Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Little Lunging and a Little Leading

Yesterday I lunged both Maisie and Dawn. For some reason I was a bit under the weather (perhaps missing my youngest who's just started college far away), and didn't feel like riding. The arena was very nice - just freshly dragged and not too dry or too wet.

Dawn went first. I groomed her outside, tied up. We're going to be working on our ground-tying, to help her with self-calming, but that's for another day. Dawn actually ties really well, which is good. Then we went to the arena, just with the halter and lunge line. We did a bit in both directions, working on walk, trot and halt, and the transitions. I learned to lunge the "old way" - stand still in the middle with a lunge whip - and I'm trying to change that and instead use my body and energy to communicate what I want to the horse, and to achieve the goal of the horse and I working together rather than just the horse working (for more on what I'm talking about, see my post on Horse #3 at the Mark Rashid clinic - my clinic posts are on the sidebar).

Another thing Dawn does very well is lunge. Sometimes she'll have the "crazies" on the lunge, but she was as calm as could be. My objective was to have Dawn respond to my body movement and energy to do the various transitions up and down - so I moved faster and brought my energy up for the upwards transitions, the reverse for downwards and stopped for halt. She did pretty well with this - she's a very smart and alert horse. One thing that was interesting was that when she was moving to the right, she wanted to travel with her head somewhat bent to the outside - she does have a natural bend to the left (many former racehorses do), but I didn't realize it was that pronounced. Since I was moving with her, we also did some straight lines. Maisie was next - she was somewhat lazy and not as attentive as Dawn in the transitions - we've done a lot of ground driving but I don't lunge her much due to her hind-end soundness issues.

When I lunge and ground-drive, I don't use side reins or bitting rigs. The reason I don't is that I believe what you get with side reins is headset, not necessarily softness - the horse may carry its head in the correct position, but that isn't the same as softness through the whole topline from the jaw, to the poll, through the neck and back and all the way to the tailhead, with corresponding engagement of the core to lift and carry the whole horse. The horse can get a partial release from the sidereins by going behind the bit, and may be soft only in part of its body, and perhaps not at all. There may be all sorts of braces being trained into the horse. When I ride and give a release, it's not for headset - I may have the "proper" headset - with a younger or less trained horse I don't even care about that to start with - but I don't release until the feeling of complete softness comes through - this can't happen with sidereins since there's no one up there to wait for and feel the softness and give the release. Also the horse never gets the chance to stretch out on a loose rein, which is the ultimate release. I'd be interesting in what others have to say about this, as it is certainly possible that I'm wrong about something here.

Now I can understand ground-driving using a surcingle and running the reins through the rings - there is some leverage effect possible there which I'm a bit wary of - but it is possible for the person holding the reins to feel the softness and give a release. One thing I think can be really harmful is riding in drawreins. The leverage effect is severe - it's a great way to ride a horse that is otherwise very hard to control since it is possible to force the horse to comply - in my "old days" I used to ride our jumper mare Lily in a jointed pelham with draw reins through the snaffle to the girth - you can't get much more severe than that - and could keep her (barely) under control. I really didn't have a clue how to do anything else at that point. I've even seen - now this is really hard to believe - people compete in jumpers with their horses in drawreins - it was pretty horrifying to see.

My old gelding Noble came to me from a dressage background, and from a trainer well-known for his virtually constant use of drawreins on all his horses to force a headset. Noble was very nervous about any contact with the bit, and at the slightest contact would fall behind the bit and sometimes even put his nose to his chest, and there was absolutely no softness in his body behind the withers. Once again the focus was on headset, and headset only - horses ridden in drawreins, in my experience, often even aren't soft in the neck but just "break" either at the poll or slightly behind to get away from the severe pressure of the bit.

Enough ranting!

* * * * * *

This morning it was chilly with a hint of heat to come. By the time I was done feeding and turning out horses I had taken off my coat and sweater. Everything was somewhat misty until the sun was fully up. I tried to concentrate this morning on doing the "soften at the point of resistance" exercise with the horses that tend to want to pull on the lead as we go to the pastures - particularly Fritz and Scout. For more about what I'm talking about here, see my post on Horse #1 at the Mark Rashid clinic. So as I was leading, if Fritz or Scout started to pull on my hand, instead of pulling back and creating a brace, I just kept my hand in the position it would have been in if the pressure were zero. And then - this is the really cool part - without changing what I was doing with my hand, I would mentally soften, giving the horse an opening to soften into in response. Worked like a charm! The mental softening, to me, involves almost a mental sigh of release of tension, combined with trying to transmit a feeling of relaxation in thought to my hand. I have to remember to consciously do this, in leading and riding, until it becomes automatic for me - I expect the horses will appreciate it!

With luck, you're having some of the beautiful weather we've got this week - enjoy!


  1. Nice weather here too. Just came in from a long session of weed whacking....badly needed yard grooming.

    I lunge my Boys with just a halter too. Interestingly enough, the two older guys just naturally stretch down on their own during the sessions. I do long line as well and work to really get them to go into the bit. But, even then I have to be careful they do not overflex. It can be tricky. But, as you say, since the lines are not fixed, I can always play them out and encourage the horse to open up.

    I was once criticised about moving too much when I lunge, but I find it so much easier to use my own body language to communicate what I want from the horses. Ah, well....

  2. Another here that uses just a halter (I'm thinking that's your word for our headcollar) to lunge and I move lots too, why not. The side reins just cover up all the problem areas, without them and by being clever with your body and where you place the horse in the school you can effect great change in the way your horse carries themselves....don't get me started on drawer reins though...

  3. I can't imagine having a trainer telling me to ride in a pelham with draw reins - I think the look on my face alone would end that! I'm glad I've mostly seemed to have really good trainers to work with throughout my time with horses. Hopefully I will have many more.

  4. I also lunge in a halter. My trainer was surprised when I told her, but Panama does fine lunging in a halter, so why use more force when it's not necessary?

    I also walk with him quite a bit when I lunge him -- I do a small circle in the middle of his larger circle -- and I tend to walk more when I'm asking for a faster gait, and less when I'm asking for a slower gait.

  5. Hi Kate,
    Give yourself plenty of transition time just like you do with your horses.... to get used to your kids being gone. It's quite an adjustment. I don't understand all that you were saying about line driving since I'm not that familiar with it....however, our trainer was doing that with Slick when he first arrive in his barn. I noticed he had sores on the corners of his mouth. When I asked him about it, he just said that he was being stubborn and trying to drag him across the arena. I have been watching since then and he has healed up now that he's riding him under saddle and doing quite well. With this horse....the more force you use on him the worse it is. He's the same one that didn't want to load...don't know if you remember my previous posts about that? I have video of him riding nice at a lope in less than two weeks being broke. We did all the ground work but this trainer got up on him in the saddle first. The other two horses we have we felt totally comfortable but they were older....he just turned three and is a little more high energy. Anyway, we are very pleased with the progress and do like this trainer because he is kind. I'm still looking for a post on bits and explanation of them....have you done one in the past? There's so many....I'm confused. Since we do the John Lyons....we just use a broken snaffle with all of ours but when we show Ranch Horse have to use a curb bit with one hand. I really don't understand the mentally softening....can you explain that in depth....maybe I missed the post about but I went back to your clinical with Mark and read some of them.....

  6. Luanne - thanks for your thoughts! The sores at the corners of the horse's mouth may just have happened if the bit was a loose ring snaffle - those can sometimes rub - or perhaps since he was new to the bit.

    I did a post on May 9 on bits, but it didn't cover curb bits, as I don't use them. There's nothing inherently wrong with them in good hands, although I don't much care for curb bits with broken (snaffle) mouthpieces, as they can give the horse confusing signals.

    The mental softening thing is very hard to describe - it is a concept that comes from martial arts (which I don't do). As I understand it, it involves resisting - not allowing yourself (or your hands) to be moved - but not pulling against the opposing force - and then adding an element of softening in your mind, that gives the person or horse pulling an opening to move into - at the clinic I could really feel it when it was demonstrated and I was able to reproduce it when I tried it with my husband. Hope that's not too unclear!

  7. My horse bends to the outside going left on the lunge line. I found that spirally her in and softly reaching out towards her ribs with carrot stick got her to bend inward...as soon as she does it, I let her sprial back out. She is really getting soft both directions now. It is a great exercise.

  8. photogchic - thanks for the suggestion - I'll have to try that!

  9. It's no secret: I have yet to learn how to longe. I don't have the body position at all. So come for a visit and teach me. I make a mean margarita and Mr. Fry makes great fajitas!

  10. Leah Fry - I actually think lunging is somewhat over-rated. I prefer ground driving - you can do more interesting things with the horse and it's not as hard on their hind end. But it's a good way to exercise a horse if you can't ride or don't have time, or if you have one that needs to blow off steam. Dawn doesn't (yet) know how to ground drive, and I'm being a bit cautious handling her, so lunging seemed like the thing.

    I'll keep your invitation in mind if I'm down your way - that sounds mighty good!

  11. I never got the hang on lunging.
    Might be because I find it very boring and only do it as a last resort...

  12. I agree with your equipment sentiments save in one situation. I normally only use a halter with my ground work. I have always done it like that My trainer I found when I was starting Bodhi suggested I use side reins with Bodhi during his training and I did, and I really liked it though. First we set them very loose. Forcing a headset is only going to cause evasion whether you do it with side reins or your hands and normal reins. We used the side reins to first educate him about the bit without the confusion of the rider. The is nothing quieter than a pare of side reins used correctly. No bouncing or pulling. When he gives they give. If he were to sink below the contact i would drive him forward on the ground with the lounge whip. He had some issues with fighting the bit because he was ground driven incorrectly before I bought him. Giving him the opportunity to fight with himself and make peace before we moved on to ground driving and riding was really a great idea that she introduced me to. Now I will use the side reins as an early training tool (if needed) but never a thing to make headset or to use in my regular schooling sessions. I am with you the lunging is over rated anyways!

  13. Great post. I, too, always longe in a halter. In fact even when I was young and working for other horse people, I was never told to longe a horse in a bit or bridle. I have heard of people doing this though and I've seen it written in books that you should NEVER longe in a halter for "control" reasons. I think that's complete bull. If your horse is out THAT out of control, he needs some basic RESPECT work before longeing him - IMHO.

    When I do longe Grif, which is usually in the winter months as a light warm-up before riding (to warm those ol' man joints and muscles up :) I just use a lightweight longe line and his rope halter. Works like a charm and I never have a problem with him getting out of control --- even when he is fresh and bucky.

    I also walk in circles when I am longing. Grif and I are all about body language. I can longe him in both directions, stop him, and change his gaits and never a say a word. I agree 100% that your body language says A LOT to a horse.

    As far as the use of draw reins and other gadgets goes, I don't like to use them. When Grif was younger and I was first starting him to ride, I did use a running martingale on him for a time to try to encourage him to put his head down and pay attention to me, but if I had to do it all over again, I have since learned better ways of acheiving this.

    Other than the martingale, Grif has never worn any other type of gadget. I abhor draw reins (even tho I DID use them on other horses when I was younger and riding for other people). I think they teach a horse to travel on the forehand and are also responsible for that dead headed poll WAY below the withers look that you (still) see on quite a few pleasure horses.

    When I see someone using draw reins now, I just shake my head and think there are so many (better) ways to get your horse's head where you want it.

    My favorite response to people who ask why I won't use gadgets is this: IF I tie your hand behind your back and make you walk around all day, are you going to keep your hand there as soon as I untie it???? Neither will your horse. It's much better to TEACH you horse with a cue what you want him/her to do. It's kinder and much more easily understood.

    Sorry this is long, sometimes I just get going. At any rate, great post!!! I am a Mark Rashid fan too!!!!

  14. Golden the Pony Girl - thanks for your informative comments on a good way to use side reins - I appreciate the thoughtful way you approach it.

  15. Carol - thanks for your thoughtful comment - I really like it when people want to leave long, detailed comments - that makes this all into something more like a conversation, and a lot more useful to me, too!

  16. I vary what I use to lunge. Sometimes it's just the rope halter, sometimes it's the cavesson, sometimes the bridle. I feel I should have control in every piece of equipment and he should definitely be able to go in anything I toss on him! I do use side-reins from time to time, but not to achieve any kind of head set. I set them loose so there is no contact unless he's seeking the contact. Like PonyGirl, I believe it can help a horse who has contact issues learn to trust the contact, softly, and eventually seek that contact.

    Lungeing definitely has a place in a training program. It should never be just running them in circles. I do a lot of spirals in and out and gait changes. The long reins give me the chance to introduce new concepts to the horse on the ground before introducing it under saddle...lateral work, collection, bending, etc. But long reining can definitely be detrimental to the horse if the handler can't keep up with the horse and ends up punishing the mouth!


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