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Women & Horses by Mary D. Midkiff - horseback riding fitness techniques for women

Women & Horses, knowledge for the female equestrian; female equestrian fitness training and riding tips


by Dorita Konyot
Published courtesy of Rowe Stables

It is hard to find the words to describe the benefits to be received from the work on the lunge. There isn't a horse alive that won't be improved by it, from the young, fresh colt to the oldster who meeds limbering up.

LungingThe colt gets his first lessons in discipline here as his master is in complete command at a very early age. He learns to give an honest days work and is taught to go forward.

The Arab, in particular, benefits, because when lunged properly, he is made to extend his trot. Working in a circle teaches him balance, makes him bend and become supple. When cantering in a small circle he must collect himself and he can be made to bring his hind legs well under him.

It is of great value to the horse that has been ruined. If he has been held back you will see a remarkable improvement within days after you begin lunging. You'll see the trot he is capable of and the one you must strive for under saddle. If he is badly disunited he will find his rhythm and cadence here.

The horse that is particularly lively will get all the nonsense out of his system with a few bucks and the rider is saved a lot of extra work and trouble. Any nonsense such as this should be voided under saddle if possible and this is the best way to let it come out without doing any harm.

There are a few instances, too, when you will have a word of praise for yourself for putting forth the effort to teach your horse to lunge. They may be while taking a long trip and exercise is needed. Another time may be when your horse has been injured or becomes ill and exercise is necessary. It is a lot easier to pivot on your feet than to follow along side him.

In starting the work on the lunge you must observe very carefully what your horses attitude is going to be. An older horse may not want to leave your side as he has always been led close on hand and will almost knock you down to get to that position. Plenty of patience and good horse sense is needed here and some ingenuity on your part. Every horse reacts differently and you must discover this and react accordingly. If you are a beginner at this sort of thing, start slowly and with a horse that is clam and gentle. It is hard to teach a young horse when you are not sure you know what it is all about.

Some horses are more sensitive than others. They need very little encouragement or driving with the whip whereas others need to be awakened. You must be able to judge when your horse gets to excited and stop before he gets riled up. An over excited horse becomes confused and can not learn in this state of mind. It is necessary to keep him calm with everything you do and particularly the lunge. You must show him what you want him to do and reward him immediately when he does it. Praise and reward are for more important than punishment.

It helps to lead your horse or colt on both sides as most horses are very uneasy when you on the off side merely from the lack of handling on that side. The colt can be taught from the start and a lot of the difficulty is avoided later on. Some colts lunge better to the left and some to the right. A lot has to do with the handler's awkwardness and occasionally it is caused by the horse's natural bend. You may see this trait follow through to the difficulty of flexing him later on. Although, in extreme cases of this nature a lot of his stiffness will be taken out in lunging and you will a much straighter going horse by that time.

While it is best to start the horse going around to the left, you may find that he goes better to the right and you should make things easy for him and yourself by working longer on the difficult side. A small enclosure is of great assistance in starting a green horse. If you have a large training "rectangle" you can work in a corner. It is necessary to lead your horse around in a circle you want him to take many times so he understands this is what you want him to do.

Not many amateurs are equipped with a lunging cavesson; however, there is no substitute for it. The lunge line, which is a necessity, should be approximately 30 feet long and is snapped to the center ring of the cavesson. It gives you control of the horse's head. A word of caution in using the cavesson. It must fit tightly and two jaw straps are preferred in order to keep it on and so as not to cut the eye on the off side. Have someone observe this on your first uses of it, especially on a horse that pulls.

We work almost knee deep sand here, and there is nothing that develops a horse more than this. They have to pick up their feet. A freshly plowed field is very good after your horse learns to go around in a circle well, but be careful not to over-do it. Your horse must build up muscle for this kind of work and must not be allowed to get sore. Make sure he is walked cool and dry before putting him in his stall and, of course, don't feed or water him right after.

In getting down to business, after placing your cavesson on securely, gather up your lunge line in a neat and orderly manner by looping it over your left hand in approximately 18" loops. Snap it on to your cavesson and always hold the lunge line in a manner that will allow it to peel off with tangling. If you should find it necessary to completely re-wind your lunge while working, you must hold it at the horse's head in the left hand in order to keep control of him while gathering it up. You will then find it necessary to turn the whole handful of loops around so that they will peel off properly. Be aware of tangles, dragging loops and slack line as they can be dangerous. It is unwise also to let your line out to the last loop or hand grip as there is no more slack to give in case your horse does something rascally. It will give a terrible jerk!

When your horse gets going around both ways well you can begin pushing him out in the trot. Never over do it but gradually work up to a good, clam but honest days work. Let him trot until he breaks into a canter and then let him canter until he becomes willing to trot. This is the point of importance because it is here that you can begin to push him and extend his trot. If his veins are protruding noticeably and he otherwise appears to be over exerted, be sure to bring him down to a walk and rest a bit. It is never to be a punishment and so severe that you would break his wind.

It is very important that your horse canter on the correct lead as he goes around. If his head is flexed in too much you will find that he will invariably take the wrong lead. Drop him out and push him forward at the same time. this takes practice but eventually you will get the feel of it. Stop him and start over again if this doesn't work for you.

Your horse should travel around you in a nice arc. His head should neither be over-flexed toward the center or carried to the outside. His hindquarters should conform with the arc. He should work quietly and calmly but energetically. Your hand holding the lunge line is active and follows the horse's head. He is taught to halt frequently on the circle by the slowing down of your forward motion and by not continuing to lead him, by dropping the whip to its lowest position and voice command. He is allowed to come in to you only when you have asked him to. (You keep him out by flicking the whip at this eye.) To teach him to come, keep the line taut and back up a step or two with outstretched arm so as not to pull. Call him and offer a reward. After a time or two he will probably want to come in the minute you put your hand in your pocket for a lump of sugar. Not letting him come in until you command it will be an important lesson in obedience.

Your horse accelerates by your increased forward motion and the hand leads him to more forward position on the circle while at the same time you raise your whip and further encourage him with voice command. One of the grave dangers of lunging comes when you stay too far behind your horse and drive him forward. this is the way most beginners reason it, but this method causes your horse to bend his head in to you and his hind quarters swing out of the circle and get away. He does not balance himself well and does not gain as much from lunging as he should.

Another danger point is when your horse pulls hard on the line. As a rule, he will increase his speed and come towards you opposite of where he entered the ring, and he will slow down and pull out at the point of entry. The thing to do is release fast (about three inches of line)and take up some and urge him forward without frightening him. this common sense of it is it the horse is driven and led forward he will keep his circle in a short time. If you do not correct this fault it will fo on forever and it takes a great deal of strength to keep on pulling a horse in a circle.

When the horse is well trained he should not come in or pull out on the line but should maintain about the same amount of weight as you would keep on the reins while riding.

It is of utmost importance to be precise with all of your motions. A sloppy, careless person will never have an obedient horse. They are such creatures of habit that it works well for you - and how it works against you!

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