Lunging straight on circles!

Lunging straight on circles!

When lunging does your horse stay on a true circle?
Does he fall in or out?
Does he lean on the lunge line or drop the contact?
Do you find the circle moves around the arena or towards the gate?
Are you finding lunging your horse productive?
Is he staying balanced on all four feet?
Do you hope to keep your horse sound into old age?
Is repetitive circling really an effective schooling tool or creating repetitive strain injuries?

When working the horse on the lunge, the majority of the time they are expected to work on a circle. It is very easy for the horse to look to the outside and fall in on his stiffer rein, or on their more supple rein to bend too much at the base of the neck, causing the horse to fall out of the circle line through his shoulders and often leaning on the contact of the lunge line. Some horses may lean towards the exit, falling out as they reach the gate and falling in on the opposite side of the circle. What is this teaching the horse? How can we encourage more suppleness?

Traditional practice encourages us to put our horses on the lunge and expect them to walk, trot and possibly canter on a circle the moment we start to back them. Over the years I have found that this does not allow the horse to understand straightness and true suppleness. To turn correctly on a true circle, the horse has to have a good degree of suppleness and straightness through his body. Without this it is inevitable that the horse is going to fall in or out of the line of the circle.

True suppleness is when the horse is using the correct muscle chains through the whole body whilst being mentally relaxed and focused, linking a chain of superficial muscles, deep core muscles and other soft tissue.

When the horse is turned out in the field running loose, most horses will show true suppleness on turns, circles and straight lines, even a new born foal soon gets the hang of going in a straight line and turning when loose. As they turn sharp, you will see the horse turn their head to the outside, to counter balance their body as they step the shoulders to the inside, the rib cage will usually swing to the outside, like a barrel rolling, causing a lowering of the inside long back muscle. Turning like this works when the horse needs to turn sharply around the quarters and has no rider sitting behind his shoulders and over the rib cage, but the moment the riders weight is on their back, their balance changes. Another thing to observe when the horse is free is how often he turns the same way. Does he turn left more times than he turns right? Just as none of us riders are totally symmetrical, neither are our horses, they will be happier turning one way than the other. This is certainly going to show up when you work your horse in hand; is he happier to step his shoulders to the right or to the left? Do you find that he is more likely to push you with one particular shoulder?
When the horse is directed by a human handler, he needs to learn to move his feet where we ask, rather than moving our feet, in order to allow you and the horse to stay safe. In turn he will build confidence in us and what we ask of them. There are many different ways to train horses, however the common denominator between every method is that we are all aiming to regulate the speed and direction of the horses feet to thus gain control, trust and leadership. It is very easy, when on the lunge, for the horse to learn that he has control of the direction of his own feet. By pushing his shoulders towards you and falling in, often moving the handler, or even worse taking off out of the circle and pulling away from the handler.

Whether we are schooling our riding horse, in hand or mounted, we are aiming to encourage the horse to go straight; straight in straight lines and straight on circles! If you are struggling to direct your horse on a straight line, a circle is going to be a big challenge. The nose, withers and croup of the horse should be on the line that you are intending them to travel, Just like a train on a railway track, each of the carriages need to stay on the rails, if the ‘wither carriage’ derails usually the ‘nose carriage’ has gone the other way, causing the horse to fall in or out.

I encourage my students to work their horses in straight lines and squares, being sure to have control of the horses’ shoulders in halt and walk before attempting a circle. I am a great believer in practicing as well as you can, being consistent with all your “asks” and building up the degree of challenge in a gradual way, giving the horse bite size chunks to get the correct understanding before moving on to the next step and focusing on quality rather than quantity, therefore building good habits and a balanced body. In my experience, these methods have been shown to be more productive than traditional lunging, they also allow the horse freedom to learn to find their natural balance and suppleness, free from side reins and other restraining gadgets.

If the horse is encouraged to habitually work with his nose, withers and croup on the line that you intend to move him along and moving his shoulders where you intend them to go, whether working him from the ground or under saddle, it will allow the horse to be more balanced, which in turn helps the horses’ confidence, suppleness and long term soundness.

For more details or help with your horse, please contact me.