Does the relationship you have with your horse need a little work? Is your horse a little too feisty when you are in the saddle? Are you looking for a good training method for your yearling? If so, lungeing may be your answer.
Lungeing (also spelled longeing) is a form of groundwork using a lunge line to exercise or train a horse. The handler stands in the center while the horse moves around him at a walk, trot or canter. The purposes of lungeing are:
"Not just any type of lungeing is effective," notes Tracy Porter, a horse trainer in Milton, Wis. "If all you're doing is standing in the middle of a circle with a lunge line and whip in your hand, and you just make your horse run around you for 20 minutes, that kind of lungeing is not beneficial to you or your horse."
In most cases with this type of lungeing, the handler will have the horse spinning around at the end of a line. The handler will be leaning back, the line stiff, and the horse braced.
"The problem here is that the horse is pulling against the line. He's not paying attention to the person and he may actually be bracing against his handler," Porter says. By teaching this type of lungeing, you are, in effect, training the horse to lean and to not pay attention to you. Then when you ride him you will get this same response that you inadvertently taught him on the ground.
Problems can also develop if lungeing is used exclusively for physical exercise, rather than a mental and emotional bonding technique explains Eric Clark, a horse trainer in Dundee, Ill. "It should be a relationship builder rather than just a physical workout."
Lungeing becomes a positive activity if there is variety in your program, and if it trains your horse to look to you.
"Lungeing is a process of the horse and human getting together on the same page," Clark says. "It helps the owner learn to better read his horse's signals: where his ears are pointing, whether he is blinking, whether he is licking his lips, and how he responds. It helps the horse gain confidence – to learn to trust the owner and follow his/her lead."
Steps to a Successful Lungeing Session
Porter teaches her horses a type of lungeing called "directional control lessons," which she refers to as the "WESN lesson" (short for west, east, south, north). Your horse practices going right and left, which would be east and west; and forward and backward, which would be north and south. The equipment you need for this lesson is a bridle with full cheek snaffle bit, reins twisted and tied up or removed, a 10-foot cotton lead rope, and a 42-inch dressage whip.
To start the WESN lesson, you need a cue to get your horse to move forward. Porter uses her dressage whip to lightly tap the area just above the hip bone. When you tap the hip bone, make a kissing sound for a verbal cue. "Kiss once before you begin cuing the hip spot," she says. "Let the horse take a couple of steps, ask the horse to stop by allowing the horse to take the slack out of the lead. Repeat this until the horse moves off without needing so many taps to begin moving." Eventually, the horse will move from a kiss and your attention on his hip spot, that is without you having to physically tap the horse.
Once your horse has mastered the "move forward" cue, you can start the actual WESN lesson. Work on the horse's left side first, having him move in a circle around you to the left (this is the East direction).
Tap the horse so that he is going forward around you in a circle. Then ask the horse to change directions. That's done by picking up on the rein and asking the horse to stop. Then ask the horse to go forward again. "The horse will walk forward and then you keep repeating that until when you pick up and put light pressure on that rein, the horse comes to a stop," Porter says. Then you are ready to change directions with the horse.
Change your lead rope to the other side of the bit and switch your hand on the rein. Direct the horse to change directions by pushing his nose away from you, making sure you do not pull him into you. Allow him to continue in the new direction around the circle. Keep working on that until the movement is fluid.
Next, work on changing directions going right to left. "You can go a lap or two around, stop, change directions, a lap or two, stop, change direction," Porter says. When the horse is responding well, start asking three times before taking the entire slack out. "This gives the horse three times to respond on a light cue. If the horse does not stop, on the third time, take the remaining slack out. You will then be cueing the horse as you did in the beginning."
In the next step, slide away from your horse so that now you've got the horse a good distance from you. You will now use a longer lunge line or lariat (around 30 feet long is good). As the horse is moving away from you, ask him to trot. This adds speed and excitement to the lesson. Try to get to the point where the horse stops pivoting on the front end and starts to pivot on the back end. After he's mastered it at the trot, ask him to canter. Once you have mastered the canter, the first half of the lesson is complete.
Now you are ready for the "North and South" half of the lesson. To teach the horse to move backwards (south), Porter says to make the kissing sound for a cue and walk toward the horse and he will back up. If he doesn't move, move your hand so it is about 8 to 10 inches from the halter, walk to his side and cue his hip to move. When he walks forward, take the remaining slack out of the lead. Hold firm until he shifts his weight back. Then praise him for taking the step backwards.
To teach the horse to come forward toward you (north), just start backing up. "If the horse doesn't start coming, just back up until the slack is out of the reins," Porter says. "Then wait and when the horse gives to pressure, take a step forward, and then praise him." Practice going north to south at all gaits.
You may go through all the steps in this whole lesson in one session, and continue to perfect it and develop better attention in subsequent sessions. Or, you may break it down into many sessions.
As your horse perfects the lesson, Porter says, he will begin to look at you longer and longer during the turns. Eventually, when you practice it long enough, his eyes will be glued to you 100 percent of the time.
In general, a 15- to 20-minute lungeing session is about as long as you should go, at least if you're having the horse trot or canter a lot (you can go longer if the horse is just walking). With a young, arthritic or old horse you should only do it for 5 to 10 minutes at a time.
Plan to do the WESN lessons about once or twice a week. Continue doing the lessons each week until the problem you're working on with your horse gets "fixed." So when your horse stops bolting, spooking or trying to push you around when you are in the saddle you may no longer need to lunge him.
Finally, try to keep the lungeing lessons fun. Don't try to stretch the lessons too long or turn them into a chore you have to do each week. "Try to maintain a light-hearted, happy mindset when you're lungeing your horse," Clark says.