Knowing how to lunge a young horse will give you a strong foundation for all future training. Lunging helps to develop the straightness and the strength that is required for a horse to be able to properly carry a rider. Without this training, it may be unhealthy for a horse to carry someone.
Lunging might be training, but it is also an art form that will require a lot of patients. Controlling the horse, especially young ones, when they are far away and moving can cause training errors. These steps will help you be able to avoid those errors so you can apply your natural horsemanship techniques with ease.
#1. Make sure you have a strong contact.
You must have a steady connection between handler and horse in order to have good lunging. While you’re working the line, make sure there isn’t any slack in it. Once there is slack, there is a lack of control. Most young horses are not going to naturally work in a circular manner, so it is up to the handler to maintain a strong contact so the training can proceed properly.
Lunging with a slacked line really just means the horse is getting some exercise. That’s valuable as well, but it won’t help the training of the young horse to progress.
#2. Always lunge within an enclosed area.
Young horses are particularly stubborn at times when it comes to lunging. They can be surprisingly strong as well, ripping the lunge line right from a handler’s hands. For this reason, it is generally considered a best practice to lunge within an enclosed area of some sort. This will help you to be able to recover the horse quickly should they break free.
#3. Do not use aggressive contacts when lunging.
When lunging a young horse, there will always be an equal and opposite reaction from the horse based on what they receive from their handler. If there are aggressive contacts from the handler, then the young horse is going to develop an aggressive personality during each session. This creates a negative cycle that will eventually end up hurting the horse, the handler, or both.
The biggest issue in this regard comes from leaning or pulling during a lunging session. Some handlers feel like their young horse is doing this as a way to establish domination. In reality, it is more likely being caused by postural weakness. Over time, the strengthening that occurs while lunging will naturally correct this situation.
#4. Allow the rounding process to occur naturally.
Sometimes you’ll see advice online that encourages handlers to use tight side-reins while lunging a young horse so that it becomes easier to “round” the horse. This might seem to make lunging easier, but what it is really doing is creating an artificial engagement of the desired posture. To properly support a rider, there must be proper strength and posture. There is no shortcut to this.
Imagine if you were told to lift with your legs, not with your back, and were given a back brace to keep you in that position. Then you were expected to lift 200 pounds without any strength training. Could you do it?
Of course not. And neither can a young horse. What you’re trying to do is create a longitudinal stretch so that there is the strength within the horse to properly carry the rider.
#5. Quick-fix devices should never be used.
Let’s be clear: if a horse is not listening to its handler and will not lift or stretch without the use of an artificial device, then they will not do so when one is affixed to them. A young horse which isn’t lunging correctly needs to have their bend and balanced aligned, which means there isn’t the right level of contact on the lunge line going on.
Go back to #1 and review.
Horses that are not properly stretching may also have a physical issue which is preventing them from maintaining the proper form. Placing a device on an injured horse will only cause further health problems.
#6. Remember to go slow.
Strength doesn’t come from fast repetition. The postural muscles must be engaged slowly and over time so that they can build up strength. Rushing the horse with aggressive lunging will create an imbalance that could affect the health of the horse.
Be patient. Remember to go slow. You may even need to slow down a young horse because they want to go quickly. With time and patience, you’ll be able to get the horse into the right position.
#7. Do not try to lunge using a bridle.
In most cases, you’ll need to attach the lunge line to a bit ring or clip it to an outer one. This is the traditional method for lunging. You may also consider lunging a young horse from the cavesson. This is because some young horses are very sensitive about what is around their mouth and may rebel with a lunge line clipped to a bit.
Whatever you choose to do, it is important to remember not to lunge a young horse using either a halter or a head collar. Not only does this provide a lesser contact to the horse, but it may also cause an injury. The looseness of a collar or bridle can cause you to move them toward the eyes of the horse when using the lunge, which may cause an injury.
If you must use a bridle, then only use one that has a D-ring set that is built into the noseband.
#8. Most lunging takes place at a trot.
Lunging generally occurs during a trot because this pacing gives the horse a certain level of looseness that is not available at other paces. It also naturally allows the horse to let their neck begin to drop just a bit. As you maintain contact with the horse, focus on the rhythm of the trot so that the horse begins to become familiar with the pacing.
Once the rhythm is established, then you can begin to add vocal commands and other schooling needs. This is because the balance between the contact and rhythm will support the future learning needs of the horse.
When you know how to lunge a young horse, then you will be able to create the training progression that will be necessary for the horse to one day support a rider. You will also find that a horse which has been lunged will help new riders be able to learn the aspects of control they will need as well.
Follow these steps and you’ll be able to avoid the common lunging errors that tend to occur. Remember that for young horses, 20-30 minutes of lunging is all that is necessary.