Lunging and groundwork is one of the most important parts of getting to know your horse before getting ready to ride it. Whilst it is great exercise for the horse itself, it also allows the horse to get rid of some ‘fizziness’ and get used to how the tack feels (especially in young horses), before mounting. Lunging can also keep a horse supple as it bends its whole body to create the large circle.
In this article, we will provide information on the benefits of lunging a horse, as well as the steps in how to lunge correctly. There is no set time on how long you should lunge a horse for, however 15-20 minutes is more than enough workout for the horse. You should also look into the frequency of lunging too as a couple of times a week should be enough. Be aware though that lunging doesn’t suit all horses, but as with everything it can be ok in moderation for most. You also need to do more with your horse than just lunging for exercise too – let’s face it, both you and your horse would get bored with 24/7 lunging.
Why you need to lunge a horse
Lunging can be used as both a warm-up and a cool-off for horses, so they are in the right frame of mind to be instructed.
It helps you to bond with your horse when training - The more you lunge a horse, the closer the bond will become. It will get used to your voice and how assertive you can be with it.
It helps the horse to burn off any extra energy - With that extra space, a horse will need some time to run off that extra energy it’s built up in the stables. Therefore, you need to be instructive during lunging so you both know your roles.
It helps to improve the horse’s balance, rhythm and trot - Again, more space means the horse can get used to its surroundings and as the owner or rider, you will be able to assert control over it. By simple instructions and using the rope to guide you, you will be able to control the horse’s balance, rhythm and trot.
It helps with the basic training required before riding the horse - If the horse has not been trained before, lunging is a vital part of that puzzle. The idea is to give them enough space to trot in a restricted area but not too much room that it feels like they’re out in the open.
It builds respect between the horse and rider/owner - Whilst bonding with your horse is important, it’s also vital that the horse respects you as the owner or rider. Whilst you want to horse to flourish under your control, it must know that you’re in charge.
Equipment needed for lunging
Both yourself and the horse need equipment and protective gear on when lunging. Safety is paramount for the pair of you so we’ve gathered a list of some essentials.
For the horse
- A sturdy headcollar - This is a requirement for the horse, so you are able to attach the lunge line to it. Horses have usually been trained in one or a lunge cavesson but many feel these are too bulky.
- A lunge line - The main piece of kit you need is a lunge line. Ideally, it should be between 30 and 35 feet long so you have space to lunge the horse. Flat webbing is better than rope because it’s much easier to handle and is super light too.
- A lunge whip - The whip is for discipline and control for the rider or owner. By showing the horse the whip when they’ve stopped or turned around during lunging, you can be assertive.
- Exercise boots or wraps - These are for added protection for the horse’s ankles and feet, in case the trip on the lunge line. They should start around ⅔ of the way up the horse’s leg and wrap around the ankle.
- Sturdy footwear - Another necessity for outdoor horse training. Make sure they’re comfortable and have a solid tread on them so you don’t trip and slide all over. This certainly isn’t a job for new shoes either!
- Gloves - To avoid rope burn, gloves are a must. You can often find that you can get extra grip from certain types of gloves too so shop around for the perfect pair.
- Helmet - Whilst this isn’t a necessary item, it is a good idea for your safety, just in case the horse has a moment.
- A clear voice - Hear us out on this one. You need a strong, assertive tone of voice to train and lunge a horse, so make sure you’ve looked after yourself. You should be well rested, take lots of fluids and eat a balanced diet.
5 steps to lunge a horse properly
- Lead your horse into the ring or enclosed area. Make sure there is nothing on the ground that could cause you or the horse to trip or fall, such as holes or debris.
- Make sure you’re holding the lunge line and whip correctly. If the horse will be working on the left rein, you will need to hold the lunge line in your left line and the whip in the right and vice versa. Lunging counter clockwise is easier as the horse will be used to having the rider on their left side.
- Instruct the horse to walk. Make sure you use the same tone and intonation every single time so the horse can get used to the sound of your voice.
- Gradually release the line but not so it is slack. As the horse moves around more, keep releasing the line until it can’t go any further. Use the whip and your voice to help the horse speed up and down. Practice techniques with both to find the right balance.
- To halt the horse, simply ask them to and gather the lunge line as you walk towards them. Then switch the lunge line to the other side of the rein, make sure you’re not tangled and repeat in a clockwise direction.
- Remember whatever you do on one rein you must repeat on the other, for example it’s not good practice if you do one rein for 5 minutes and the other for 15. Your horse will no doubt have a rein that he struggles more on, but it’s good to work both equally.
Obviously, you should get help if you are not accustomed to training or lunging a horse and start to build up a rapport with them. Each horse will react differently to the lunge line and whip so it is not a one size fits all technique. You should never use the whip to hit the horse, merely to use it as a directional aid to get the horse to speed up, slow down and stop. Again, practice makes perfect with lunging so make sure to stick to a regime. 10 minutes in either direction a couple of times a week is more than enough. If you exercise the horse too much, it will cause injury and discomfort to them. The idea of lunging is for you to get used to each other and show that you are in control but not overwork or abuse your power over it.
Get the lunging technique right and you and your horse will become best friends!