Horsin’ Around 6-15-09
Fort Collins, Colo.
Lunging is a very good way to discipline and take some pep and bad habits out of a horse. I still use it on my 24-year-old gelding when I haven’t been on him in a while. Oh, I don’t think he bucks as hard as he once did but I use it to limber him up before getting on, mostly because I am an old man who can’t ride a bucking horse as well as I once did. However, lunging is an art, and should be studied before attempting. It is much more than just making a horse run around in a circle.
Extreme caution should be taken, not to lunge the horse on too small of a circle which could result in strained or pulled muscles. Ideally, I like to use a round pen when beginning to work a new horse. Once they get the idea, then I can lunge line them out in the open just to warm them up and take all the “spice” out of them. Doing this seems to gentle them down quite a bit so they will pay attention to you and respond better. However, care should be taken, to work your horse in both directions to have equal response on both sides of his body and legs.
I just got back from a Rodeo Bible Camp and was surprised at the number of folks that team rope, breakaway, calf rope, and steer wrestle who have not worked with their horses in the roping box. When I was teaching, I required every student to spend time getting their horse to relax in the roping box and not require them to chase after a calf or steer before running and trying to rope them. It is important that your horse have a good time and enjoy his work.
I like to use a round pen when first teaching a horse to lunge and many books say that you should use a long whip the first few times. The whip is not to hit the horse but to encourage him to move out in a walk, trot, and lope. I use a long whip with the popper cut off and a red plastic bag taped to the end. It is used to direct the horse and not as a punishment.
I use about a 30 foot cotton rope with a snap on the end to attach to the halter. I use my long whip with the plastic attached to the end to encourage the horse to move forward and begin moving around the pen. Moving the horse first on his left lead and then stopping him and moving to the right lead. You should try to touch the horse about where the riders legs apply pressure or to the rear. This will prepare the horse for the rider’s legs when aboard.
When moving a horse I always look at the flank or rear to keep the horse moving. In the wild, the old dominant mare uses these eye positions to move a young horse or to stop them and cause them to face her. Keep the circle as large as possible, and if the horse tries to come to the center, point the whip at his nose to push him back to the circle.
Your body language is important in this training. The trainer forms a triangle from the point of the horse’s shoulder and hip. You should Step slightly ahead of the horse, accompanied by “whoa” to ask for a halt. Also, to create movement, the trainer may lightly touch the side of the horse with the whip and step very slightly towards the back of the horse, always staying in the center.
If a small pen is available, I like to use a long cotton rope as two reins ran through the stirrups to drive the horse from behind to teach him to respond to the tug of the reins when a rider is aboard.
The information in this article includes some content from “Horse Science Instructor’s Manual” by Betty M Bennett.
Prior to his retirement, Roger Thompson was a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.
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