Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Ready to learn

All of the softening work that I mentioned in the previous post, that all carries over to riding the horse as well. If you are starting a green horse or bringing back a rehab, getting them soft and giving is where it starts. When you move on to riding them, starting out with the soft and supple work is familiar to them and gives them confidence. You're only asking for something they already know how to do. It also helps you to again, assess the horse you have today. Are they stiff, sore and unwilling, or are they relaxed and ready to learn?

Softening and suppling work is also a way to begin warming up the horse. Keep in mind that pro athletes don't just come out of the locker room and hit the field ready to do sprint work, don't expect the same kind of thing from your horse. Your horse is also an athlete and a good warm up will help prevent injuries, keeping them competing or at least working with less down time. Obviously some injuries are unavoidable and we all know some horses are just accident prone, but the more you can do to help minimize them injuring themselves, the better off you will both be.

Depending on where a horse is at in their training, when the last time they were turned out or even worked, and what their overall attitude is for the day, I may lunge them even before I put them in the lines. It's not like they are going to flip out on me in the lines in the round pen, but if they aren't mentally focused or ready to work, why not give them a chance to blow off a little extra steam and a chance to relax, before we start working.

Now I know there are folks on both sides of the "lunge first or not" debate. Some of us view lunging first as a chance to let the horse blow off that steam, buck, snort and get it all out now, while others view this as only getting the horse wound up and ready to run and buck before I get on kind of thing. I know there are also folks who view lunging as a way to literally wear the horse out so they can control them too. I will say we can all agree to disagree and what works for you, may not work for me. However, I will say that how you handle the horse while lunging them- makes a big difference.

If you are only lunging the horse to wear them out, you are likely in over your head. Horses don't learn much when they are that tired. Their mind has shut down and sure they are more willing to do what you ask, but when they are fresh again and have caught their second wind, will any of it still be there if you were to get on? Would you get on?

If your horse shoots to the end of the rope and races around like a maniac out of control, trying to rip your arms out of the socket or at least drag you all over the place- what are you trying to or actually going to accomplish? Probably not much. The horse is in control by being out of control.

If I am free lunging my mares in the round pen and they start racing around, not paying any attention, I may may let that happen for a lap or two. If they don't slow down and it is only escalating, then I turn them around to go the other direction. If they race off again, I step ahead of them and shut them down, turning around to go the other way again. If they want to go berserk- they can do it on their own time. After shutting them down a few times, the horse should get the idea that they aren't there to bolt and run. As long as they are relaxed and paying attention to me, they can keep going.

In Sonoita while lunging Kat, I didn't have a round pen to use. Instead I had him on the line, but he was wound and being a real twit. He would bolt, run one direction, stop, reverse and bolt off the other direction. That got old really fast. I brought him in on the line closer to me and made his little butt work and behave like he is supposed to.  There was no more running around out of control and there was no more changing direction every half circle.

With him closer in, I took charge and took control back. He had his chance and he blew it. I made him work. I made him trot and when he hesitated and looked like he was trying to stop and reverse, I pushed him on.  When I asked him to stop and reverse, he was all of a sudden happy to do so without bolting to the end of the line. He knew that game was over because I'm not playing.

When lunging my mares on the line, my WB mare would automatically start out at a walk. She would average 2-3 laps around before even considering picking it up a little and jogging. How refreshing! That is something I have worked towards with my other horses since. Now she does have her moments and does get a bit squirrelly now and then, throwing her head and wanting to race around a little, but for the most part she knows, she is not to be jerking me around at the other end of the line.

Her and the others know they are to go around until they are relaxed and when they are ready to stop and go to work, we will. Lunging doesn't usually last too long and we move on. Their mind is fresh, they can focus and are ready to learn something.


  1. With Trax's propensity to check out and leave town, if he is exhibiting even one of what I call his "early warning signs" while tacking up, we head straight to the round pen and we don't stop in the round pen until he is following direction and locked on to me.

    Some people may call it just running him down until he is tired, but I call it "safety first". If he isn't ready, if he is someplace else in his head, if he is nervous and reactive, and I choose to ignore those signs and just jump on him, Not only am I setting myself up to get hurt, I am also setting him up for failure. The most important thing to me is helping him win, and keeping me safe.

    Even after the round pen, when we move to the arena, we still do ground work until he shows me he is ready. It is is just how it is with him, and it will always be that way from now on.

    However, it is not that way with Melody, or usually not Killian either. We can do all their warm up from the saddle, just getting soft and bendy and relaxed. It depends on the day and if I am trying to teach them something specific.

    Sassy is pretty much all round pen if I am on her back. She just isn't ready for the big world yet.

  2. I've had trainers who run the gamut on their attitudes about lunging. One equitation instructor chewed me out for only lunging Bombay for 20 minutes before mounting. He said he needed a minimum of half an hour in the round pen to settle down. He never taught me specific ground exercises to do, but just had me lunge him in circles.

    Another trainer taught me all the Clinton Anderson ground work, which is mostly close up on a lead rope, and I found that to be way more effective and time saving.

    The guy I have now doesn't believe in lunging a horse before a trail ride unless it is an old, arthritic horse like Lostine, who needs to get the stiffness out. He advocates just tacking up, climbing on and heading out. I would have never done that years ago, but now that my horses are used to the routine, they are calmer and more patient when not lunged. We do flex them and circle them a little from the saddle before we leave, though, just to warm up their muscles and check the brakes.

  3. Do I have your old car? I ask because you started to comment on my last post and then thought better of it and some of the music I deleted from the car stereo was music my sister listens to. She's got 50 acres and a herd of morgans and paso finos so I was thinking maybe its a horse lover thing?

  4. I think it all depends on the horse. I have never let a horse just randomly tear around on the lunge line. I train walk trot and canter on voice and body cues, and insist they listen. Once the horse has been caught up, being an idiot is no longer an option, whether it's leading, lunging, standing politely to be groomed, or lifting feet to be picked. I'll use whatever I can think of to make them figure out that cooperation is in their best interest!
    Lunging is like anything else, done properly it's a great tool, done improperly it's a train wreck.