Guest post by Christa from Piaffe Style.
Lunging a horse has become increasingly popular.
For years, this has been a method of exercising or training a physically expressive horse without putting the rider at risk, getting “the steam” out before riding or training the dressage horse without distraction from the rider.
While lunging a horse has some advantages and there are multiple purposes for lunging, there are also a few things to keep in mind.
Lunging a Horse – Risks to Consider
Many like to lunge their horses to “let off steam” before riding them. While, in theory, this is a good idea, there is a possibility for a risk to the horse.
Running around uncontrollably, jumping and leaping on the lunge line presents a great opportunity for injury.
The horse can fall down, get away from the person lunging or misplace a step, causing a risk for many injuries. While this is rare, there’s still a risk.
Also, in some cases, lunging a horse increases excitement instead of calming them.
When done excessively, or on a daily basis, it also carries possibilities to lameness.
Small circles in place increase stress on the lower joints. This is mainly an issue in the showjumping and hunter world, but it is not a matter to take lightly among dressage riders either.
Lunging can cause synovitis in fetlocks and digital tendon sheaths when done excessively (Dressage Today, Dec 6, 2017).
Though these injuries when lunging a horse are rare, they still increase the risk of lameness, and should always be considered when developing a training program for a horse.
Lunging a Horse – Benefits to Consider
Equine veterinarians use lunging as a tool to observe a horse without the rider. This allows the veterinarians to evaluate the horse’s movement.
Also, in many cases that involve forelimb lameness, lunging a horse will accentuate it, which helps veterinarians diagnose the problem.
Lunging can also be therapeutic to some degree. While lunging a horse without any help from side reins or other systems usually does more harm than good, using a chambon, degogue or other lunging systems can be physical therapy for horses with back pain or tightness.
This allows the horse to move freely and attain better movement and mobility in the back.
Remember, that if you choose to use a lunging system, it should only be used by an experienced trainer or under a supervision of an experienced trainer.
Lunge with Purpose
Lunging should always be done on a circle that they are comfortable with.
Young horses with no or little balance should be given at least an 18 meter circle. More balanced horses can lunge on a smaller circle.
How long should you lunge a horse for?
Lungeing should also never last too long – I personally believe that 30 minutes is a maximum time for longing.
You should think about the frequency of lunging, too: a horse should not need lunging multiple times every week on a regular basis.
What is the purpose of lunging a horse?
Just like when riding, you should have a purpose and a goal. Lunging can be beneficial and can be used for example:
- For the rider – rider can practice their seat and balance.
- For the horse – when using a lunging system, such as chambon, it can be very therapeutic for the horse’s back.
Just like with anything else, moderation is key.
Lunging can be a great tool with training, but it should be done with purpose and with a manner that will benefit the horse, and not put them in risk.
Remember, that many lameness injuries develop over time – thus you may not see problems with the horse in short-term, but problems can appear after months or years of excessive lunging.
If you’re in doubt, speak with an equine veterinarian or an experienced trainer.
For more training exercises, check out Cavaletti – How to Build It + Exercises.
Christa is a professional horse groom, dressage rider and a trainer. She has trained young horses and riders throughout Europe and USA in dressage and showjumping. Christa and her students have won multiple championships and titles. You can read more from her blog, www.piaffestyle.com.
Love that this post touches on staying focused on a purpose while lunging and looking out for the physical safety and longevity of the horse.
Great article Christa. Love that you cover lunging should have a purpose and a goal! Couldn’t agree more! I see so many horse owners simply hook the lead line on and let the horse go bonkers. Also, really great benefits and possible risks to lunging. Thanks for writing!
Hi Christa. My name is Liz VanRoss and I am an equine locomotion therapist with over three decades under my belt of repairing broken horses. I agree with a lot of what you had to say, yet after working for seven years at the largest independent equine hospital in the UK, can tell you that more horses presented with C7 to T1 junction inflammation, sacroiliac joint inflammation, lumbosacral joint inflammation and atlanto occipital joint inflammation leading to dangerous behavioural changes and destructive conditions in the horse, due to the use of chambons, gogues, draw reins and side reins. These contraptions are NOT to be used AT ALL…let alone for rehabilitation purposes. They damage horses and should be banned. They completely destroy equine balance and locomotor patterns and force the horse to compensate in an attempt to move while constrained in incredibly uncomfortable ways. The horse’s anxiety levels go through the roof and the immune system is compromised.
Be VERY careful of the information and advice you give. You are trying to help horses, not hurt them and for that I applaud you. Just PLEASE, if you want to know more about restraining rein aids, read anything concerning the subject written by Jean-Luc Cornille…www.scienceofmotion.com.
He was a former Cadre Noir rider who after realising the damage done to horses, has turned to research and anatomy as a guide. You will find his work quite fascinating.
Sorry to be so abrupt, but horses need us to be right!!! we are after all using their bodies and minds…not ours.
My mare is 27 and I have started replacing one ride a week with lunging to be gentler on her body. I don’t use any sidereins/etc and it allows me to watch her move naturally to identify any soreness/etc. It’s a great change of pace!
Elizabeth Vanross – I’m thinking the Pessoa would also be in this should be banned category?