Question: I see people lunging with short lines and the traditional long lines. I don’t understand the difference or what the purpose is, could you explain?
Answer: There are three parts of the horse that we need to understand, the mental, the physical and the emotional aspects. There are also three parts of the horse that we need to be familiar with when working on the ground to be in control of the horse as well as develop the three other aspects. The nose, the shoulder and the hindquarters need to be developed physically and we need to be able to control these to get the lightness and responsiveness that leads to a balanced horse.
As with any exercise we do with the horse in the saddle, we want the same thing on the ground. If we have the right responses on the ground, it will lead to the right response in the saddle. We want a horse that goes forward, not a runaway trot or rushing into a canter but forwardness with purpose- a working trot or a “go someplace” walk. The horse should be thinking forward. The horse needs to be thinking, thinking about you and what you are asking, not plunging madly around in a circle “exercising”. That type of lunging may tire a horse out but it can be just as out of control after as before. You will have a physically developed horse that is even harder to control as you have developed muscle, not the mind. The horse needs to be balanced front to rear, not down in front. As you look from the side, does the top line look like it angles down in front or is it level and upright? The last two, either or, are what we are looking for. The withers are up, the hindquarters are engaging. What is important and most do not address when lunging is balance of shoulders-both should be upright. The shoulder dropping into the handler and the nose going out to the side is what we see 99% of the time. Even with side reins the nose is tipped out which causes the wrong muscle group to develop. The other thing we most often see is the shoulder is bleeding out (bulging to the outside) as you lunge. Here again, it causes imbalance and improper building of muscles. Your goal should be that you can lunge on a 30 foot line with the nose tipped in a couple of inches and the horse is elevated in the shoulders. When the horse is relaxed we can start getting rhythm and with rhythm comes cadence. When we have that, not only do we have control of the body but also the horse is mentally focused on us.
The horse should know verbal forward cues, the walk cue, trot cue and the canter/lope cue. They should respond to both a verbal and physical cue for each. You should be able to do figure eights with a 30-foot line to encourage engagement and continue to develop the top line. One of the most important things on the ground or in the saddle is self-carriage. Being able to do all of the exercises I have mentioned help us reach our goal to get the self-carriage.
I always start teaching the horse the go forward cue and the stop cue with your hand three to six inches from the snap on the line. The law of physics says that the shorter the line, the more control. Many times you see people trying to teach a horse to lunge on a 30-foot line. The horse is way out there, totally out of control and they assume because the horse is moving around them the horse knows how to lunge. Because we start on a line three to six inches from the snap, you can teach the horse to go forward and to bend it’s body, stop its feet then change direction-go to the other side. And from there, when those cues are established, the horse is listening, not arguing or throwing it’s head, you can go to a longer line. Start with three feet, progress to six feet and on to twelve feet and longer. The reason that we lunge is to physically exercise the horse as we talked about in the beginning, to take the freshness off and to get the horse to pay attention to us. When you start on a three to six-inch line, you not only teach the horse to bend but to start focusing on us. So we can use lunging exercises for physical balance, gymnastic exercises, to take freshness off or to capture its attention if we are at someplace new like at a show or when something exciting happens in the arena.