#5: 1ste time lunging, HOW?

Welcome to part 5 of the series ’10 First times in Coltstarting’. In the last article we talked about the first real training session and the things to keep in mind when you start putting your horse to work.
In this article we will discuss circles, or lunging; when and how to start.

When do you start ‘lunging’ and circles?
When it comes to groundwork I promote teaching horses some communication skills with us as early as possible and yielding from pressure is an important part of this. An easy way to teach your horse to go forwards nicely is by having him go on a circle. Keep in mind though that a 3 year old isn’t fully grown, by far, and walking on a circle for 20 minutes can be a pretty heavy physical and mental training.

Teach your horse to leave on a circle but be careful with putting your horse ‘to work on the lunge’ at his fragile age.

IMG_6558Keep the following in mind:
– his age
– his stamina
– his physical condition
– his horsenality
– the type of flooring you’re on
– his tack

Just like any exercise lunging has some basic steps to be taken before you start. Make sure your horse understands the basics of steady pressure, rythmic pressure and he trusts you and your tools.
Why? Because you don’t want him feeling like he is running away from you. You want him to understand the pressure on the halter so he doesn’t pull away and understand the movements of the stick or whip.

How do we usually start?
Normally when people teach their horses to lunge we tend to take the line in our left hand, whip in the right, and then we walk towards our horses hind end with arms stretched…maybe make sume clucking noises.
The horse’s first reaction then is to turn his hindend away from us; this is how nature programmed him. This is not the response we want to we put more pressure on him, maybe tap him on the butt and eventually he will learn what we wanted…hopefully.

What problems do we get ourselves into with this?
1. The posture we take, arms stretched wide, is more of an invitation for our horse to go sideways or come to us, than of going forwards away from us.
2. When we go towards our horse’s hindquarters it’s natural for him to turn it away and look at us. He might go eventually, with enough pressure, but you are putting energy into the engine while the the steering wheel (nose) is turned in the wrong direction: towards you.
3. Putting pressure on your horse from this position is very dangerous! Even when your horse likes; he might be exuberant and kick out…and you’ll feel the bruise, believe you me!
4. When we close our horse in between our line and whip we take away his accountability and teach him to lean on us. Learn more about this in the article: 3 Tips for a stable gait.

So what then?
image62Instead, try this: Take the line in your left hand, stick or whip in the right but stay put.
Ask your horse to back up a couple of steps to create some safe departure space; plus your horse will be able to see you better from a bit of distance. Now pick up your line in the left hand and stretch out your arm to the left, pointing: this will suggest to your horse to move his nose to his right (your left). He might look at you a little sheepishly so you can start helping him out with a little bit of rythmic pressure towards his neck. This will suggest to your horse he is allowed to follow his nose to his right. The moment he moves into the right direction, stop asking and repeat later.

Keep a short distance from him in the beginning so you can help him out when he get’s stuck. If he stops, give him a second, then correct him. Standing still is a good thing, so don’t teach him he’s bad for doing it. Just ask him to move again.
Don’t worry about the gait he takes for now. Unless he panicks, just let him be. Pretty soon you’ll only have to ask your horse to back and point and he’ll go.

Over the years I’ve met a lot of horses that ‘wouldn’t lunge’ because of the problems mentioned above. Whether it’s a young horse or a completely different story, 9 out of 10 times the problem is solved by adjusting the above way. Experiment and enjoy!

Would you like to learn more about our method of starting youngsters? Check out our Young Horses page.