So you’ve heard the term “lunge” when it comes to exercise, but do we know what it actually means? Perhaps you’re new to horse riding and its vast terminology? Or perhaps you’re an experienced equestrian but have never truly known the correct definition? Well, fear not, as we have all the information you could possibly need for a successful session for both you and your horse.
Lunge definition - what does it mean and what does it involve?
Lunging, or “longeing” as it’s also known refers to a technique of horse training where your horse moves around you in a circle at the end of a lunge line, responding to the commands of the handler (aka you).
To lunge a horse requires confidence in the commands you give, so make sure your voice is ready and your horse understands each prompt by using the same tone for each signal. This will avoid confusion and distress for the horse, ensuring you are both getting the most out of your time.
Why do you lunge a horse?
As a form of exercise, lunging is an excellent way to let your horse burn off energy without having to ride. It’s great when time is short or as a warm up before a long ride or event. It's also a fantastic tool for teaching obedience and helping to maintain focus on those all-important show days. Other reasons to lunge include getting to know a new horse, rehabilitation after injury, eliminating bad habits, introducing obstacles or teaching a young horse to carry a saddle. But ultimately, it’s an opportunity to develop any areas you think needs work.
Benefits of lunging a horse?
There are so many benefits to lunging a horse. Some of the main reasons include increasing flexibility, improving fitness, relaxing the horse, and of course improving discipline and behaviour, which is good preparation before a competition. Not only this, but it helps riders to teach new skills without having to control the horse at the same time. Plus, it’s a fantastic way of observing a horses gaits, which is especially important if you are looking to buy, because after all, no one wants to commit to a horse that could potentially be lame. The most common gaits are walk, trot, canter and gallop therefore by lunging a horse, it gives you the chance to see how he moves.
How long should I lunge my horse for?
This depends on what your goal is. You may spend more time lunging a young horse when teaching it new tricks or if you’ve just bought the horse to establish its strengths. In this case, you may spend anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes. However, for a mature, familiar horse you may only need to spend between 5 and 10 minutes, as this can work wonders due to its physical demands.
How to lunge a horse . . .
So now we know the hows and whys, let's talk about the best way to lunge a horse by following these simple steps.
Step 1 - Preparation
Having everything ready is essential for a smooth transition from the yard to the ring or arena. You don’t want to waste valuable time having to run back for an item you’ve forgotten, especially if you are already against the clock. For your horse, you will need a well-fitting cavesson, lunge line, a lunge whip and some form of leg protection eg exercise boots, wraps or pads. The cavesson should fit snug across the nose area without slipping, then for the lunge line, we recommend a lightweight fabric such as polyester or nylon, as rope can be heavy and has potential to cause friction burns. Then for yourself, we suggest wearing sturdy boots, gloves and even your riding hat for added protection.
Step 2 - Getting started
Once everything is in place, it’s time to lead your horse to the ring or arena. When you have entered the area, take your horse to the centre of the circle you intend to work. A general rule is that if you are working to the left, then the lunge line will be in your left hand and your lunge whip in your right. Alternatively, if you are working to the right, then the lunge whip will be in your right hand and your whip in your left hand. Imagine the lunge line and the whip as the sides of a triangle, yourself as the top and your horse as the base. It’s important to maintain this triangle while training so keep your arms relaxed and your elbows slightly bent as you move around.
Step 3 - The commands
Successfully lunging a horse means having him follow simple voice commands and subtle cues from the lunge line. Start by asking your horse to walk, then increase to trot and eventually canter. Using the commands correctly enables your horse to understand when to increase or decrease speed and even change direction. Don’t be disheartened if it takes a few attempts to master, with enough practice your horse will soon pick it up. Keep the commands short, sharp and consistent so the horse becomes familiar with your tone and can distinguish between each request.
Step 4 - Using the lunge whip
As with any new skill, practice makes perfect, but using a lunge whip acts as an additional form of control, which is important for your horse when understanding what is expected of him following each command. The whip is never to be used as a form of punishment or out of frustration, it is simply used as a form of encouragement. Sometimes a gentle tap on the ground, or pointing down can indicate a decrease in speed, for example going from a trot to a walk, whereas cracking the whip or waving it in the air can indicate an increase in speed for example going from a trot to a canter.
Do’s & Don’t of lunging a horse. . .
Do put horse boots on your equestrian friend while training to avoid injury as this may cause your horse to become lame.
Do enjoy it, it’s vital to understanding your horse, how they move, areas to improve, therefore extremely useful for both horse and handler.
Do make it fun, it’s a fantastic exercise for your horse, plus it also enables you as the handler to learn new skills without having to worry about control while riding.
Do maintain the circle - essential for keeping control, so keep the lunge line held up, don’t let it drag across the ground.
Don’t class it as a form of punishment. It’s an opportunity to learn, develop and improve on skills, gaits, balance and flexibility.
Don’t have any distractions, especially when starting out. It’s important for the horse to give you full attention while listening to your commands.
Don’t wrap the lunge line around your hand during the session. This could cause injury to you if the horse suddenly bolts or becomes distressed as he could drag you with him with little or no warning.
Don’t give up. When starting out, lunging can seem like a mammoth task with an untrained horse but we promise with regular sessions you will develop a fantastic bond and ultimately gain their trust resulting in their co-operation and obedience.