Lungeing is one very useful horse skill to have. Done correctly, it can be used to guage your horses mood (and amount of energy) before a ride, and can also establish your position as “leader” in your relationship with your horse. Done incorrectly, however, it can simply be an out of control horse careening around a circle.
We will begin with the very basics, then I will tell you how I start a horse on the lunge line and some exercises that I do with my more advanced horses as well.
So here are the universal pointers –
When lungeing, you want to position yourself about at the horse’s shoulder. If you step in front of the invisible line coming back from your horse’s throat area he will either stop, slow down, or pull out on the circle in an attempt to get away from you. Even if your toes are pointing in front of the horse he may start to do these things. On the contrary, if you are too far behind the horse, he will likely speed up or just go in a very irregular circle. You are also in perfect kicking range if you are standing back by his rump.
To get the horse started on the lungeing circle, you want to send him out away from you. This means leaning forward and making the horse step out and away, then forward around the circle. If you are stepping backwards as you do this, you will likely end up feeling as though your horse is running you over.
There are several methods to stop your horse – voice commands, back pressure on the line, stepping in front of the horse’s eye… but one thing is universal, you need to relax, slow your own movements, and step back a little to allow the horse to relax and stop moving. Its common sense but we don’t often think about it.
Now – starting a horse on the lunge line. I prefer a technique taught to me by Caroline Rider of Rider Horsemanship. In this method, you start the horse on a very small circle, asking them to keep their nose in, and step under themselves with their inside hind leg, effectively taking their butt away from you as they travel around the circle. This teaches the horse to focus on you, not what is happening around the arena, as well as training the horse to carry themselves on their haunch and use their hind end as they move.
As the horse gets more consistent, I will allow the circle to become gradually larger and start to increase the pace as well. If he ever gets distracted or starts running around disorganized, I go back to the small circle reminding him to keep his nose to the inside. Once the horse is relaxed on the line you can get creative, lungeing over small jumps, tarps, etc. You can even use your lungeing skills to go into the trailer or the wash stall (the basic technique of sending the horse forward is the same). Also, if you like using side reins or a bitting rig, you can incorporate them at this time – when the horse is completely relaxed and understands the lungeing process.
As always, stay consistent with your cues, be patient with your horse and yourself, and have fun!