Source: Lunging: the most common mistakes Karine-vandenBorre

Lunging mistake #4: wrong body language of the handler

When the handler uses the wrong body language, the horse becomes confused. Some horses become anxious, others become angry, others will block or start to run.

Very often it happens that the horse doesn’t “want” to leave on the circle. These horses are sometimes labelled as “dominant” or “stubborn”. In reality it’s not so that the horse doesn’t “want” to leave. The cause of the problem is an incorrect communication / body language (however, it could also be as a result of a developed aversion for lunging for other reasons, like the most common mistakes I describe in this article).

It also often happens that horses are “unlearning” to react to body language because the handler isn’t aware of his own body language. For instance: the handler wants the horse to continue to trot, but unconsciously he uses a slowing body language (for instance, the handler looks down or moves his center backwards). Because of this passive body language the horse starts to walk and this is not want the handler wants and he energetically drives the horse forward with his whip.

This way the horse learns to ignore the handler’s body language, and to simply listen to the pulling of the lunge (to stop) and the driving/tapping of the whip (to accelerate).

The horse learns to walk round like a robot. But to be able to lunge in a dressage way it is necessary that the horse keeps his natural sensitivity and keeps itself open towards the trainer. Also the trainer needs to open up towards the horse.andrea_lunging

Lunging mistake #5: Not enough knowledge about biomechanics

The aim of lunging is to gymnasticise your horse. Gymnasticising means that you’re making your horse more supple, but also stronger. You teach your horse to:

– move in balance on a circle.
– bend in equally well both to the left as to the right.
– come in a forward-downwards posture.
– swing under with his inside hind-leg.
– move straight instead of crooked.

In short: you learn your horse to use his body in an optimal way, so that he can carry the rider better (also driving horses can benefit from correct lunging).

Lunging should be a thoughtful and logical step by step training to gymnasticise and straighten your horse. Unfortunately you often see people lunging their horse without knowing what exactly they are doing. The horse walks (extremely) on or over the shoulder, moves with a hollow back, pushes too much with the hind legs instead of swinging under, weights the front legs too much, swings out, goes too fast, …

To be able to lunge correctly you have to have at least basic knowledge about the natural asymmetry and imbalance in the horse’s body. You have to know if you are dealing with a left of right bended horse, and also which hind leg of the horse is the weak hind leg and which the strong hind leg.  If you recognize this you can train your horse in a correct way.

A handler without basic knowledge about that will do the horse does more harm than good. In that case, lunging is very disadvantageous for the horse because it is likely that through the centrifugal forces and shear forces too much pressure is put on the muscles and tendons of the horse, and through that, also on the skeleton. This is enormously straining and this can have very unpleasant (and sometimes irreversible) consequences.

Lunging mistake #6: stopping at the wrong moment

Many handlers make the mistake not to stop at the right moment. They either continue too long or they stop too early. By continue to work too long you’re crossing the limit of the horse. The muscles become tired and the horse remembers lungeing as tiring. Each time it will be less motivated to contribute and the quality of the movements can deteriorate.

But also, when lunging is too short it can happen that the horse hasn’t reached the relaxation it needs to start moving correctly. The endorphin flow released by the forward-downward position hasn’t started yet and so the horse misses those “feel good” hormones that make sure that lunging is relaxing and pleasant.

A good trainer observes the horse intensively and notices the best moment to stop. This is not too early so the horse receives the chance to come in that endorphin-flow but certainly not too late to ensure the horse doesn’t become tired.

Lunging mistake #7: the handler leaves his own circle line

During lunging the handler walks along in a -small-circle. With this it is important that he knows well where to lay down his own circle. Unconsciously many handlers let themselves be “pulled away” or “pushed away” by the horse. They unconsciously walk a bigger circle (when the horse walks over the shoulder) or even a smaller circle (when the horse falls on the shoulder).

By doing this you cannot sense as well if your horse walks balanced or not. When you want to correctly gymnasticise your horse, it is necessary that you stay on your own circle whether it is big or small and that you only increase or decrease it when you want it yourself, because you want the horse to walk in a bigger or smaller circle.


Avoid these 7 common mistakes by:

  • Working on the relationship with your horse first through Liberty Training.
  • Then giving your horse the best preparation possible through Groundwork.
  • Learning how you can correctly use your body language and to stay “on your own circle”.
  • Studying anatomy, bio-mechanics and natural asymmetry/imbalance of the horse
    Buying a good fitting cavesson instead of lunging with a bit and not to use draw reins/side reins/…!
  • Following a step by step training and to stop at the right time every time.
  • Asking for help when you don’t have any experience in lunging and still have to learn a lot!