Walk, don’t speed
Does your horse only like to trot and canter on the lunge line? Does he go from zero to sixty within a single circle? Would you prefer him to be able to walk calmly and warm up when you start lunging?
Sometimes we notice quirks that are the product of a previous owner’s training preference. That doesn’t mean you can’t change your horse’s behavior though.
Chip, a warmblood I work with, typically trots and canters while lunging. When I ask him for “hoa” or “walk,” he turns in to meet me at the middle of the circle. The other horse I ride, Rose, will pleasantly walk on the line forever. Recently I have gotten serious about training Chip to walk like a gentleman on the line.
I want to share the top 10 techniques have been working to convince ‘speed-racer’ to move from trot-canter on the line to a calm walk:
- Start Small: Put your horse into a small lunge circle with just the distance of the whip’s shaft between you.
- Choose Your Word: Pick an associative word for the walk. I’d choose “walk,” but it can be anything you’d like.
- Create Order: Use your associative word as your first cue because that’s what you want them to respond to.
- Jiggle, Jiggle: Next, lightly jiggle the lunge line. I try to jiggle outward, not pulling at all. If you still have a hard time getting any response, pull inward a bit when jiggling the lunge line — almost as though you’re drawing them in. That may be the only way to get their attention long enough to slow them down.
- Maintain Distance: If they do try to come in towards you, flick the lunge line outward towards them and use the stiff part of the whip to maintain your distance. Make it clear that you want to keep that space between you and them.
- Strike a Balance: Remain in this dance – lunge line flicks when they try to trot away from you, and keeping distance with the whip when they try to walk towards you – until they understand that you only want them to keep walking. If they stop when you don’t ask them to, wave the whip gently so they get a little encouragement to keep moving.
- Praise Abundantly: When you get that first step of walking within their proper circle, praise the heck out of them. Try to walk towards them as much as you can without them walking towards you, and pet them (or whatever your reward system is with that horse).
- Rinse and Repeat: Continue to do this, increasing the duration before praising them until they associate the command with the walk on the line within their designated circle. Start to allow more and more slack, until you get to a normal sized lunge circle.
- Rest for Reward: Remember to take some down time every few minutes. Once they get the exercise, don’t do it endlessly. Reward them by ending the session. Given them time to think of what they did to deserve a reward will solidify the potency of the command and the benefits of performing correctly.
- Keep It Fresh: Incorporate this exercise into your normal lunging routine — preferably at the end of your lunge session, because their lack of energy works your favor. Once that’s going well, try doing this at the beginning, middle, and end of your lunging session. For the horse that gets bored easily, throw the lunge walk in at unexpected times to keep his mind challenged and your command reinforced.
Soon your horse will be able to walk calmly without the aid of the whip or even jiggling the lunge line. Continue to work towards using only the voice command until it is routine. It’s also a great tool for reinforcing arena work when trying to lighten bit contact or for fine-tuning new exercises.
Additionally, learning to walk on command promotes trail riding safety, as it provides another aid you can use if your horse gets hot or starts jigging on the trail.
Finally, this exercise helps your horse understand that workouts are meant to begin and end in a relaxed state of mind.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you lunge a horse that won’t move?
All lunging sessions start with your horse standing still in the center of the arena. To start, you need to “send” your horse out on the circle. This is typically done by standing at the horse’s shoulder, pointing with your leading hand, and using the other hand to tap the horse on the neck or shoulder with the lunge whip until they move out.
A well-trained horse will know his job is to start walking in a circle. Then, you can keep the horse moving by swishing the lunge whip by his back feet.
A horse that isn’t moving might not be adequately trained or might not feel well. Alternatively, you might not be adequately trained to communicate properly, and the horse might think you’re trying to hold a desensitizing session! Ask a trainer for help if you are not sure what to do.
Can you lunge a yearling?
It’s fine to lunge a yearling in very short sessions. They should not, however, be fitted with side reins or any sort of contraption designed to make them lower their heads.
Yearlings are still growing, and too much repetitive or strenuous motion isn’t good for their development.
How long should you lunge a horse?
Lunging is hard work, especially if the horse is being asked to work in side reins or over poles. Try to always have a purpose to your lunge sessions rather than just trying to wear out your horse.
For example, change gaits or directions at least every few minutes. Allow your horse to walk or rest if they aren’t very fit. Usually a 20- to 30-minute session is long enough to adequately warm up the horse, tackle a training problem, make progress, and cool down.
Does lunging a horse build muscle?
Lunging correctly and with a purpose can build muscle. Don’t expect to make progress if your horse moves like a slug or runs around with their head in the air like a giraffe.
To build muscle, your horse needs to use his body properly. That means he needs to really reach underneath himself with every step and stretch his neck long and low to properly work over his back.
Is lunging good for horses?
Lunging can be excellent for horses! You can train new skills on the lunge before trying them under saddle. You can accomplish a quick training session on days when you don’t have time to ride. Lunging just to “get the bucks out” can also give you some peace of mind before your ride.
On the other hand, lunging can also be both boring and strenuous, so have a plan and give your horse plenty of breaks.
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
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