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  • Writer's pictureHelms Hill Farms

Lunging for Success

One of the most common things I hear when talking to new clients is "yeah, he lunges great!"

It's very rarely true, not due to any fault of the horse, just due to the difference in "lunging" in our minds versus our clients' minds.

To a lot of people, lunging just looks like chasing a horse in a circle to tire them out before you get on so there's no funny business. They're not wrong in thinking that, as a lot of folks don't fully understand proper lunging and really are just making themselves and their horse dizzy.

To us, lunging is a short term tool, not simply a way to give a horse a workout. We lunge horses sparingly, not just to save their joints from the unnecessary of "running in circles", but to save their minds from monotonous circles.

There's so much more to lunging than just "working a horse". We use lunging to teach vocal cues that transfer under saddle. We use lunging to teach proper collection and a round frame that engages the hind and the core. We use lunging to introduce pole exercises to engage a horse's mind as well as their body.

We use lunging to teach a horse, not tire them out.

We don't use lunge whips, just training flags, as a personal preference. Either way, the whip or flag should be used as an extension of your arm, just as a crop is intended to be used as an extension of your leg while riding. We don't hit a horse to move them forward; we use our body language to push them forward from behind the hip.

We don't use gadgets to lunge. Nothing personal, we just prefer to teach without them and on the horse's timeline for learning, not ours. Gadgets tend to give the illusion that the horse is farther along than they are, especially to those that aren't as experienced, and can rush a horse through important basics.

We also try to keep lunging sessions short. There's no real need for us to lunge for more than 15-20 minutes. Longer than that and you risk mental burnout, especially in young horses or horses coming back into work.

We were recently told we "needed to work that horse harder" by someone who could not distinguish between the horse being physically exhausted or mentally exhausted. The horse in question had already been introduced to multiple different things that day, challenging both his mind and body, but was kept mainly at a walk and trot, simply because he was not mentally ready to handle those exercises at any other gait. As this horse's trainer, we felt it was irresponsible and unfair to the horse to push him into a mental break. Not every training session needs to end with a sweaty horse for you to feel like you worked your horse hard enough. Remember, we're there to teach, not tire out.

And it’s okay if that’s not what you’re interested in. You don’t have to hire us. But everything we do is for the good of the horse, not so much for the happiness of the owner, as those are two very different things.

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