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Lunge a Horse: Meaning, Benefits, and How to Do It Correctly

Last updated: November 15, 2022

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

Horse lunging (lungeing) is a fantastic way to connect with your horse and have some fun in the process. It’s also one of those activities that help us establish our role while exercising our horses too.

Horse lunging is a training method that involves having the horse move in a large circle. The handler guides a horse with a long rope, a whip, and verbal commands. Lunging is very useful for settling high-strung horses and establishing control.

Learning to lunge a horse is relatively straightforward. However, several amateur mistakes can make lunging counterproductive. Most of all, lunging is a test of patience and making the best use of subtle riding aids.

Picture of an equestrian lunging a horse.

What “lunge a horse” means.

You’ve likely heard people say they lunge their horses. But what does this mean? If you’re not familiar with equestrian terminology, you might think it means taking a giant leap, but you would be wrong.

Lunging is a horse training technique that focuses on communication, stretching, and flexion of the muscles. Working a horse on a lunge requires balance and coordination and is often used to strengthen the horse’s hindquarters.

The word “lunge” originated from the french word alongier, which means “to lengthen, make long.” When lunging, a horse works at the end of a long lead rope (lunge line) and moves in a circular path while its handler gives commands.

The exercise is most often performed in a round pen and is an essential tool for exercising your horse but it can serve many purposes. The length of the lunge line is usually 7.6 m to 10.6 meters long (25 to 35 feet).

Some trainers trace a circle on the ground when lunging, especially for an untrained horse. However, most horses can follow an imaginary circle.

Lunging involves a lunge whip (not for inflicting pain), gentle pulls on the lunge line, voice commands, and body gestures to get the horse to fully cooperate with its handler.

As the horse moves around the circle, the trainer cues it to change gaits, come to a halt, change direction, and keep a balanced frame.

Horse lunging is easily one of the more satisfying and skillful activities a trainer performs. Knowing how to lunge correctly is to communicate and bond with your horse.

Benefits of lunging a horse.

My grandson has a cold back horse, which bucks every time you try to mount it. So we saddle up and work the animal on a lunge line for a few minutes before mounting, and we don’t have any bucking problems. But there are other benefits to lunging a horse as well.

Let’s look at some of these benefits:

  • Lunging can help settle excited horses

“To blow off steam” or “to get the freshness out” is a common reason for lunging horses. When I ride a horse after three or four days, they aren’t always happily anticipating it. So I find that 5 minutes of lunging work is excellent to get them in the right frame of mind for riding.

If a horse has been confined for an uncomfortable amount of time or hasn’t been exercised for some days, it’s very likely to be nervous when you try to ride it.

You can also warm your horse on a walking wheel. We have a young filly in training that comes out of her stall full of spirit. So we saddle her up and hook her to a walking wheel before the training jockey mounts her.

Riding distracted horses is dangerous because of their unpredictable behavior, and it also puts you at risk of injury and can make the horse ignore your commands, which makes lunging the horse in a controlled manner before riding helps them calm down and focus their attention.

  • Lunging is used for training.

Lunging is an efficient way to introduce young horses to voice commands. You can train horses to perform every gait during lunging. Riders also better visualize the horse’s body movement and can correct its form using the whip.

Riders can moderate bad habits like bucking or rearing. They can teach the horse to stay relaxed during trotting or cantering and respond to the rider’s aid. In fact, you can make a lunging horse do almost anything you’d expect it to do when riding, like jumping over obstacles or reversing directions.

Lunging can teach the horse to stretch forward and downwards, avoid walking crookedly, balance its left and right sides equally, and develop its rhythm.

  • Lunging can improve communication.

Besides accommodating a horse to your voice, lunging also allows riders to display the appropriate body language. Horses are acutely sensitive to your posture, so things like lowering or raising your head, changing your arms’ length, and the movement of your shoulders determine how much your horse respects you.

When your verbal and non-verbal attitude is assertive, you can deliberately induce stressful situations and teach the horse to stay calm and responsive. Horse trainers often work with ill-mannered horses on a lunge line to establish their dominance and get them to accept instructions.

  • Lunging can get horses accustomed to riding equipment

You can lunge your horse without the general riding equipment like the saddle and bridle (a cavesson is used instead!). However, riders may choose to tack up a horse for lunging to familiarize them with the weight, the bit pressure, and the feeling of reins.

  • Lunging is good for ill or rehabilitating horses that can’t be ridden

If your horse has suffered an injury or illness, your doctor may recommend against riding for several days. In that case, lunging the horse instead is good for engaging the horse’s mental health and maintaining your bond.

  • Lunge lessons make it easier to learn horse-riding

Inexperienced riders can benefit from lunge riding lessons. During a lunge lesson, an instructor controls the horse through the lunge line; this allows novice riders to sit comfortably and perfect various movements without the fear of falling or agitating the horse.

Picture of a young horse on a lunge line.

Is lunging bad for horses?

Lunging a horse is not bad when done correctly. However, lunging can easily be counterproductive if you aren’t patient, don’t communicate effectively, cause the horse to become tired or bored, or lunge for too long.

Let’s look at some of the mistakes you should avoid when lunging a horse:

  • Lunging for too long

In general, you shouldn’t lunge your horse for more than 30 minutes. Even five minutes are enough for some horses. Over-lunging can cause painful joint strain in horses, make them ignore your commands, and remember lunging as a negative experience.

  • Lunging without a whip

Lunging with no lunging whip (which is longer than a usual whip) is a bad idea. A whip is used to keep the horse on the circle, communicate your disapproval, and correct the horse’s form.

  • Lunging with unnecessary equipment

Unless you’re trying to get your horse used to a piece of equipment, you shouldn’t use any horse tack except a cavesson for lunging. A bit can cause unnecessary pain if you pull strongly and may even restrain lateral bending.

Similarly, other equipment can cause extra weight and pressure, and the horse may get tired quickly.

  • Lunging on an unsafe ground

A horse should only be lunged on a ground where there’s no risk of slipping or tripping from rocks, holes, or steep surfaces. That’s because horses are often playful during lunging, and they may fall or hurt themselves without proper footing.

  • Lunging along a small circle

Lunging along a circle smaller than about 65 feet (20 meters) can cause strain on the horse’s muscles and joints.

  • Lacking basic lunging know-how

A horse person needs to have basic knowledge of lunging. For instance, it’s crucial to stay within a small circle of your own and not have to guide the horse by physical force. A confident and expressive body posture is also critical.

Just like in general horse training, you shouldn’t deviate from the sound for a particular command. It’s also best to refrain from cracking the whip, as the horse may become agitated or become insensitive to your commands.

  • Ignoring personal precautions

Finally, personal safety measures for lunging include wearing gloves to avoid rope burns, not letting the lunge line get tangled in your or your horse’s feet, and staying out of the “kick zone” of the horse.

What you need to lunge a horse.

  • Gloves and boots

Gloves are needed to prevent rope burns and get a firm grip on the rope. A good set of boots can give you a firm stance. You should also wear a helmet to protect yourself from falls or if your horse tends to kick.

  • Lunging cavesson

A lunging cavesson is a special headgear made for lunging a horse. It consists of metal rings for attaching the lunge line, a noseband, and often some extra straps. Compared to a bridle or halter, it provides greater control for lunging and doesn’t cause pressure on the horse’s mouth.

  • Lunge line

A lunge line is a lengthy piece of rein attached to the cavesson. It guides and instructs a horse during lunging by applying and releasing pressure at specific times. It’s generally 25 to 35 feet (7.6 to 10.6 meters) long.

  • Lunge whip

A lunge whip is an easy-to-handle whip with a stock of 5 – 7 feet and a lash of about 6 feet. It acts as a rider’s leg and is either moved through the air or just used to tickle the horse as an aid.

  • A large lunging area

Horses should be lunged in a large area without any obstacles. The lunging circle should be approximately 65 feet (20 meters) in diameter. If your lunging circle is too small, it could create undue stress on the horse’s ligaments.

The ground should be flat for the horse’s balance and to avoid the risk of tripping. In addition, the surface shouldn’t be slippery or muddy to prevent slipping.

Picture of a woman learning to lunge a horse

How to lunge a horse.

So, you have a fresh horse that’s eager to run around unabated, and you’ve decided to lunge it. The first step is to fit the cavesson, attach the lunge line, grab the line with one hand and the lunge whip with the other, and put on your gloves.

Bring your horse to the center of the circle and have it move around you in a small circle. If it attempts to walk away or gets excited, drop the line and use a sound like “whoa” to tell them they are doing something wrong.

Instruct the horse to move again without moving too far away from the center. Move your whip towards the shoulder of the horse to ask it to move further out. Keep releasing the line until it’s almost fully stretched.

Remember to constantly make ample use of the lunge line, whip, voice, and body cues. For example, simply holding your whip high or keeping it down is an expressive gesture. Similarly, it’s essential to pay attention to the pitch, intensity, and tone of any particular command (like using a long “s-m-o-o-o-o-c-h” for lope) and maintain its consistency.

Once your horse moves along the circle in a balanced and stable motion, give it the command to trot. When it gets comfortable trotting on command, move on to the canter.

Don’t lunge for more than 20 – 30 minutes, regardless of your horse’s progress. If the horse doesn’t give the intended result to a command, bring it to a halt and start again. Also, try giving the lunge line a slight tug before giving a command.

The next step is to teach your horse to reverse directions. Working in both directions is vital so that one side of the horse doesn’t get fatigued.

To reverse the direction, start stepping back from your spot so your horse is facing you (switch your whip and lunge line); as the horse moves towards you, step to the side and use your whip to guide it to a circular path.

Just as you say certain sounds to express your disapproval, be sure to praise your horse if it follows your command!

Now that your horse can change gaits and reverse direction, it’s time to mix things up to focus your horse’s attention. Try having the horse canter from a walk, change the direction mid-trot, or have it stand still for a while without turning towards you.

If your horse is particularly stubborn, teaching it to lunge may take weeks. Be patient, build your trust by working on a command that your horse seems more interested in, try a different lunging spot, or add other groundwork into the routine.

The YouTube video below teaches you how to lunge a horse safely.

YouTube video