My Introduction To Parelli

Some people advocate Parelli, others resent it. It’s had good press, it’s had bad press. Whatever. Each to their own. I’m not going to go into depth here – do some reading and develop your own opinion.

Anyway, I’ve never really had anything to do with Parelli, nor have I had a need to try it with my horses.  But when I went to do a practice lunge lesson with a riding club member last week I was horrified, embarrassed, whatever you want to say, that I couldn’t get the horse to lunge when I warmed her up.

“Oh, she’s Parelli trained” announced her owner as an explanation. That still didn’t help me, so she gave me a quick lesson on lunging the Parelli way.

Firstly, she explained that my belly button should be pointing in the direction I want the horse to go. So to send a horse forwards, turn to look (and point your belly button) in that direction. When you face the horse, they think you are wanting them to reverse. Which was the problem I was having. 

You can also fling your rein arm in the direction you want them to go, thus giving a clearer instruction. Once I’d got the hang of this then it did make a bit of sense and the mare responded well.

To slow a horse the Parelli way, you either put the whip out in front of their body, or waggle the lunge line. I found this part trickier, until I accidentally said the word “Good” at which point the mare stopped dead! Apparently that’s a cue word for the end of the session and tit bit time.

Parelli people also don’t use many words, as this lady told me. They expect to say go, and then say nothing until they want the horse to do something different. Which when we’re riding is something we should aim for so our aids remain subtle and clear, but most of us use a dialogue when lunging to either settle the horse, or to regulate their gait. 

The whip is also often used instead of the voice to get a horse to move off. Smack it on the ground behind the horse twice, and they should move forwards until told otherwise. This is more to do with the obedience aspect of Parelli, so apart from being told about it I didn’t use this technique.

Regardless of my views on Parelli, it was actually an interesting learning experience because it means I have another trick up my sleeve if I ever come across a horse who “won’t” lunge – I may just be talking the wrong language to them. 

Learn To Lunge

How old can you be to learn to lunge properly? In one of my clients’ case, seven is the answer.

After falling over and cutting her knee at school she couldn’t put jodhpurs on over her large patch which stemmed the bleeding, so we decided that I would lunge the pony, who needed exercise anyway, and once he had settled, she would have a go.

I lunged him, working on getting him into right canter as he seems to have an aversion to it at the moment, and after my little client had watched for a bit she came into the middle to try.

Holding all the lunging equipment can be tricky with adult hands, so I gave her bits at a time. Firstly, I showed her how to hold the lunge line, correctly looped up. Then she led her pony out onto the circle to start the lunging. I held to whip and kept him walking, whilst she made sure she was standing in the middle and he had enough lunge line. 

Once we’d established a bigger circle and the lunge line was still organised, she used her little voice while I gave a wiggle of the whip to ask him to trot.

We spent quite a while practicing trotting on the lunge, with her noticing him slowing down and reacting to it. Making sure she was standing still, pivoting and facing her pony’s shoulder. Then I handed her the whip so she was in complete control. I stood behind, obviously, ready to help her if needed because she’s only tiny! 


Then we changed the rein, which involved correctly gathering up the lunge line, and swapping the lunge line on his bit. I started off holding the whip again, and on this rein the pony was a bit faster so I explained how to use the lunge line to steady him. Once he’d settled, she carried the whip again.


Since she was getting the hang of all the equipment, I laid out three trotting poles, and we then had a go at trotting over the poles. This was tricky for me because I had to subtly position the pony to go over the poles whilst telling my little client where to move to! The first time, the pony cantered over the last pole, pulling my client forwards a couple of steps. I guess it’s like me holding the end of the lunge line when the half Shire canters off when I’m lunging him. Anyway, the rest of the poles went smoothly and I even left her alone in the middle for a few moments whilst I adjusted the poles.


After doing the poles in both directions, I asked if we should try cantering. She was game, so we changed the rein onto his good canter lead. By now I was just holding the whip while she did it all.  We moved him onto a bigger circle and then asked for canter. Once he was cantering, she took hold of the whip and started controlling him with her little voice.


By the end, most impressively, her lunge line was as organised as it was at  the start! I thought she did really well, and seemed to understand how to use the equipment and the purpose of lunging is. I wouldn’t leave her to lunge solo, with no one in the middle to assist if there was a problem, but she is definitely well on her way to being able to lunge confidently and safely! 

Gadgets and Gizmos

Twenty years ago draw reins, market harboroughs, and other gadgets were all the rage, causing uneducated riders to tie their horse’s heads to their chests. Now word is slowly spreading that horses need to be worked from the hindquarters forwards, and need freedom in the head and neck, with the nose on the vertical. And a new type of gadget has evolved.

There are hundreds of lunging gadgets on the market today – the Pessoa, the Whittaker training aid, the equi-ami, to name a few. All of them have a strap that goes from the roller around the hindquarters, encouraging them to step under and push themselves forwards. Then there is some gizmo that runs from the roller, to the bit and then back to the roller in various positions according to the horse’s level of training. 

Now I’ve used both the Pessoa and the equi-ami with success on horses, but I do worry that in the wrong hands horses are still being tied down, but instead of head to chest it is now chest to bum.


Let’s look at how these gadgets work, because they are all very similar. The horse is encouraged to push from behind, step under with the hind leg, lift their abdominal muscles, lift their back and wither,  and the under neck muscles relaxed. It’s that upside down bowl, or a strung bow that we all strive for.

However, problems can occur if these gadgets are too tight for the horse. The horse feels the pressure from the back strap, but if their tummy and topline aren’t developed enough they can’t engage sufficiently and as they lift their head to find their balance the gadget puts pressure on their mouth. Often causing horses to lift their head even higher, or stop travelling forwards. Some will stop and rear.

In this situation, the best thing is to back off. Loosen all straps so the horse has more leeway to find their balance and they are encouraged to work correctly, rather than being forced to. When the pressure is reduced the horse will be happier and more relaxed, so is more likely to learn from the gadget. Once the horse has muscled up and developed the correct muscles it may be that the gadget needs adjusting because the horse is moving away from the long and low frame and towards a more collected frame, however it is so detrimental to their bodies to try and run before they can walk and expect them to move in a collected outline.

This happened to me this week. I lunged a horse, who has used the equi-ami before, and he started off nicely, stretching his topline and swinging over his back. But then I don’t know what happened, maybe he had a mis-step, but he lifted his head to balance himself. The equi-aid put pressure on his mouth and he felt trapped. He stopped, lifted his head and all in all looked uncomfortable. So I loosened the gadget until it was too loose, and then took him back a step and just walked until he’d relaxed. Then he trotted for the rest of the session happily, working really well. I don’t think I had the gadget too tight, but I think his tolerance of pressure is low. Perhaps to do with something in his history? I cantered him without the gadget, even though last time he’d accepted the gadget in trot and canter, there’s no point this time because he’s obviously not quite as comfortable with it.

I dare say a lesser knowledgable or experienced rider or owner would have kept on lunging, creating a tense horse who accommodated the gadget by holding tension and not coming through from behind. Said horse could become shut down, learned helplessness I think it’s called, and allow themselves to be tied in from nose to tail.


When I use the Pessoa on any horse I am always on the lookout for them becoming overbent, and cheating the gadget. If they do then I’ll change the setting, lengthen the ropes, or take it away for a bit.

I like using the gadgets when needed to help guide the horse into the correct frame, but as soon as they start getting over bent or going behind the vertical I change it. But it’s important to remember that gadgets are for pointing the horse in the right direct, not fixing them in place, and when instructors or trainers recommend their use they should make sure the owner understands how these gadgets work otherwise we could recreate the problem we had two decades of horses being over bent and working incorrectly.

A good test of whether a horse knows and understands how to carry themselves is to lunge them “naked” and see if they find their own balance and self carriage.

Lunge Lessons

They`re one of my favourite lessons to have, or teach, but they are quite a rare occurrence. For some reasons people are reluctant to embark on a position-focused lunge lesson. They are physically demanding, much more than people expect, and because you are limited to a circle and focused on rider position some find it boring. Which is possibly why there is so little take up for lunge lessons.

Beginners, who often benefit most from spending time focusing on their position, are often the hardest to persuade to have lunge lessons, whilst those more advanced often don`t have quiet, sensible enough horses to have a productive lunge lesson.

At college we had lunging every Tuesday after lunch, and the Stage two students warmed the horses up on the lunge before the PTT students took over and taught a Stage two student on the lunge. I loved this, although one snowy day I was the only Stage two student in so had three lunge lessons in one day!

For the ITT exam I need to give a lunge lesson, so have been recruiting willing volunteers from the riding club. Lucky for me, I have a few victims, I mean, volunteers, and now to prepare a variety of exercises so I am armed to improve whatever position faults are thrown at me.

I always start a lunge lesson by assessing the rider`s position, and prioritising areas to work on. Getting them to demonstrate sitting trot tells me if they are likely to be confident going without stirrups, and I can get a general feel of their confidence so I can pitch the exercises to their level. After all, there`s no point saying to a nervous rider, “today we`re going to work without stirrups and reins.” Which will make they not only worried, but also inadequate. So I would be better saying, “let`s begin by working without stirrups.” I also usually run through the ideal riding position, and ask the rider which areas they feel are their weakest.

Arm Exercises

So long as riders are happy to go without reins, you can do a variety of exercises to improve the independence and stability of the arms and hands.

Keeping one hand on the pommel of the saddle, and the other hand hanging like a pendulum by your side, whilst rising to the trot will activate your core muscles and stop you using your arms (however little) to help your rising. You can progress to having both hands hanging by your side, thus stopping reliance on the rein contact, and helping you sit up taller.

Pretending to hold the reins is a useful exercise in correctly the position of the hands. So many riders carry their hands too low and back by the saddle. I ask my riders to feel that they have half a dozen helium balloons tied to their wrists, lifting their hands so they threaten to fly away. To stop your hands disappearing into space, your elbows are anchored to your sides. For many, it takes a few minutes to acclimatise themselves to this new hand position, and the feeling that they aren`t restricting the horse in any way. Taking back the reins, they want to keep the feeling of lightness and positivity in the rein contact.

One arm at a time, and potentially both together at a later stage, in walk and then trot (possibly even canter) swing your arm in big circles. Start with forwards circles, slowly as to not strain any muscles. Then move onto backwards circles. This opens the chest, encourages the shoulders to come down the back and the collarbones to open. The rider usually then has a better upper body position.

Upper Body Exercises

Beginning at the top of the upper body, is checking that the head is sitting centrally on the body and the rider is looking straight ahead. Turning the head slowly left and right, or lifting the chin up and then down to the chest, can help loosen any of these muscles and relieve tension if needed.

Rolling the shoulders up and back can have a similar effect to the arm circling exercise above. If a rider carries tension in their shoulders, then getting them to lift their shoulders to their ears and drop them whilst exhaling can “blow away” the tension. This is one of my favourite Pilates warm up exercises! This is best done in walk.

Holding both hands out to the side, turn the upper body at the waist so the rider is looking into the circle, and then out onto the circle. Be aware of any changes to the seat bones in this exercise. The rider should feel the muscles on their sides working. This movement can push insecure riders out of their comfort zone as they are moving out of their usual position so require more balance. If they are happy doing this is walk I sometimes give it a go in sitting trot to test their balance. The kids calls it the helicopter exercise.

Once the upper body is looking more correct I try to improve my rider`s proprioception, and ask them to imagine that they have headlights on their hip bones, points of shoulder, and chest. These lights should ideally point forwards. As they ride round the circle on each rein, get them to focus on the lights showing them the way. This stops riders collapsing one side, and encourages them to turn their body around the bend. Imagine the spine is the centre of the carousel and the body is rotating around it.

Seat Exercises

Ideally, riders want to sit squarely on their seat bones, but so many pitch forwards. I ask riders to shift their pelvis around in halt and walk until they’re aware of any asymmetry and their seat bones. Then we look at rocking themselves back, so they are sitting on “the back of” their seat bones whilst keeping their upper body tall.

Taking the feet out of the stirrups and then drawing the knees up to the pommel of the saddle, will put the rider onto the correct part of the seat bones, and this should become obvious to them. Slowly let the legs down without shifting off the seat bones. Repeating this gets the leg muscles loosening. If your rider is quite competent then bringing the knees away from pommel tests their balance and stretches the hip flexors. This is tough though, so be gentle!

Sitting trot is the most effective way to improve the seat, and if a rider is comfortable, then work them without stirrups. If they aren’t, do short bursts of sitting trot with stirrups taking rising before the position slips. The rider should soon be able to sit well to the trot for long periods.

Leg Exercises

Swinging the whole leg, from the hip, will open the hip flexors and help the rider lengthen the leg to create that elusive vertical line.

If a rider has stiff ankles then rotating the foot without the lower leg swinging will relieve tension here. 

The knees up and away exercise above, is really useful if a rider tends to grip with their knee and turn their leg in, thus blocking the horse at the shoulder. After opening at the hip the rider is more able to drape their leg around the horse’s barrel.

Keeping stirrups, for a rider who has an insecure lower leg, getting them to stand up in their stirrups and keep their balance in walk, and later trot, will help stabilise and strengthen the lower leg position. To further test their balance, they could hold their arms out.


I like to keep exercises simple, so my rider can devote their attention to how their body feels, not on what they should be doing. Then you can build the complexity according to how the rider is coping (and indeed the horse to these weird goings on on his back), so you’re less likely to cause an injury, but continue to build their confidence and ability. Getting riders to ride with their eyes closed can enhance their feeling and use of other senses, and also test their balance. If they are a novice rider, you could test their feel for trot diagonals and canter leads, and awareness of foot falls, which takes the pressure away from working without stirrups. There’s a whole plethora of exercises to improve the basics for all riders, which creates the building blocks for the more technical and exciting exercises, whilst also making these exercises easier and more achievable for the rider.

 

Learning Styles

We all know that there are different learning styles for people – visual, aural, verbal and kinaesthetic – but do horses have different learning styles?

I enjoy working with horses, and learning what makes them tick so I can get the most out of them.

Some horses can be shown a new movement, they do it, and then you can perfect it for the rest of the session. Others need to stop and study the question, before  attempting it. Others get stressed over a new concept and need to be drip-fed the concept.

I`ve worked with one interesting cob recently, and it`s been quite insightful as to how his brain ticks. Now I feel like I can tailor lessons so his rider gets the most out of them.

We`ve had problems with the rideability of the arena, given the weather conditions, so instead of ridden lessons we`ve done some in hand work. When they bought him last year and tried lunging him, he just turned to face them, not understanding. Now, however, was the perfect time to teach him.

When we first tried to lunge him a few months ago he did trot out on a circle, but was quite tense about the whole thing and stopped at the first opportunity to stop and face me. This time, we decided to take it back a step.

Seeing as the horse was clueless about lunging, I presumed that he had been long reined in the breaking in process, so just after Christmas we took the long reins up to the frozen arena, and attempted to long rein.

This, the horse understood. He set off straight away, walking purposefully and responsive to the reins and my voice. We had a play with the long reins, walking circles and changes of rein. He was very happy with this arrangement, so towards the end of the lesson I stood to the side, and we made a step towards double lunging.

The horse had accepted these baby steps, so we started the next lesson with the long reins but rapidly moved onto the double lunging. I needed a lot out outside rein to keep the horse out on the circle, so this lesson was spent teaching the horse that he needed to subscribe a circle around me, without stopping, and without turning in. Through the session the outside rein was needed less, and became the emergency “Quick, he`s turning in – stop!” so that he learnt there was no point trying to turn in. Again, this was baby steps but we both felt that the horse was less anxious and understood the concept.

The following week we progressed to double lunging but with the outside rein becoming obsolete. We didn`t do too much because there was a feeble attempt at snow on the ground. We finished that session with some in hand turn on the forehand.

Last week we started when we had finished the week before, and when the outside rein was obsolete again we tried lunging with just one rein attached to the cavesson. One of us needed to start him out on the circle, but once he was walking, with the lunger in quite a driving position, he walked a circle around us quite happily. The lunger had to be on red alert to notice the slight falter in his stride that preceeded him turning to face them, but he definitely seemed to understand the concept of lunging. This horse seems to be quite sensitive, and although appears confident; he seems to lack confidence in new things. The idea needs to be introduced, and then left for him to mull over before trying the exercise again.

Changing the rein will take some practice, but now that the weather is warming up it will be interesting to introduce trot on the lunge.

We saw this learning style in this horse when we introduced turn on the forehand to teach him to move away from the leg. Under saddle the first time, he got very tense and tried to run through the bridle. However, after a couple of tries in hand he seems to be happier with the movement, so again I’m looking forwards to revisiting this exercise under saddle. I`ll introduce all new concepts in this trickle feeding way, and I think it will greatly help his education.

Can you think of any horses who have slightly quirky learning styles, and how would you manage this?

 

Matt’s Diary – Week 8

Time flies, I’ve been here two months already and this week has certainly been a busy one.

Saturday 

It was wet and horrible this morning, but still Young Mum dragged me out of my stable to be lunged. She gets the day off, so why can’t I? We were lucky, we only got drizzled on. The new Pessoa is still annoying Young Mum as its slides loose. She says when it gets dirty from the grease of my coat the sliders won’t slide. I gave her a look: what dirt on my coat?! Afterwards the dreaded hood was brought out. I was to stay clean until tomorrow apparently.

Then in all that pouring rain, Young Mum decided to rearrange Otis’s fencing. She’s worried he’ll be silly and lose his shoes. I wasn’t impressed that he got to graze the nice grass outside our fields while she worked. Anyway, Otis and I had a nice day grazing in our fields. I told Otis not to mess around and lose a shoe, after all I need him to come into work so I can go back to my semi-retirement in Wales.

Sunday 

The Chauffeur, fresh from his visit to Wales, was on duty this morning. He told me Old Mum sends her love. Thankfully not a sloppy kiss ‘cos they’re just embarrassing. He did tell me off when I nudged him. Young Mum’s orders apparently. She says it’s a horrid habit and I need to quit by the time I go home. We’ll see … I just like to affectionately put people in their place.

Young Mum came up in the afternoon and removed the hideous hood, grooming me to within an inch of my life, ready for… oops I nearly said. It’s a secret. I won’t say anymore, but I was really good.


Monday

The usual dressage workout at dawn this morning; I showed off my medium trot to a passing lady, and Young Mum made me do all these complicated spirals and circles. She wanted to practice before teaching someone. I feel like a guinea pig!

Tuesday 

We were turned out bright and early this morning. I do like being first out of the stables. It’s horrid watching everyone else leave me behind.

To our surprise, The Chauffeur turned up in the afternoon. Apparently Young Mum was practicing her teaching at a swanky yard with automatic field gates! How the other half live…

Wednesday 

Another dawn dressage session learning the movements for the next competitions. Due to my outstanding performance last time, I’ve been put on the champion team – all past winners. I think Young Mum is feeling the pressure, but I told her it was easy for her, she just sits there!

Afterwards, she brought Otis out his stable and got back on me. I thought we were going to the field. But apparently we were going along the road.

You see, every day Young Mum takes Otis away from me, for a few minutes. I don’t know where they go. Otis smugly says it’s a secret. So I think he’s been having extra food or cuddles. I resent this, so I make sure I whinny as loudly as possible while they’re away so they don’t forget about me.

To my disgust, we walked along the road, not even as far as the postbox, before turning around.

“Is this it?” I ask Otis incredulously. The highlight of his day is going for a walk. Like a silly dog!


Otis told me that this might become a regular occurrence. As his walks get longer, I might be needed as a pack donkey to carry Young Mum. It’s okay, I suppose, but it is annoying how Otis rests his head on my bum.

Thursday 

More lunging for me this morning. It was hard work, mainly because I’d forgotten how to stretch my neck, but I did try hard. I wanted to go straight into the field after. It was too nice a day to waste any more time indoors.

However, to save the hearing of the other liveries, Young Mum took me with her and Otis on foot. I wasn’t impressed. I wanted the field. And I’d already done my workout! So I made sure we marched as quickly as possible so that we got to our fields as soon as we could.

That evening, I didn’t neigh to Otis when he left for his walk. I didn’t want to do that silly route again!

Friday

As in keeping with previous days, today was my day off. It was freezing cold, so I was glad I wear two rugs.

We waited impatiently to come in at 4pm, and Otis did his walking while I made a start on dinner.

But when they got back, Young Mum brought me out the stable and started brushing me. “Oh no, I thought. I’m not being ridden. It’s dark and cold!”

She had other ideas though, and soon started clipping me. I admit, I did need a haircut. But I didn’t need scalping.

Which is what she had in mind.

She clipped all of my face off! Thankfully she left the forelock for me to hide behind. Then she took off my body. And then she started doing something with my legs. Apparently the normal style makes me look like I have leg warmers on.

So she tried this new technique she’d seen; blending. Now, I’m not sure I’m happy being the guinea pig for this. In fact, I hope my hair grows back very quickly!

The first leg makes me look ridiculous. The second not so bad… the third one she was getting the hang of it… but I don’t know what happened to the fourth.


I think Young Mum has some practising to do, preferably on Otis, before she offers this in a clipping package. She got the right idea, and I think it would look good… but hopefully she can tidy it up with her trimmers next week so I don’t look too ridiculous.

The best part of tonight though? I got to put on my snazzy purple rug. It shows up the mud beautifully, so I shall enjoy wearing it in tomorrow. It’s a shame she made me wear that stupid hood though! 

Lunge Cavessons

Last week when I lunged Matt for the first time I came to appreciate my Cottage Craft lunge Cavesson. Matt’s sat awkwardly around the bridle and the centre ring didn’t swivel so the lunge line didn’t flip over his nose easily when I changed the rein. So once I’d finished, I returned it to Matt’s wardrobe (the trailer, that hasn’t been unpacked yet) and resorted to using Otis’s.

Unfortunately, Otis’s is coming to the end of it’s life. At ten years old it’s a bit rusty and the pins of the buckles get jammed. But it’s the best lunge cavesson on the market, and the one that I always recommend to clients – I need to replace mine!

But what makes the Cottage Craft cavesson so good?

Let me try to tell you without sounding like a sales woman.

It’s made of tough webbing, yet actually moulds to any shape head.  Helped in part by the fact that there are three buckles, so you can adjust the cavesson around the nose, below the jaw, and behind the poll. Which means that a cob cavesson fits most shaped heads. Other cavessons can be too big around the nose, or too tight, so move or rub the horse once you have a contact on the lunge line. There are also lots of holes on each strap so a cob size will fit a big pony and a horse, with plenty of flexibility to fit the large jawed, or narrow nosed heads.

I also particularly like the number of rings on the noseband. The central one  swivels in all directions so changing the rein is instantaneous – I don’t like lunging off the bit unless absolutely necessary. Rings on the side are also useful for attaching side reins to; so you can usefully educate a horse on the lunge without a bit, if they had a sore mouth for example. You can also double lunge off the two side rings, which stops the mouth being ruined.

The noseband also has removable and adjustable soft padding so you can prevent rubbing, and keep it clean easily. But because it’s only padded there, the cavesson fits around bridles easily, so the position of the bit in the mouth isn’t upset. I find that most horses work better in this cavesson because of the better fit and security.


Unfortunately I haven’t got a photo of anyone modelling the cavesson, but below is a photo of one. Above is Matt showing off his developing topline with the cavesson. 


My only criticism is that it comes with a browband, which is completely unnecessary if you use a bridle, but as it can be  removed easily it isn’t really a problem.  

Not the cheapest on the market, the fact that mine has lasted ten years, means that it’s actually pretty good value so worth splashing out.

Anyway, enough sales talk from me, I’d better get ordering! 

Teaching Horses to Lunge

Recently I’ve done quite a bit of lunging for clients for various reasons.

Teaching a horse to lunge can prove difficult though. Putting you on the ground means the horse can be less responsive or overreactive, and puts you in a more vulnerable position. 

One horse that I worked with has no idea what he’s supposed to do, but the problem was that when he doesn’t know what to do he goes to the nearest person!

Turning in to the lunger can be quite frustrating, and a tricky situation to get out of, so we started this cob by walking him smartly along and slowly stepping away from the shoulder, but not getting in front of it. I managed to get him out on a circle after a few tries and quickly went into trot before he thought about turning to me. It’s important if they try to turn in to make sure you’re always in a driving position – behind their shoulder. I didn’t worry about the shape of the circle, the important lesson was for the horse to understand he needed to stay out of my space. Staying in trot helped because he’s thinking forwards and not so much on stopping for a cuddle!

When his owner had a go she had more difficulties than me, which I think stems from the fact they have a closer bond than I do, and he gravitated to her more. It’s important he learns personal space though, and if he looks towards her she pushes him away, with her voice and flap of the arms to show him which space was hers and not his. Even leading him standing closer to his shoulder than his nose and widening the distance between them will improve his understanding of lunging because he will get used to being on his own whilst still being directed by his handler. 

So I left them with the homework of practicing leading from the shoulder and having a more purposeful walk so the horse is focused on marching on rather than where his mother is! Hopefully next time we will be able to get him moving onto a circle more easily. I don’t think having someone lead him from the outside will help because the issue is teaching the horse not to cling to his handler. Another alternative is to lunge him with a rider, but the rider is telling him to stay on the circle while he gets used to the idea of having someone in the middle.

I think a lot of your success when lunging depends on how you approach the exercise. After all, you’re in full view of your horse, there’s no deceiving him! I lunged a horse for his owner this week. She said he had been hard work to get trotting on a circle, and charging in at her but she suspected it was her fault. Which is very  honest of her. Anyway, I couldn’t fault him, and I think there are a couple of key areas that give you away when lunging. Firstly, body language is key; if you stand tall, face your horse, and use an assertive, confident voice they will probably pay you the utmost respect. Secondly, the way you hold the lunge equipment will tell your horse how proficient you are. If your lunge line is baggy or your whip facing the wrong way he will take advantage; either by cantering off, going nowhere, or bullying you as this horse did. Having better control over the equipment makes you more efficient which gives the horse less time to think of an evasion. Now, I haven’t seen his owner lunge so I can’t comment, but I suspect the veteran knows just how to wrap her round his little finger. After another couple of lunge sessions with me I hope to give his owner a lesson in lunging, and help her overcome this charging. I think there may be an element of “Mummy’s Boy” as with the cob learning to lunge, so they will have to learn how to be friends, yet have a working relationship too.

So, one trick horses can do when lunging is to turn in or slow down, but my most disliked habit is when they shoot off as you change the rein. I hate this because a buck or kick out can often follow rather too close for comfort. When any horse looks a little fresh when led to the arena, I try to send them off without them knowing, whilst moving as far away as possible! I’m working with a sharp mare at the moment and when I first lunged her I thought she was going to career off. She didn’t, just trotted off. Whilst that isn’t as bad, I still try to discourage it so after the initial five minutes, when the horse’s brain is back in the arena I do some walking on a circle so they learn that they can walk on the lunge. Then I put in some trot transitions to teach them not to rush off, before lots of changes of rein with plenty of walk before trotting so that they understand the correct procedure. I really value time spent improving this behaviour because you never know when a vet may want to see them trotted on the lunge. He doesn’t want to wait until the five minute canter burst is over!

Teaching a horse to lunge correctly and safely is so useful, and then it becomes an enjoyable activity for you as well as for them because you can introduce poles and lateral work too. If it’s not working for you then invest in some lessons for you and your horse separately.