Early Preparatory Work Thursday, Jan 24 2008 

Lunging is done for a number of reasons.

One can be to allow an exciteable or young horse time to release energy prior to ridden work. Another can be to warm up a horse prior to work under the saddle. It can also form the basis of good ridden work and, in itself, can serve as a lesson for the horse.

Indeed, early work on bending and flexing the horse can begin on the ground and start to familiarise the horse with the aids he will experience when the rider is onboard.

As mentioned in the previous article, pressing the bit against the horse’s tongue will cause pain to the horse. This will result in evasions and defensive behaviour from the horse. Riding with low hands creates exactly this problem. It’s generally referred to as riding with a “backward” hand as the rider exerts a backwards rein aid in order to ask the horse to come rounder. There are two common evasions. Firstly, is raising the head above the bit and hollowing. Second, is ducking behind the bit and becoming overbent. Be assured that they are both evasions and both should be discouraged and corrected at an early age!

For the horse to become confident with the riders hands, he or she needs to be encouraged to play with the bit. This is achieved by mobilising the tongue. This simply isn’t possible if the very action of the rider’s hands exerts a pressure directly onto it. As such, a gentle nudging action at the corners of the mouth is much preferable. This doesn’t cause the pain associated with using the bit action on the tongue and nor does it restrict the tongue preventing the horse from playing and ultimately accepting the bit in his mouth.

Another thing to note at this point is that the horse should not be encourage to lean on the bit; seeking it as almost a 5th leg. The horse should carry his own head.

There is a common misconception in the horse world. This being that a low hand is needed to encourage the horse to drop his head and a high hand will encourage a horse to come above the bit and hollow. Quite the opposite is infact true. The horse’s neck acts as a massive lever to the rest of the body. Raising the horse’s head high will cause a redistribution in the weight from the forehand to the quarters. Raising the head enough will cause the horse to take a step backwards.

How to Begin

With the horse in his usual bridle, the handler should hold both the bit rings with each hand. A gentle pressing action upwards towards the ears will result in the horse taking a step backwards. Here we can see how the early teaching of reinback can begin from the ground.

Next, holding only the inside bit ring, a gentle upwards action should be applied to bring the horse’s head round to the inside. This will result in the horse dropping from the poll.

The reason?

It is mechanically impossible for a horse to raise his head high while flexed to the side. Consider this as follows:

The weight of the rider and the pressure on the mouth frequently results in a horse hollowing his back and raising his head; the frequently named star gazer outline. This causes the lower neck muscles to elongate. The upper neck muscles and the back muscles contract.

Now consider the following:

If the horse’s neck is bent considerably to one side, his inner neck muscles contract and the outer muscles extend. While in such a position, the horse, physically, can not raise his head and contract the upper neck muscles.

Thus, bending the horse’s neck laterally will result in a dropping of the poll. Incidently, this is frequently seen in riders employing rollkur; where the horse is ridden over deep and with strong lateral flexion. The difference is, here, the lateral flexion is used to teach the horse to lower the poll and immediatly, the hand is released. The bend is created with an upward nudge of the rein, encouraging self carriage and exerting pressure on the edges of the mouth. In rollkur, the hand is set low and the bend created with either a fixed hand (frequently combined with a strong curb rein), or with the use of auxillary reins such as the draw reins. In this scenario, the head is kept in strong lateral flexion with constant pressure applied to the tongue.

Through exerting small amounts of upwards pressure on the bit rings from the ground, early lateral work can also be taught; for example, shoulder in. This is usually started on a small circle with the rider using a lunge whip to control the quarters and replace their own leg.

It is vital to note that while working a horse from the ground like this, ANY over bending should be strongly corrected. This is done with an upward nudge on the bit rings again. Similarly, if the horse leans on the bit and stops supporting his own head, the same correction should be applied.

Correction Work

With a horse that has a tendency to work very hollow under saddle, working from the ground like this can form the base of correctional work. In this case, the rider should hold the outside rein with one hand and position it at the horse’s poll. The inside bit ring can be held directly. Walk the horse around on a 20 metre circle exerting small amounts of upwards pressure on the bit rings. The horse will respond by dropping his poll and the rider should release the pressure as a reward. Once the horse becomes more compliant, the outside rein can first be moved to approximately half way down the neck and, eventually, the outside rein can be passed over the neck and layed loose so that the horse learns to respond to just being asked by the inside rein.

From the ground, the horse is therefore learning that the correct response to a nudge of the bit is to lower the head, it’s also the most comfortable option.

The Aim of Ground Work

Following these exercises will result in a number of benefits prior to ridden work commencing (and indeed as a useful partner to ridden work).

The horse will be familiar with the rider’s voice aids.
He’ll have learned the correct response to hand aids from the rider.
He’ll be familiar with reinback
He’ll be familiar with shoulder in.

This is a fabulous basis for the early education of the young horse or the correction of undesireable behaviour in the older horse.


The Early Lunging of the Young Horse Thursday, Jan 24 2008 

The earliest education of the young horse begins on the ground. People often underestimate the importance of this stage, or, due to ignorance, already begin to create problems that will effect the horse for the rest for his or her life.

The Lunging Equipment.

Lunging should be done from a lunging cavesson. This can either be placed over the top of the bridle or used alone. The cavesson should be padded across the nose to protect the delicate nose area.

Finding a good lunging cavesson these days can be quite hard. Too much padding around the nose results in the handler being unable to get a correct fit. This can cause the noseband to spin when lunging which can then cause the cheek pieces on the outside to slide onto the outside eye. Needless to say, this isn’t pleasant for the poor horse.

Personally, I much prefer cavessons made of good quality leather. The noseband should be padded (much like the padding you would expect on a good cavesson noseband)

A lunging cavesson

In addition to the lunging cavesson and lunge line; the rider should equip themselves with a lunging whip and, vitally important, gloves. Exciteable horses and the rough webbed material most commonly used in lunge lines make for a bad combination – preserve your hands at all costs.

Why a Cavesson?

Many people choose to attach the lunge line directly to the bit rings. Either by clipped to the outside ring, threading over the poll and then through the inside bit ring before feeding to the hand; or by clipping to the outside ring, threading behind the chin and then through the inside bit ring.

There are a number of problems with attaching a lunge line directly to the bit. Firstly, you will create nut cracker action on the horses tongue which will be particularly painful. There is a discussion later about the action of the hands on the horses mouth and how detrimental backwards hands – which press on the tongue – can be.

The long term preservation of the delicate mouth is vital for the schooling of the young horse!

Horses can be unpredicatble on the lunge; displaying playfullness. Such headshacking or bouncing around can cause the rider to jab at the horses mouth, even accidently.

Aside from the physical damage that both these problems can cause to the mouth; there is the psychological damage. For a horse to work correctly under saddle, he or she has to be able to trust the rider’s hands. If, from a young age and in the earliest education, the horse is taught that the bit causes pain; the prospect for good work under saddle isn’t good.

Some people choose to lunge from a headcollar or halter, believing that they are being kind to their horse. The problem here is that the handler has very little control at all over the horse. So, when working your horse from the ground, it is preferable to exert pressure onto the nose than to the mouth. This should ensure the handler some degree of control without the risk of damaging the oh so precious mouth.

The Use of Auxilary Reins and Gadgets

The horse should be allowed to move in his or her natural state. This means being free of constricting gadgets or reins. There are a number of reasons for this.

Firstly, again, most of these cause pressure on the tongue which will cause pain to the horse. For the reasons above, we wish to avoid this at all costs. Secondly, many of these gadgets or reins do not work and cause additional pain or stress to the horse. The specific problems with individual gadgets will be discussed later. Thirdly, part of educating the horse should involve being able to change the rein without returning to halt. This is impossible unless the lunge is attached to the centre ring of a cavesson and the handler doesn’t have the additional job of switching reins and gadgets around with every change of direction. Lunging should be able gymnasticising the horse from word go. How is this possible when every change of direction takes five minutes to achieve?

Keep things simple. Being able to watch the horse moving, free of constraining influences is always refreshing and useful at identifying early problems.

The Position of the Handler and the Horse

The rider should be parallel to the horse at all times when lunging (with the exception of preparing for a change of direction.) The horse and rider should create a triangular shape; the horse as the base of the triangle. The lunge line being one side and the whip being the third with the rider comprising of the point.

The Correct Position of Horse and Handler

The horse should move according to the rider. This should allow large circles, small voltes and changes of direction to be performed simply. Thr only pressure that the rider should attempt to exert on the horse, is to bend him inwards slightly. The primary aid should be the voice. At the earliest level, lunging familiarises the horse with the voice and the commands of the rider. These should therefore, be kept consistent.

The Change of Rein

The change of rein should be done, while in movement and without bring the horse back to a halt. This can be achieved by the rider stepping out infront of the horse and then pacing backwards while sending the horse onto the opposite rein.

So why do this?

Many people associate this as being nothing more than a “trick”; the realm of the competent ground handlers or perhaps the show offs? Indeed, there is a very valid reason for teaching the horse to change rein on the lunge without altering the pace. It is a well documented dominance exercise and a useful tool for creating a healthy relationship between the horse and handler whereby the horse has respect for the handers’ space. In addition, it allows for faster and more frequent changes of rein. Remembering again that lunging should be able the early gymnasticising of the young horse, the more frequent the changes of direction and speed, the better.