Do You Lunge, And Why, Why Not?

I don't want to jinx myself, but after three years :) , lunging Rogo finally seems to be coming together for me. I started lunging him the fall he was three and a half. Boy, he sure didn't think that was a good idea. I mean, why would we do that? We could just hang out and eat carrots while I scratched him so why would he run around in circles? Duh. The lack of interest in participating in this new activity manifested itself in him running away from me, and I lacked the finesse and experience to hold him. Bad start and bad habit learned. If he did stay with me, he'd just come to a halt whenever I asked for a trot (forget canter for another year). A few steps of trot earned a "good boy" and carrots. It was the only way to get him to do it. To this day he pauses with a hitch if I say good boy when riding, muscle memory of a carrot appearing next.
Doug got involved in this too, poor guy. When I couldn't hold Rogo he took over. I can still see Rogo cantering down the ring with Doug's heels dug in sliding along behind him. So he built a small pen to lunge him in and on it went. You get the picture. Rogo's lack of interest in working early on could make up several posts, and no doubt I'll do one or two sometime, but this post is about lunging. (Just a quick note on it though - we didn't ever 'force' him and patience was the key.)
I myself wasn't strong in the skill of lunging, having only lunged trained horses, and lunging correctly is a real skill. Without supervision I let Rogo flop around on the lunge line without really working, just happy he was going forward. This went on for too long. If I pushed him he ran away and I got in the habit of not pushing and also to be honest I didn't really know what I was looking for or should be asking for. Sometimes I'd put the lunge line through his bit on one side, around his poll, and attach to the bit on the other side. I can hold him this way, but it isn't a very good training method.
I didn't want to use side reins because I see SOOO many horses behind the vertical and I was afriad that without skilled supervision I'd over do it. On it went, Rogo happily flopping around on his forehand (not that lack of side reins equals this - I mean the whole picture).
I had a teacher for a time who was skilled at lunging, but although I'd watch in admiration I couldn't produce what she did with him. There's an element of feel, confidence and knowing what you're after and how to get it that I just didn't have.
Cut to this summer. Rogo was still running away from me on and off and one day I HAD it (dangerous, etc., I posted about it). With the determination born of needing to cure a dangerous habit I put him to work. I used the lunge line around the poll method and side reins to keep him with me, and I pushed him out of his work comfort zone into a BIG trot. Rogo's not big on big trot's, although he has a beauty when he does it. We did this a few times until he stopped running from me, and then I went back to not lunging. I kind of missed the break through - I was teaching him the gait I wanted, which I couldn't seem to do as effectively or quickly mounted.
Currently coming back from a period of low to no work (Rogo's cut leg, my 'down' time) I was faced with a very lazy horse and a low energy me, so I turned to lunging. OMG - I think I've got it. I'm fastening the line on the side, using side reins at times (I've used them enough that he understands and is ready) without under or over doing it, getting a big, forward trot, and the trot it carrying over to mounted work. In yesterday's ride he carried the trot of my dreams after lunging, something I can work on for 30 minutes and not get if I try it mounted without lunging. Without lunging, there are days I can give him 3 good solid whacks with the whip and still get just a half hearted, short response. This leaves me feeling really yukky (it's like whipping a sweet puppy frankly, and it does no good). Who wants to spend their riding time like that, or have a relationship like that with their horse? Not me.
So, fingers crossed, I think I have a good tool I can use effectively finally. I'm not mean to him on the lunge line (pushing too hard or 'chasing' him). It's just as though we both get it now - focused and forward. Rogo isn't the least bit upset or reluctant. He's as happy as can be and enjoying himself. Is he the equine equivalent of the person who says "I find it hard to go to the gym, but when I get started I love it"?
So, here I am, lunging to put an edge on :) I know many people lunge to take the edge off. Also, some trainers don't think lunging should be used, or used very sparingly. I'm very interested in knowing what you think of lunging as a training tool and / or if and how you use lunging.


Shannon said…
I rarely lunge, mostly because it's just as much work as riding and I'd rather ride. It is useful for young or green horses, though. Or when you can't ride for whatever reason. I lunged and long lined a lot when I was pregnant.

I use a lunging caveson and side reins. I like the lunging caveson because you don't have to take the line off to change directions and I don't like attaching the line to the bit, anyway. I also only attach the outside side rein and use the whip to encourage the inside bend. The whip acts as your leg, so you're pushing the horse from inside leg to outside rein. I don't like having something static like a side rein on the inside, as it doesn't give like a hand and can encourage bracing.

It sounds like you're making good progress with Rogo, so whatever you're doing is the right thing!
Anonymous said…
I know horsemanship guru Lee Smith says she would never lunge an energetic horse because it takes away the best part of the horse. But you're lunging to bring out Rogo's best side! There's no one system that works for every horse, and no one knows Rogo better than you.
I don't usually lunge the horses with the exception of Donnie because he's not ready to be ridden yet. That said, I think lunging is a great way to teach horses voice commands and specific gaits. I must confess I'm not very good at it but my daughter is very accomplished. She will long line a green horse (or others) and train them what they need to know before ever getting on. Her lunging skills are so refined I don't even bother to try except with the horses she's already trained. Then it's just voice commands from me.

I'd keep on lunging Rogo it seems like you're both doing really well with it. And you're sensitive to his welfare. I've seen so many people over the years simply run a horse ragged on a circle and that's not training to me that's borderline abuse and probably why some people are against it. Have fun.
Carol said…
Shannon I think you're lucky in having a naturally forward horse (well, luck and good training). I used a lunging caveson for many months when I started, but I just can't hold him in it and also I want to switch to riding. Great tip re using the whip for the inside leg, to push him into the outside rein. I'm going to try it.
Prairienerd I didn't know this about Lee Smith, but I know many people feel this way. Funny that I use lunging for the opposite of getting rid of excitement :)
GHM I remember you writing once that your daughter had taught your warm blood to be more forward. I meant to ask you how she went about this. I wonder if she used lunging?
Thanks guys.
TBDancer said…
Lungeing too much is hard for joints and soft tissues, but I lunge occasionally and just for a few minutes, usually at the walk and trot to get the horse's mind in "work mode"--he's saddled, bitted up and worked both directions to get the "kinks" out. I stop and tighten the girth in stages, too.
Kelly said…
I always lunge my mare before riding:

1) because she is 4
2) lunging gets her attention on me
3) I get a much more forward ride

Like Rogo, she seems to need the brief warm up to get moving. I only lunge w/t/c for a few minutes on each rein and then hop on.
I've had the same situation lunging Val, ie running off to avoid correct work (with a c-r-a-z-y look in his eye) and a lack of forward lol!

Our lunging issue went from non-existent to making me very nervous over the course of just a few months. Of course when I lunged Val at my trainer's farm to get her help, he was a perfect angel and moved out beautifully... confidence (mine) related I'm sure.

Lunging looks simple but requires a
sensitivity to body language, your own + the horses, and a plan.

I don't think it's healthy for a horse's body or mind to run around endlessly in small circles, but it's a good alternative when you can't ride for a while.

Maybe some supervision from a trainer for a few sessions would help?! Easier said than done - I know we're in the same boat re trainers...
Anonymous said…
I am pro lunging. I will not lunge a horse until after they are broke. Past then I use it as another training tool, but will not lunge before every ride. I see it as another bit of exercise. It is great for teaching discipline, harmony, and is an excellent way to actually LOOK at your horse.

It is a good skill to teach also because then you can have lunge lessons!
Karen said…
I maybe lunge Hampton once a week or every 2 weeks now. He is well educated on the lunge and it helps me 1)evaluate his soundness and 2) let him find his own balance. In the beginning, I lunged him before every ride. He was able to figure out forward, balance, and obedience without me interfering. Lunging is a special skill, and one I am good at, so I find great value in it. I am just careful not to overdo it - especially with growing horses.
Barbara said…
I lunge every horse until they respond to verbal commands; walk, trot, canter. After that I lunge when I can't ride or sometimes just to see them go. I do like to lunge for just a couple of minutes before I get on, to see them move. I think of it as letting them settle into the tack and get comfortable. As I ride TBs I do sometimes lunge the extra energy off. I figure if their feet aren't touching the ground I am not going to enjoy the ride. I do always have that voice in my ear telling me that all the round and round can be hard on joints.
Niamh said…
I am a big fan of long lining...especially for younger (and not so well balanced horses). It gives you a nice way of working on feel while they are going at the walk or trot and doesn't have to be used in circles. I also feel like using longing correctly can help to reinforce groundwork.
in2paints said…
I've never been a big fan of longeing, but mostly because my horses have never really needed it. I was able to accomplish what I needed under saddle and thus didn't seek out any other training methods. I use it now and then with Lilly, but we don't really "longe" per se... we just work on transitions and getting her to focus on me. She's not wearing anything, though... it's a free longe.

Every horse is different and I'm glad to hear it's working so well for you and Rogo.
Val said…
I lunge or long line in place of riding. I will usually choose riding over groundwork, but it is a nice change for the horse's muscles and gives me a chance to see him go. Long lining also allows the rider to feel her horse from the ground without weight on his back. I am not a fan of lungeing to tire a horse. I do not use side reins and usually just lunge in a halter with a cotton line and whip. I have learned how to work a horse on a line with a rope halter and found it a useful tool for obedience training, but my preference is the more traditional-style lungeing. That is if you consider trotting and cantering around with my horse "traditional". Hmmm. Maybe not.
Carol said…
Wow - I'm so happy to get all of this response. Thanks everyone! When I'm here training on my own it's hard to compare notes. I lunged more when Rogo was younger, just to guage his reactions and make sure we were as safe as could be. I never lunge more than 20 minutes, and usually less, and never more than 2 times a week. I've been sporadic about it, sometimes leaving it for months, but now that I've seen I can use it to teach the trot I want, I'll be staying with it more until we get it. The key I think (for us) is to keep it short and not too often, so that it continues to work to energize and doesn't become a boring routine. I also have him spiraling in and out at trot and canter, and slowing down and speeding up his trot so it doesn't become mindless circling.
Jan said…
Carol, What an epiphany on lunging! what a great development! It's funny, how sometimes things just come together at an unexpected moment. Maybe it does signal a new point of development in Rogo's mental maturity, or a coming together of the human skills needed to do something. Whatever the reason, it sounds like both of you are using lunging to great benefit. Good for you!
Annette said…
I never longe to take the edge off but I do use it as a training tool. I taught Jackson all the transitions with voice aids and that made it easier to teach in the saddle. I still say "aaand caaan-ter" because he's not clear on that aid yet. It helps keep me quiet which is good - I tend to throw away the reins in the transition.

I use side reins. It helped Jackson learn to carry himself with me interfering (notice a pattern here?)

I also longed Jackson when I was evaluating how he was moving relative to laminitis and hock issues. It's hard to see from the saddle.

I have been fortunate to have worked trainers who are very good with the longe and I learned from them.

All that being said, I'm with Shannon and I'd rather ride than longe.
I won't lunge to "take the edge off" either but do use it as a training tool. A horse must have a solid whoa, walk and trot before I would even consider getting on under saddle. I then use lunging when I can't ride or want to work on something in particular, say canter/trot transitions. I can then have the horse work on that specifically without me "in the way".
When teaching a horse to lunge that isn't "getting" it, I use driving lines and use the outside rein as a "wall" to keep them from turning in and to help keep them in the right/forward direction. I haven't, however, dealt with one who bolts.
Story said…
Because we have an unusual schedule in my house, my riding often follows a pattern of three to four days riding in a row followed by a similar amount of time off. Due to the number of off days, I like to longe to re-establish things when we return to riding days. It seems to help set the "work" tone for the week. Longeing on that first day back just seems to make things better. It puts our minds in the right place. I always regret it when I skip longeing day. Not that she's bad but the ride is just never as productive as it could have been.
Anonymous said…
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Love your blog too!

Jeni said…
I don't lunge to take the edge off either. Actually I rarely lunge anymore. Prefer to spend my limited time in the saddle.

When I do lunge it's training, or muscle building.
Lori Skoog said…
I'm with Shannnon...I would rather ride than lunge. Have done it, but happy that I have a horse I can get on two times a year or every week and she does not need it. I free lunge Abbe and have line driven her a lot in the past...really like that. But, since I do things for pleasure and not for showing, I am not in the same place you are. Took classical dressage lessons for years and years because I wanted to learn. To do things properly, it takes time and good communication. Now my ponies are leading the soft life.
Hi Carol,
I don't really remember what my daughter did specifically to get Erik moving more forward. But she'd have no problem giving you an answer if you wanted to visit her blog and ask her. She's a great trainer and doesn't mind helping anyone out with training problems.
achieve1dream said…
I think longing is a fantastic tool for teaching new behaviors like you're doing because the horse can learn the behavior without the added weight/interference of a rider. It let's them commit the new exercise to muscle memory and build the strength to support the rider so that when the behavior is asked for under saddle they are capable of doing it. :) Just like how they teach the airs above the ground (capriole, etc.) in hand before they do it under saddle. It just makes sense to do it that way to me. :)