Lunging is a wonderful way to gymnasticise your horse, meaning that you supple, strengthen and straighten the horse. But be careful: lunging can only be healthy for a horse if it happens in a responsible and correct way. Unfortunately a lot of mistakes happen during lunging. That is why I have listed the 7 most common mistakes, so you can make sure you don’t make them too(anymore)!
Lunging mistake #1: Lunging with a bit
This is a very common mistake during lunging. By lunging with a bit, the mandible of the horse is placed inwards, when the handler asks for flexion with the lunge.
However, for a correct flexion and also bending the upper jaw needs to be positioned inwards, which is only possible when the mandible is placed outwards.
Working with a bit makes it is more difficult for the horse to take a correct flexion, and therefore also a correct lateral bending. It is best to train with a good-fitting cavesson, because with this you act on the upper jaw of the horse, and during a half-halt you request the upper jaw inwards instead of the mandible.
Lunging mistake #2: Using draw reins, side reins, pessoa, …
They place the head and the neck of the horse in a certain position which the horse would not take naturally. Whatever the proponents claim: you would not use draw reins or other tack that puts the horse is a certain frame if the horse would walk correctly. In other words: this kind of tack “force” the horse in a position and this is associated with tension and therefore a wrong way of moving.
That’s why we also don’t put the lunge through a girth ring (this is from the head to the girth ring and from the girth ring to the hand). The trainer cannot give directed rein aids, because the handlers hand isn’t directly connected with the horse’s head.
Think about a half halt up, down, forwards, or backwards. The horse cannot be helped correctly.
So you’re unable to respond to the natural crookedness of the horse when using draw reins/side reins or when you put the lunge through the girth, because you “lock” the horse. You cannot influence the centre of gravity of the horse anymore, and you will not be able to properly help the horse because you cannot “use” the head-neck position to help the horse finding its balance.
This way of lungeing has therefore nothing to do with a logical, constructive training, where you systematically gymnasticise your horse step by step, at the horse’s tempo.You are perfectly able to get a correct moving horse without using these training tools.
Lunging mistake #3: No solid foundation
Very often horses are lunged without a proper foundation. Some of these horses have a hard time to relax and that is why they don’t learn fast or well, or they learn the wrong things.
A good foundation is firstly a lot of trust, clear communication and true connection between horse and trainer. True connection can be developed through Liberty Training.
When the connection is strong you can continue to the basic groundwork so the horse can – among other things – learn to know and trust the aids and to learn to fluently yield for pressure. You also practice the normal circle work, which is a very important precursor of dressage lunging.
Those who take the time to create a solid foundation will have more fun and more succes during lunging because the horse will understand and trust you and all your aids. A good start is half the work!
Lunging mistake #4: wrong body language of the handler
When the handler uses the wrong body language, the horse becomes confused. Some horses become anxious, others become angry, others will block or start to run.
Very often it happens that the horse doesn’t “want” to leave on the circle. These horses are sometimes labelled as “dominant” or “stubborn”. In reality it’s not so that the horse doesn’t “want” to leave. The cause of the problem is an incorrect communication / body language (however, it could also be as a result of a developed aversion for lunging for other reasons, like the most common mistakes I describe in this article).Horses constantly read the handler’s body language and when that is wrong/confusing, problems will arise.
It also often happens that horses are “unlearning” to react to body language because the handler isn’t aware of his own body language. For instance: the handler wants the horse to continue to trot, but unconsciously he uses a slowing body language (for instance, the handler looks down or moves his centre backwards). Because of this passive body language the horse starts to walk and this is not want the handler wants and he energetically drives the horse forward with his whip.
This way the horse learns to ignore the handler’s body language, and to simply listen to the pulling of the lunge (to stop) and the driving/tapping of the whip (to accelerate).
The horse learns to walk round like a robot. But to be able to lunge in a dressage way it is necessary that the horse keeps his natural sensitivity and keeps itself open towards the trainer. Also the trainer needs to open up towards the horse.
Lunging mistake #5: Not enough knowledge about biomechanics
The aim of lunging is to gymnasticise your horse. Gymnasticising means that you’re making your horse more supple, but also stronger. You teach your horse to:
- move in balance on a circle.
- bend in equally well both to the left as to the right.
- come in a forward-downwards posture.
- swing under with his inside hind-leg.
- move straight instead of crooked.
- In short: you learn your horse to use his body in an optimal way, so that he can carry the rider better (also driving horses can benefit from correct lunging).
Lunging should be a thoughtful and logical step by step training to gymnasticise and straighten your horse. Unfortunately you often see people lunging their horse without knowing what exactly they are doing. The horse walks (extremely) on or over the shoulder, moves with a hollow back, pushes too much with the hind legs instead of swinging under, weights the front legs too much, swings out, goes too fast, …
To be able to lunge correctly you have to have at least basic knowledge about the natural asymmetry and imbalance in the horse’s body. You have to know if you are dealing with a left of right bended horse, and also which hind leg of the horse is the weak hind leg and which the strong hind leg. If you recognise this you can train your horse in a correct way.
A handler without basic knowledge about that will do the horse does more harm than good. In that case, lunging is very disadvantageous for the horse because it is likely that through the centrifugal forces and shear forces too much pressure is put on the muscles and tendons of the horse, and through that, also on the skeleton. This is enormously straining and this can have very unpleasant (and sometimes irreversible) consequences.
Lunging mistake #6: stopping at the wrong moment
Many handlers make the mistake not to stop at the right moment. They either continue too long or they stop too early. By continue to work too long you’re crossing the limit of the horse. The muscles become tired and the horse remembers lungeing as tiring. Each time it will be less motivated to contribute and the quality of the movements can deteriorate.
But also, when lunging is too short it can happen that the horse hasn’t reached the relaxation it needs to start moving correctly. The endorphin flow released by the forward-downward position hasn’t started yet and so the horse misses those “feel good” hormones that make sure that lunging is relaxing and pleasant.
A good trainer observes the horse intensively and notices the best moment to stop. This is not too early so the horse receives the chance to come in that endorphin-flow but certainly not too late to ensure the horse doesn’t become tired.
Lunging mistake #7: the handler leaves his own circle line
During lunging the handler walks along in a -small-circle. With this it is important that he knows well where to lay down his own circle. Unconsciously many handlers let themselves be “pulled away” or “pushed away” by the horse. They unconsciously walk a bigger circle (when the horse walks over the shoulder) or even a smaller circle (when the horse falls on the shoulder).
By doing this you cannot sense as well if your horse walks balanced or not. When you want to correctly gymnasticise your horse, it is necessary that you stay on your own circle whether it is big or small and that you only increase or decrease it when you want it yourself, because you want the horse to walk in a bigger or smaller circle.
Avoid these 7 common mistakes by
- Working on the relationship with your horse first through Liberty Training.
- Then giving your horse the best preparation possible through Groundwork.
- Learning how you can correctly use your body language and to stay “on your own circle”.
- Studying anatomy, biomechanics and natural asymmetry/imbalance of the horse
- Buying a good fitting cavesson instead of lunging with a bit and not to use draw reins/side reins/…!
- Following a step by step training and to stop at the right time every time.
- Asking for help when you don’t have any experience in lunging and still have to learn a lot!
This way the lunging will be a positive experience for both you and your horse! Your horse will be lunged in a correct and responsible way through which it becomes suppler, stronger, and balanced and becomes perfectly prepared for carrying his rider!
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