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Everything you need to know to start lunging your horse

How to start lunging your horse

Lunging is a common activity for most horses. Whether it’s once or twice a week or just the occasional lunge, your horse should be able to go on the lunge and understand what you are asking. But if your horse has never been lunged before, or if you have never lunged them yourself, it can be difficult to know where to start. But in this article we will share everything you need to know to start lunging your horse.

What is lunging?

Lunging (or lungeing/longing) is a method of exercising and/or training a horse on the ground. It consists of the horse circling the handler on the end of a long line. The handler will use mostly voice aids backed up my pulls on the long line or flicks of the lunge whip.

What are the benefits of lunging?

There are lots of benefits to lunging your horse. Just a few of these include:

  • Backing young horses
  • Warming up fresh/excitable horses before getting on
  • Warming up cold backed horses before getting on
  • Rehabilition without a rider
  • Training self carriage
  • General exercise

But too much lunging can also cause problems. You shouldn’t need to lunge your horse for more than 30 minutes in a session. Lots of circles put excess strain on their limbs and if you don’t work them equally on both reins, you can get a lopsided horse. Circles can put more strain on younger, unbalanced horses and horses with certain injuries or conditions such as arthritis. So while there are benefits, lunging should be kept to a minimum for some horses.

Why should your horse know how to lunge?

Whether you think your horse will benefit from being lunged or not, it is still something they need to know how to do. If your horse develops a lameness, or if they are being vetted as part of a sale, they will be expected to work on the lunge for the vet. If your horse can’t lunge then it can make this process very difficult.

What do you need to lunge your horse?

Everyone has different preferences for what you need to lunge your horse. My personal preference is a bridle with a caverson and a roller. When we were working with young horses my lecturer made a comment that having the line infront of them gives them something positive to follow, whereas under the chin doesn’t give them this.

  • Bridle (with or without a lunge cavesson)
  • Roller or Saddle
  • Saddle Pad
  • Overreach Boots*
  • Brushing Boots*
  • Side Reins*
  • Lunge Line
  • Lunge Whip

*These are things what aren’t vital, but I think can be really beneficial when training a young horse.

It’s not for everyone, but I personally really like loose doughnut sidereins for young horses who are starting the backing process. This isn’t to tie them down or pull them into the correct position. But the weight of the doughnuts get them used to pressure and feel on the bit.

Scottie's cough, I lunge Scottie in the same equipement I longrein in
Scottie lunges & longreins in a cavesson & bridle. Sometimes with a roller and loose sidereins.

How do you start lunginging your horse?

How you start lunging your horse really depends on whether your horse has been lunged before or not. If your horse has lunged before, just not for a long time, or not with you, you can probably skip straight to step 3. But if you’re introducing lunging to your horse for the first time, following these simple steps will give you the perfect building blocks towards lunging.

1. Get your horse comfortable in their tack

Whatever tack you have chosen for your horse to lunge in, they need to first be comfortable in it. If you are training a horse horse who is completely new to work, you will likely need to spend a lot more time on this step than an older horse. Slow is best. Introduce something new gently. Let them get used to it before you ask more. For example, when you first introduce a roller or saddle, gently put it on and off their back a few times. Next time very loosely do the girth up. Maybe walk a lap. Then tighten the girth and repeat.

2. Walking in hand with voice commands

Hopefully before you want to start lunging your horse they are already walking inhand nicely. If not it’s really time to get that mastered! They should walk on and stop when asked and if you haven’t already, they should do this off your voice too.

3. Walking with distance

Once your horse is walking and stopping in hand with your voice commands, then it is time to start increasing the distance between you in a safe & contained area. This can be easier at the start if you have an extra pair of hands.

I have a helper

If you have a helper, have them walk on the otherside of the horse to you, level with the neck/shoulder. With you on the inside, start walking a circle. After a few circles, start to make your circle smaller, while your horse and helper stay on the larger circle. Slowly circle to the middle of the circle, so you are standing still and the horse and helper are walking around you. Your helper can take a rein if needed to stop your horse from falling in or following you into the middle.

If it is going well, you can move onto the next step. If you want to take things slower, you can repeat this process on the other rein before calling it a day.

I don’t have a helper

If you don’t have a helper, this step might take a bit longer. But continue walking your horse in hand, using your voice commands. After a while adjust your position slightly. Instead of facing the same direction as your horse, turn slightly towards them. Hold your lunge line in your hand closest to their head and your whip in the hand closest to their bum. You probably want to hold your whip upside down, so that the whip is pointing behind you to start with. Now start walking again, you will be walking slightly sideways.

As you and your horse get used to your new position, slowly move further away from your horse so you are creating space between you. Your horse shouldn’t fall in to be with you and they should still stop & walk on from your voice commands. Once you have created 8-10m of space and you are both comfortable, you can move onto step 4.

4. Take up the lunging position

I have a helper

You should now be able to stand in the middle of the circle while your horse is walking around with your helper. Take up your correct lunging position, with your arms in a V from your horse’s head to pointing the whip towards their bum. Make sure to keep the whip low when not encouraging your horse forward. Once you are in position, start to add in walk-halt-walk transitions. If your voice commands aren’t enough now, your helper can also apply aids from their side.

You can repeat this on both reins until you are happy that your horse is responding to your aids and not your helpers. You don’t have to master all of this in one session. If this takes a few weeks, or longer that is fine. It’s better to take it slow than to rush.

But once you are comfortable moving onto the next step, ask your helper to slowly increase the size of their circle, so that they are slowly spiralling out, away from your horse. If your horse worries, they can move a bit closer again. But eventually your helper will be so far away from your horse that you are lunging your horse!

I don’t have a helper

Now you have built up the space between you and your horse, it’s time to take up the lunging position. Start by standing still while your horse continues to walk in a circle around you. You can now turn your whip around, if you haven’t already, to point at the floor behind them. You are now lunging your horse!

5. Building up from walk

Once you feel like you have mastered walking and stopping on command, you can start building it up to include more. A good next step is to introduce trot. Simply keep asking your horse to go forward, like you would when asking for walk, until they respond by breaking into trot. Breaking into a jog for a few steps is fine! They have given you the right reaction, even if it is a small one. Start with just a circle of trot before asking them to return to walk. You can then build up the trot work on both reins like you have with the walk. You can introduce canter the same way.

Most people will want to introduce a horse to poles and jumps on the ground first before asking them to negotiate them with a rider. I personally like to lead young horses over a single pole a couple of times in each direction so they can understand it with you before asking them to lunge over it themselves. I would start with just a single pole, then build up to a pole in each quarter of the circle. From here you can work on introducing more pole combinations and start raising the poles into small jumps.

Lunging can also be a great way to introduce a rider. Check out our top tips for starting a young horse. I have also reviewed a very detailed book what I think is a great starting point for beginners!

How to start lunging your horse

Last Updated on 11/10/2022

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