22 Jun 5 Common Mistakes Made When Lunging a Horse
Don’t Make These Mistakes When Lunging
Lunging is one of the most useful exercises when it comes to working and training your horse; however, it also happens to be very technical. Knowing how to properly position yourself and communicate with your horse can make lunging easy and effective.
What are common mistakes made when lunging a horse? Here are the most common problems I see people have when trying to lunge their horse:
- not understanding how to use lunging to work with your horse
- letting a horse run out of control when being lunged
- not knowing how to control the horse’s direction or movement
- moving around too much and confusing your horse
- trying to lunge your horse without first having an understanding of how to do it
Many people try to lunge their horse but find it too confusing, so they give up. In this article, I’ll share what you can do to counteract these problems you may face when lunging your horse. Keep reading to learn more!
Lunging Mistake #1: Not Understanding How to Properly Use Lunging
Lunging is only as useful as you make it. The definition of lunging is to work a horse around you in a circle. This means that you stand in the center of the circle and the horse moves around you. Usually, you can lunge a horse with a lunge line, lead rope, or in a round pen.
Lunging isn’t just moving your horse. It enables you to engage with your horse on the ground, letting your horse move freely but still giving you control of their movements. Here are all the ways you can use lunging to work with your horse:
Burn Excess Energy
There are days when I go to catch my horse before I ride, and I notice that they are a little bit more spicy than normal. Instead of just hopping on their backs and having a problem in the saddle, I can lunge the horse beforehand to give them the opportunity to let off some steam and get rid of the jitters.
Warm-Up and Cool Down
Properly warming up and cooling down the muscles before and after a strenuous ride can decrease a horse’s chance of injury. Sometimes, I’ll lunge my horse at a light trot and walk to help their muscles gradually and safely loosen and return to normal temperature.
Exercise helps keep horses healthy and happy. It improves their circulation and builds and maintains muscle tone. There are times when riding isn’t always an option for me. In these times, I will use lunging to lightly exercise my horse. Only 15-20 minutes every other day of exercise can be enough to maintain a horse’s muscle tone.
As prey animals, horses can easily be distracted as they look for potential danger. There is a saying that “a horse’s brain is connected to its feet.” What this means is that a horse will engage its mind to move its feet. If my horse is particularly scatter-brained, I will lunge them to encourage them to move their feet and focus on something else other than what is going on outside of the arena.
Lunging can be used to introduce your horse to new situations and objects. It allows the horse to get a look at the object and move around while you’re on the ground instead of in the saddle. I like to say horses learn from the ground up. When introducing them to new concepts, I always start on the ground before getting in the saddle.
Address Unwanted Behavior
Have you ever had your horse do something naughty, but you didn’t know how to respond? This could look like them trying to kick or bite, or even rear and buck under saddle. While redirecting their attention can be helpful, there needs to be an immediate response from you so that they learn that the behavior is unwanted.
Horses like to take the path of least resistance. If they do something naughty and get away with it, they learn they can do it again without a consequence. If they do something naughty and they are suddenly worked and their feet are made to move, they’ll learn that the behavior they just exhibited will elicit much more work for them.
As you can see, there are many different ways to use lunging!
Lunging Mistake #2: Letting a Horse Run Out of Control
While lunging can be used to burn excess energy your horse may have, it’s not a good idea to just let them run out of control on the lunge line or lead rope. Not only can this lead to your horse slipping, falling, and injuring themselves but it can also develop into a habit. So, if you do have a horse that tends to get worked up on the lunge line, what can you do to correct this?
Make Sure You’re Communicating With Your Horse Correctly
Every time you’re having an issue with your horse, it’s important to first evaluate yourself and make sure you’re communicating with your horse effectively. Your body language can be telling your horse to move forward even when you want them to stop. Being aware of what your position is communicating can make all the difference when working with your horse.
Disengage the Hind End to Keep the Horse From Taking Off
An instant fix for a horse that doesn’t want to stop when lunging is to disengage its hind end. This is where the horse will step its hind legs one in front of the other, taking away its power to propel itself forward. To do this will lunging, reach your hand down the lead rope and grab the rope halfway down as you walk in the direction behind your horse. As you do this, the horse will have to swing their hind end around to stop and look at you.
For more of a step-by-step walk-through on disengaging the hind end, check out my article Horse Groundwork Exercises For Respect: 5 Easy Exercises.
Try the Transition Game
If you have a horse that likes to run around on the lunge line, you can try to redirect their energy by doing a specific exercise. My personal favorite exercise for this is transitions. Getting your horse to transition between gaits when lunging engages your horse’s mind and body.
If your horse doesn’t initially want to do downward transitions, you can disengage its hind end to come to a stop. Then send them out at the gait you want them to maintain. I find that after doing this a few times, the horse usually gets the idea!
Lunge Your Horse After a Tiring Ride To Cool Them Out
One way you can introduce your horse to lunging calmly is by lunging them after a hard ride. You can do this to cool them out. Usually, horses are much more willing to walk quietly on the lunge line once they’ve gotten worked.
Lunging Mistake #3: Not Knowing How to Control a Horse’s Direction
Getting your horse to move out on a circle around you is easier said than done. How do you control the direction of a 1,000-lb animal without a bit in its mouth? The good news is that lunging enables you to communicate with your horse outside of the confines of reins and bits.
A horse moves in the direction its shoulders point. If you’re having a hard time getting your horse out on the circle, keeping them from drifting in, and finally, changing direction, chances are you don’t know how to control the horse’s shoulders.
How to Move the Horse’s Shoulders
To get a horse out on the circle, you will ask them to move their shoulders away from you. This is also called yielding the shoulders. The horse will cross their front legs one in front of the other to change the direction in which its shoulders are pointing.
The easiest way to learn how to do this is to start at a standstill. Stand to the side of your horse, facing them. Start walking toward the horse’s head, making a pushing motion with your hands as you walk. The horse will feel inclined to step away from this pressure, pivoting on its hindquarters by crossing one front leg in front of the other.
To get a better breakdown of this exercise, visit my article Making Your Horse Move Sideways: Simple Training Guide.
How to Change the Horse’s Direction When Lunging
I find that the exercise that most people have trouble with when it comes to lunging is getting their horse to change direction. By simply breaking this down into different steps, you should be able to solve any problem you may be having.
First, start by asking your horse to come to a stop, facing you. The easiest way to do this is by disengaging the horse’s hind end as they are out on the circle. Once the horse has come to a standstill, then ask them to move their shoulders in the direction you want them to go. While this method may take longer, it ensures you are communicating correctly and your horse clearly understands what you want from them.
Lunging Mistake #4: Moving Around Too Much and Confusing Your Horse
The whole point of lunging is to be able to work your horse without riding them or doing too much work yourself. Horses communicate through body language, so how you position yourself will determine how confident and responsive they are. By changing the position of your body and the tone of your stance, you can communicate something entirely different to your horse. This can be a difficult concept to grasp for us humans since we communicate mostly through talking!
Properly Place Yourself in the Lunging Circle
I like to compare lunging to a solar system. The horse acts as the earth, which orbits around the sun, you. You are supposed to stay in the center of the circle for the most part, and the horse should always be moving around or away from you.
Since you’re the sun in this analogy, you shouldn’t be moving around too much. One exercise I find helpful in keeping myself in the center of the lunging circle is to draw a small circle around myself that I can’t walk out of.
Be Aware of the Driveline
Another key to being successful in lunging is by understanding a horse’s driveline. The driveline is an imaginary line that runs through the horse’s shoulder. Horses are prey animals, so they have natural reactions on how to respond to pressure. If a predator was coming from behind the horse’s shoulder, the horse would evade the predator by moving forward. If a predator was coming from in front of the horse’s shoulder, they would evade the predator by stopping or turning around.
So, if you want your horse to move forward when lunging, you will keep yourself parallel to the horse behind the driveline. If you want your horse to stop, you will move in front of the driveline. One reason many horses may refuse to go when lunging is because their handler is unknowingly standing in front of the driveline!
Lunging Mistake #5: Trying to Do it On Your Own!
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, and also if you’ve ever tried lunging, you would know it is very technical. However, it does enable you to learn to communicate with your horse on more of a level they understand. It’s a great tool for groundwork just as much as it is for simply exercising your horse.
Don’t Give Up!
If you have tried lunging but it just isn’t clicking, DON’T GIVE UP! The best thing you can do is go back to the basics. Simply learning how to effectively disengage your horse’s hind end and also yield your horse’s shoulders is usually enough to make it all click.
Lunging is also a very common exercise that many horse people know. If you’re having a hard time, try asking another equestrian friend to see if they can help you or give you some pointers.
Try My Lunging Course
Lastly, if you don’t have any fellow horse friends around, I do have an online course that walks you through step-by-step how to lunge a horse. It also includes troubleshooting lessons that cover certain issues you may face when lunging and how to address them. I try to keep all of my courses at reasonable prices so they can be accessible to everyone! If you’re interested in this course, click here!
If you’re more of a reader, check out my lunging breakdown article Lunge a Horse: Meaning and How to Do it.
I’m a lifelong horse trainer and horseback rider who’s passionate about teaching others about the things I’ve learned. I grew up competing in numerous English horseback riding disciplines and am now a certified equine massage therapist. I currently own three horses.