’s the best way to get started, especially for a horse being lunged for the first time.
Why Is Lunging Such an Important Training Tool?
In a word: hierarchy. Horses are pack animals. They have a pecking order that is established through domination. By using the lunge line, you’re showing the horse that you’re the leader of the pack. With effective training using this method, it can be possible to eliminate behavioral kicking that is associated with a horse’s feelings of superiority before they are able to form.
But how you act as a trainer will be a reflection to the horse of who you are as a leader. If you are all over the place, creating a chaotic and loud environment for the horse during training, then that is the riding personality that you will develop within the horse.
For a horse to be secure, calm, and willing, then you must be secure, calm, and willing to listen to what the horse is telling you.