Maybe you’ve only lunged a horse when your trainer was around, or quickly before a show. You might have a horse who is just coming off of an injury and your vet says, “He needs to be lunged before you can think about riding.” Great, but what does that mean?!
You might’ve done a few quick spins with a halter and a lunge line but now you’re ready to start lunging as a cross-exercise, to build muscle, or for rehab.
Where do you start?
First, you need a solid place to lunge!
Be sure that the location that you’re lunging in is safe to do so. You can use a round pen, an indoor arena, an outdoor covered arena, or an outdoor yard.
It should be more than 40+ft in diameter. If you have a large space without any other enclosures, you can use hay bales, bushes, corners of an arena, or other markers to guide your horse as you both start out. Keep in mind if you have a young or green horse that you want to minimize distractions as you start to lunge so your horse can focus on connecting with you while learning to lunge.
Your location should have solid footing that’s not too deep. We recommend arena footing or otherwise. Use caution if you’re lunging on grass as your horse can easily slip on wet grass around the circle.
Next, set up your equipment.
We always recommend starting to lunge in a cavesson and not a halter. A cavesson allows you to communicate with your horse through the center of his nose, allowing for smooth movements through his neck and poll.
A halter can pull around the face and injure the eye and it encourages your horse to bend from his chin instead of through his neck and long back muscle.
The next thing you need is a lunge line! Your lunge line should be 25+ft and made of cotton. We do not recommend lunging with anything that is elastic as it can stretch and give, disrupting the communication through your hands. Your lunge line should have a safety loop on one end and a swiveling metal buckle on the other. If you have a spooky or green horse, you can find lunge lines with a leather attachment, but we don’t recommend using those unless necessary. The advantage of the swiveling metal buckle is that it does not allow the lunge line to twist which would break your communication.
Lastly, you need a lunge whip. You can use a dressage whip if you have one. We recommend your lunge whip be between 7-12ft. You want to be able to touch your horse with the end of the whip’s thong comfortably around the circle. Make sure you’re familiar with how to use the whip and the whip’s weight in your hand before you bring it out on the lunge line. Remember, the whip is only an extension of your arm and a forward driving aid. The whip is never used to punish the horse.
Once you’re through the beginning stage of lunging, you can add in side or auxiliary reins. These allow for you to guide your horse into self-carriage and target specific muscle groups. We recommend sliding, not solid, side reins. Learn more about side reins here.
You’re ready to begin!
Start your lunging session at just a walk. You want your horse to be comfortable around the lunge line and the circle before you ask for any advanced gaits. Lead your horse out and around the circle, working on body language as you walk.
Once your horse is comfortable and relaxed at the walk, you can send him out onto the circle. As you move him out onto the circle and into faster gaits, start to add in lunging commands so he knows what’s expected of him.
It’s important to remember to stay in the center of the circle as you’re lunging. You want your horse to move around you, so that you are in control of the circle size and shape. As you both advance into lunging, you can modify the circle to target specific muscle groups and improve your horse’s rhythm.
Now you’re ready as a beginner lunger! Looking for exercises you can practice when you’re just getting started? Check this out!