I’m not going to beat around the bush. Monty can be a K-N-O-B to lunge. If he could have his own way, he would hurtle around at 30mph, on the smallest circle he can manage. This maneuver would be accompanied by squeals, bucks and the head carriage of a llama… He’s not for the faint hearted and if I had a quid for every time I had ended up with rope burns across my hands, I could afford to buy a sensible-to-lunge horse and not waste my time attempting to get this one to do anything that resembles work.
However… Monty and I have come to a compromise on the lunging front and his topline & strength is building at a rapid rate of knots, so I know what we are doing is working. So today, here are my favourite tips and exercises for lunging the ‘Take your life into your own hands horse’…
- Use 2 reins. I am not trying to be arrogant when I say I am good at long lining. I’ve just done so much of it over the years it comes as second nature. 2 lines means you can mix up lunging with long lining and incorporate straight lines into your exercises. It also means you can control the bend and add counter flexion, if and when you feel it appropriate. 2 lines does not mean hauling on the mouth to stop, treat them as though they are proper reins, squeeze rather than pull and keep your hands steady.
- Use a gadget. OH MY DAYS… Yes, I have actually just suggested using a lunging aid. We mix between side reins, Pessoa’s and bungee’s. I do prefer side reins to anything else as I like my horses to be ‘sat up’ more than your average prelim dressage frame and feel they give a bit more freedom than a Pessoa but we still use all 3 (THIS WILL BE THE FIRST AND LAST TIME YOU READ ABOUT US USING ‘GADGETS’!)
- Have an aim. Now your aim may just be to get their backs down before riding. This is all well and good, occasionally, but lunging is hard work for horses, hard work means fitness. That 10 minutes every day soon adds up and before you know it, the riding club horse is fit enough to do a BE 1* Course. Monty’s aim is to increase his strength, add variety to his work AND is often used as an ‘exercise session’ after a few days off.
- Make sure your horse is capable of doing what you are asking and in a balanced manner. I will openly admit, I owned Monty for 18 months before he cantered on the lunge – Not because he couldn’t do it, he could, very quickly and would do the wall of death on every transition but I lunge to strength him and as such I want balance, not careering around like a lunatic (He does that well enough in the field anyway)
- Transitions, transitions and more of them. Think of lunging as a schooling session. I like snappy, quick reactions and I am more than happy with progressive downwards transitions, much preferring a balanced downwards transition to a fall-in-a-heap-on-the-forehand one. It makes life more interesting to. Walk to canter and halt to trot is also great for the sharper ones and really gets the hind leg underneath them – Monty actually learnt walk to canter on the lunge before we tried under saddle.
- Poles. I love lunging over poles. Raised on one side, flat on the floor, even tiny jumps. Again, the idea is control and balance – We haven’t actually got to this stage with Monty yet as I don’t trust he can do it with control and balance.
- Lateral work. This comes back to the long lining again. Lateral work can really easily be taught on lines but start basic. A stride of leg yield here and there and before you know it you are doing it without even thinking. I haven’t quite mastered the art of half pass on long lines yet but can teach leg yield (my right is better than left) and baby walk pirouettes – Actually super, duper easy to teach. Shorten the walk up as much as you can, flex to the direction, keep opposite rein controlling the quarters and ‘walk a square corner’. Ta-Da!
- Small circles – Again, only if your horse can manage them with balance. I do these in ‘sets’ of about 5 rotation on each rein at the moment. Gradually decrease the circle size until you find that point of ‘just about losing balance’. This is usually at around 6m-15m for most horses in trot (Yes I know, huge variation). I have found Monty’s at the 8m point. Fish them in and out, keep the trot forward. Transitions while on a smaller circle really gets the hind leg activated, I love doing counter flexion on smaller circles as well.
- Use your voice. I use basic words such as Staaaaand, Waaaaalk, Trot, HupHup (Canter to everyday people who haven’t worked in racing) and then I add to them; ON, in an enthusiastic voice and the pronunciation of ‘ON’ elongated, is to ask for more extension in the pace and to try and get a medium or even extended couple of strides, STEADDDDDY for more collection and to bring the pace back a notch.
- Tell the pony he’s good! Especially when teaching new things. Monty is a horse who responds really well to the voice, so much so that it isn’t actually necessary to carry a whip. I genuinely think he knows when he has done something right by my praise as he seems to improve and try again. When teaching ‘ON’ he would often run into canter. It wasn’t an issue, he was asked to trot again, re-balance and asked again. The day he actually ‘got it’ and managed his first, single stride of medium trot I could actually have thrown the lines down and hugged him (I didn’t, else I would still be trying to catch him now) but he understood the low, steady sounding ‘Good Boy’ and tried really hard to get it again next time.
- Sometimes, admit defeat and try again another day. We have 2 sayings in Team Taylor – Keep Kicking On and Always Another Day. Yes, I know they contradict one another but it’s that fine line between giving up and putting said horse back in its field or carrying on and trying to get some work out of him/her. 9/10 unless you have an abundance of patience, time and sheer will power, it’s better to try again another day. We all have those ‘Can’t much be bothered days’ and I am sure horses are the same… There is always another day