· It breaks up the monotony and provides a different way to relate to your horse
· Very often, due to weather, your horse may have more time off than planned and lunging can be a useful way to direct excess energy before climbing back on board
· Sometimes it is just too cold to ride, but you want to get your horse some exercise
· Lunging gives the horse’s back a break; allows them to warm up without the weight of the rider
· A good opportunity to observe from the ground the way your horse moves
If you don’t know how to lunge, I suggest finding someone who can teach you. I find that most horses have been taught how to lunge somewhere along the way. If your horse does know how and you don’t, it will be easier for you to learn. Engage a trusted professional to help you figure out if your horse does or doesn’t know how. If he or she really doesn’t, it will be worthwhile to teach him or her, but you will need help. Learning to lunge properly can give you an added sense of confidence when handling your horse leading to a more harmonious relationship. Pony Club starts to introduce lunging at the C2 level as an important part of horsemanship, and I, too, believe it is a very important skill to have. Some people think their horses never need lunging so they don’t ever learn, but sooner or later, the need to lunge a horse properly will arise even if it just to help diagnose lameness issues for the vet or as a form of rehabilitation after your horse has been through treatment or time off. In general, I would not plan to lunge for more than 20-30 minutes at a time, changing directions frequently. Also, I don’t typically lunge more than a couple of times per week, although some situations require daily lunging, which is fine as long as it is controlled and doesn’t continue long term. Endless small circles at a frantic pace are definitely not a good idea!
I use lunging very specifically with set guidelines just as I do when riding. I often see two misuses of lunging. The first one is someone just letting their horse go careening around at the end of the lunge line bucking and kicking and doing whatever it wants to get its “energy” out. And the other is not lunging at all due to fear the horse will hurt his/her legs (probably because they have witnessed horses in the former situation going crazy at the end of the lunge or have a horse that does just that). I never advocate letting the horse “misbehave” at the end of the lunge line. It is not only dangerous or potentially harmful for them, but it can be harmful to you as well.
Your time spent lunging should focus on calmness and obedience in all three gaits and in both directions. I like to think of it as riding from the ground. A well-trained horse can do obedient transitions both up and down and that should be your focus. Do not let your horse do whatever he/she wants at whatever speed he/she wants (slow or fast) at the end of your lunge line! Some of them will challenge you to get them moving while others will do endless crazy circles around you as fast as they can. Neither one of these choices is acceptable. And it should never be their choice! You must always be in control of the speed and placement of your horse’s feet. And that means their tempo as well as size and shape of the circle. The tempo at all three gaits should be the one that you would ideally want should you be riding them instead. Most of us have an idea of whether our horses tend to be lazy and unresponsive under saddle or quick and sensitive. Usually, they have tendencies towards one or the other, and lunging is a great opportunity to help them improve their responsiveness to either the driving or the restraining (slowing) aids. Improved obedience on the lunge line should lead to improved obedience and respect under saddle (better listening skills). Who doesn’t want more of that!
Once my horse is listening and calm, I like to vary things by adding in cavaletti and even small jumps. Doing these exercises without the added weight of a rider to interfere can help a horse learn to find its own balance and gain strength as well as confidence. I love watching my horses work from the ground as I think it gives me a whole different perspective. When you are riding, you really can’t see what they are doing and how they like to move. Some issues that you can’t quite figure out from their back become very obvious without the weight and influence of the rider. What are your horse’s “natural” tendencies? What does his or her topline look like? Does he or she need more muscle? Where? These are questions I ask as I watch my horses on the lunge line, and that can help me figure out how to adjust what I do with them from their back. If they canter easily in one direction, but have a lot of difficulty in the other, that will most likely be the case under saddle. Usually it is worse without the “help” of the rider. This should be a bit of a red flag. A horse that is even and supple both ways, as well as responsive in all transitions with good tempo on the lunge line will almost always be the same way under saddle. And this should be your goal.