“My horse won’t lunge” is a common complaint of many horse owners. Lunging can be a positive and effective way of working with a horse, but only if it is done correctly. Unfortunately, many people do not understand how to correctly lunge a horse and then blame the horse when he or she does not go forward. Horses, being prey animals, are programmed to move – to run. If a horse refused to go forward a good horse person will look for the cause and ask “what could be stopping a flight animal from moving forward”?
1) Check the environment. Are you trying to lunge the horse in an area where he or she does not feel safe? Horses will not go forward into areas they perceive as potentially dangerous. Because they are prey animals, they need to be able to see an escape route. They are so claustrophobic that even going forward into the corner of an arena can be stressful for them. That is why so many horses cut corners and/or counter ben when they are ridden through the end of the arena furthest from the barn. Try lunging your horse in an area where he or she feels less stressed like the end of the arena closest to the barn
2) Check your equipment. Horses are so sensitive that they can feel a fly land on their skin. Check all your tack to ensure there is nothing causing any discomfort or pain. An ill-fitting halter, bridle or saddle can cause pain that may not be obvious at first glance. The bit should be the right length and width for your horse’s mouth. Wider bits are often thought to be “softer” but will be uncomfortable for a horse with a narrower space between his or her upper and lower jaw. A bit that is not the right length will either move around too much or pinch the corners of the mouth. Check for any sharp areas on the bit that may have developed over time due to wear & tear. If the bridle’s brow band is too tight, it will cause discomfort by putting pressure on your horse’s sensitive ears. Make sure your saddle fits correctly and is not creating an pressure points. Look for areas of wear on both the saddle and girth that could be pinching or poking the horse’s body.
3) Check for lameness. Make sure your horse is 100% sound. Palpate along his or her neck and back for any signs of soreness to pressure. If your horse flinches when you apply light pressure on the muscles along the spine, you might need to get him or her a massage or chiropractic treatment. You definitely need to determine the cause of the soreness. Check the feet and legs for any sign of heat, swelling, bruising or tenderness. Some soreness may notshow up as obvious lameness, but could be enough to make it uncomfortable for the horse to work on a circle.
4) Improve your technique. Once you have eliminated any environmental or physical causes that may be preventing the horse from going forward, it is time to look at your lunging technique.
When you are lunging, you are sending or driving the horse around you in a circle. The horse will mirror the alignment of your body and the circle you are walking. The correct position for lunging a horse is to stand facing towards the head with your core (belly button) aimed at the girth, your shoulder furthest from the head open, and your hip nearest to the horse aimed towards the horse’s inside hip. Picture a maitre d’ or usher guiding someone to their seat. The near arm guides the person from behind while the far arm is open showing the guest where the seat is. If the “guide were to put their arm in front of the guest, he or she is blocked from moving forward. Another way to get a feel for this position is to push a one wheeled wheel barrow in a large circle. If you want the wheelbarrow to move in a circle to the left, you must angle your body slightly into the arc of the desired circle. Your left shoulder (on the inside of the arc) will be open or slightly behind the right (outside) shoulder. Your hips will be aligned with your shoulders. Your right foot will step forward and slightly out of the arc. Your left foot will step forward and slightly towards the outside of the arc. Try taking the same position and stepping in the same way when you lunge your horse. Picture lines of energy coming from your body as you do this. Make sure none of the lines of energy go directly towards or in front of the horse’s head.
Tell your horse to go forward by swinging the end of your lunge line or the lash of a lunge whip towards the flank area. The flank is the “button” where one horse pushes or bites another horse to tell him or her to “go forward”. Move the rope or the whip’s lash from the ground upwards towards the horse. For more push, continue with this movement increasing the RPM’s (rounds per minute) of the lash in this circular movement. This movement is much less aggressive to the horse than snapping the whip.
Once you have ensured the horse’s physical and psychological comfort, are working with the correct alignment between yourself and the horse, and pushing the right “buttons”, your horse should go forward in a relaxed, willing and cooperative way.