When you lunge a horse, it moves around you in a circle on the end of a lunge line. Lunging is a useful exercise for both horse and handler. It is a way to let your horse safely burn off extra energy without you riding it and can help when teaching horse obedience.
When done correctly, lunging can help a horse learn to be more flexible and balanced, as well as increase fitness if the horse has not been working. You can also use it to observe a horse’s gaits to see if it is lame. And, lunging can be done to help a rider learn skills without having to worry about controlling the horse.
Before you try to lunge your horse, make sure you have everything you need. A lunge line is essential and should be about 30 to 35 feet long. Flat webbing is preferable to rope because it's lighter and easier to handle. You will also need a lunge whip and lunging cavesson or sturdy halter (some people find the cavessons too cumbersome). Exercise boots or wraps help protect your horse's legs.
Additionally, you will want to lunge your horse in a ring, arena, or round pen. It's important to prevent as many distractions as possible, especially when just starting.
Gear for yourself will also help out considerably. Sturdy boots or shoes are essential so you don't trip or slide. Gloves can help prevent rope burn if your horse pulls, and it's not a bad idea to wear your helmet just in case. Finally, get your voice ready because it will be the primary aid you will use to cue your horse.
Halter the Horse
To lunge your horse, it should be outfitted with a lunging cavesson or a sturdy halter. A cavesson is not a necessity and many horses are trained to lunge without one. Do not lunge with the lunge line attached to a bit or hackamore.
Enter the Ring
Hold the Lunge Line and Whip
If your horse will be working to the left, hold the lunge line in your left hand and your lunge whip in your right. When your horse is traveling in a circle to the right, the lunge line will be held in the right hand and the whip in your left.
Hold the line and the whip so that they are the sides of a triangle and you are the apex of the triangle. Your horse will be the base of the triangle. Both of your arms should be bent at the elbow and you should be standing relaxed.
Walk the Horse
Ask your horse to "walk." It's important to help your horse understand your voice aids by using the same tone and inflection each time for each cue. Most people use a low drawn-out "whooooaaaaa" for halt and sharp energetic words for walk, trot, and canter.
Maintain the Circle
As your horse moves off on the circle, you will be holding the lunge line up not dragging on the ground. Keep elbows bent and the whip pointed at the horse's hocks. Remember to maintain the triangle.
If you move at all, keep your circle very small. You may find yourself getting dizzy, so don’t just spin in one spot.
Upward and Downward Transitions
Your voice aid for upward transitions—walk to trot or canter, or trot to canter—can be reinforced by the whip. For some horses it will only take a wave of the whip, others may need the lash to be popped. This is done by flicking the whip sharply—you may need to practice perfecting this before you try lunging.
For downward transitions—trot to walk, walk to halt, canter to walk, or trot to halt—many people lower the tip of the whip to the ground. At no time does the whip ever touch the horse.
Halt the Horse
When you ask your horse to halt, it should stay out on the circle and wait for you to approach. Some people like the horse to come to them when called. If you do this, gather the lunge line up so it doesn't drag on the ground as the horse approaches.
Halt and Change Direction
Ask your horse to change direction: ask it to halt, step backward, and turn. Then change your whip and line hands and send the horse off in the opposite direction. This will take some practice for you to become coordinated in the movement and your horse to understand what you are asking. Very soon, you will not have to ask the horse to halt but be able to change direction in one fluid motion at a walk or trot.
Problems and Proofing Behaviors
Many people lunge their horses to burn off energy and provide exercise. Be careful that you don't make your horse fitter than you are. That will lead to it taking longer for your horse to level out.
Lunging isn't just about firing around in a circle or simply letting a horse run in circles around you. Doing either of these can lead to poor obedience and injury. The horse should be as obedient on the lunge line as it is when being led. Not only should lunging be physical exercise but mental exercise as well.
Most importantly, lunging is not a form of punishment. Punishing a horse is never a good idea and will only lead to a horse that acts out. Instead, you want to develop a bond with your horse and get them to trust people. Lunging is a fantastic way to do that.
The faster your horse is going, the larger the circle needs to be. You can do this by letting out more line. Lunging on a small circle can be very hard on a horse's legs, so increase the work gradually for the horse to become supple, fit, and balanced without strain.