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The retraining process is best started with some ground training as this allows your horse to begin adjusting to using his body in a different way and to start building riding horse as opposed to racehorse muscle without the weight of a rider.

Equipment to use for lunging

Whilst a horse can be lunged from a headcollar, dually, lunge cavesson or similar ideally a bridle should be used for lunge work (under a cavesson/dually, etc), because the bit stimulates the flow of saliva resulting in relaxation of the parotid gland muscles which leads to suppleness.

Attaching the lunge line directly to the bit is best left for when the horse is completely at ease with lunge work, is under proper control and fully accepting of the contact otherwise the risk of pulling the mouth it too great.

Many people advocate fitting the lunge line over the horse’s head but be aware that this places pressure on the poll which some horses don’t like; any tension applied to the lunge line causes the bit to be pulled up unevenly and tight into the corner of the mouth on the offside.

Training-3 webIt is actually recommended to put a saddle on with the roller fitted over the top for lunge work, because one of the purposes of lunge work is to promote suppleness of the back which is further stimulated and increased by the weight of the saddle. Be careful when putting a saddle on a horse that has had a lengthy lay-off as he may just bend his back.

It is recommended that your horse has boots fitted in case he knocks himself and you should wear gloves and stout shoes. A hard hat is a sensible idea when working with a bouncy horse or one you are not sure of.

Common issues when lunging

Generally racehorses are lunged in a pen or small enclosure, so they can be a bit cheeky when lunged in a more open space; you are likely to experience one of more of the following:

  • racing around at high speed
  • a disunited canter
  • head turned in with hindquarters swung out
  • a very hollow outline with the head up in the air
  • cutting across the circle
  • pulling you to the sides of the arena
  • attention everywhere except on you

Until you have control it is advisable to section off a smaller area of the school as in a smaller space not only will this restrict your horse’s speed, he is also more likely to give you his attention.

Initial Lunging

Although your horse will have been lunged before if you take the approach that he has to be taught (as in a young horse just embarking on its training) this can help limit any less desirable behaviours.

Lead him in a small circle then gradually take a few steps away from him so he gets the idea of maintaining movement but still has the security of you close by. If at any point the horse tries to speed up, go back close to him.

Keep repeating the exercise until you achieve the response you want. When you feel confident increase the size of the working area but all the time with the option of reducing it again if things start to liven up too much.

To avoid turning in onto the circle or turning the quarters in position yourself just behind the shoulder as if you are too near the quarters your the horse can more easily turn in, and give clear signals. If you still struggle lay some poles on the ground like spokes of a wheel.

If your horse is one of those that races off the moment you let the lunge line out, work at correcting as soon as possible to minimise risk of injury and to stop a bad habit forming. Move towards him, shortening the line as you do; you must block his forward movement so position yourself ahead of his shoulder as quickly as possible.

To begin with work should be restricted to walk and trot but don’t forget transitions including halt; canter on not much more than a 20m circle is too difficult to begin with for the horse that is used to cantering at speed – and in a straight line.