Do you start your training sessions with lunging your horse?

“Hi Stacy! Question for you. Do you start your training sessions with lunging? I lunge my horse every time I ride and also any horse I’m going to ride. Lately I have been talking with other friends who think lunging is not necessary and one who says it makes her horse more naughty and hot. Just wondering what you think about it. Thanks:)” -Melissa T.

What is the purpose of lunging a horse? Is it to physically wear him out? Is it to change his mental state of mind? Is it to teach him a new concept? Lunging has been used with all of these goals in mind at some point…the question is ‘why are you lunging your horse?’I don't always lunge, but I do always evaluate how the horse is behaving on the ground.
Early on in a horses training I use lunging, or groundwork, as a big part of my training. My goal is to begin to change his state of mind, which is a new concept to the horse at that time. Part of this often involves physical exertion because we often work the body to influence the mind. If you go back and watch the early episodes of Stacy’s Video Diary you can see a huge change in the horse’s behavior in a few days. This is because I am doing more than just running the horse around me…I am using a variety of groundwork cues to train him.
As the training progressed and the horses mental state of mind was changed, I began riding more and I gradually reduced the amount of groundwork.
Many people use lunging in an attempt to wear the horse out. If the horse’s mind is not engaged but instead they are only asked to physically exert themselves this should be considered an attempt to wear the horse out. The problem with this is that the horses get more and more fit, requiring longer and longer lunging times. Engaging the mind is far more effective than only trying to wear out the body.
If lunging is making the horse more naughty or hot I would evaluate what methods are being used. This is most common if the horse thinks the only point is to run wildly around the human. If instead of lunging the handler instead uses groundwork to engage the mind then the horse should respond more favorably. If not, then the pair should look at taking some lessons.
I don’t always lunge…but I do always evaluate how they are behaving on the ground. With a horse I know this ‘evaluation’ may take place as I lead them to the area where I groom and saddle and then out to mount up. If I know the horse I can evaluate their mental state in this short amount of time, much like you can evaluate a friends state of mind during a short ‘hello.’ If I detect that they are feeling fresh or seem distracted then I may choose to do some groundwork.
To decide if you should lunge you should be able to identify your purpose for lunging. You may lunge a horse that is new to you for an evaluation, or a horse you know because you detected his behavior was a bit odd, or yet another horse because you would like to improve your communication on the ground.

14 Comments

  1. Leigh Anne Parr on May 8, 2018 at 7:35 pm

    I recently bought a horse and the owner said you don’t have to lunge him but I do because I lack confidence as a rider and he’s always been lunged before riding. I don’t really like to lunge, so I haven’t been, but if you don’t lunge him, he freezes and runs backwards and when you try to get him to move his feet forward, he tries to kick out. Is there something I can train him on where I don’t have to lunge him and he stops acting like that? I just ride him through it and move his feet in circles each direction until he gets over it, which is about 4-5 minutes and then he rides like a dream. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

    • Stacy Westfall on May 8, 2018 at 8:46 pm

      Everyone has there own theories. Mine theory is that all horses should be able to go back and do kindergarden-third grade work at any time. Lunging with only the purpose of exhausting is not a good plan. Groundwork, which is lunging with a purpose, has huge benifits.
      Running backwards is very dangerous. Most horseman consider it more dangerous than bucking because of the risk of the horse falling on you. My other concern is that this is becoming the ‘normal’ warm up. Prevent, prevent, prevent. I would do groundwork. For ideas check out this video series: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL3f1Ii1jkWxexn-LhRzFDNTHAno1t3ka_

  2. Kristine on January 5, 2015 at 11:25 am

    I have a 17 year old appaloosa who I can tell just by the way he is standing or looking that he needs a little refresher. So I will lunge him a little but I make him yield his hindquarters and change direction a few times. Then when I mount he stands still and it very attentive on the trail.

  3. Brenda Casteel on December 19, 2014 at 8:13 am

    A good idea to lunge to see if your horse is listening to you. Do several changes of direction. If he obeys without question and looks at you for direction , he is ready. If he is friskey it is best to get it out on the ground.Of course if you can ride a bucking horse then jump right on. YE HAW

  4. firnhyde on December 19, 2014 at 1:46 am

    I usually only lunge before riding if the horse is very newly backed or if I think I am likely to die if I get on straight away. I use separate lunging sessions even for well-schooled horses as I think they can benefit from it.

  5. Lunging - Page 2 on December 18, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    […] Wow…what perfect timing to see this post by Stacy Westfall about lunging! Do you start your training sessions with lunging your horse? | Stacy Westfall Horseblog […]

  6. Roman on December 18, 2014 at 11:08 pm

    I currently am riding and will hopefully buy a 6yo gelding. Before I ride I lunge him for a few minutes. Not to fully wear him out but to let him have a couple minutes to get any built up silliness out of him without me being at a huge risk if I were on him.

  7. katzarr on December 18, 2014 at 10:33 pm

    it totally depends on the individual horse. I have had horses that need “round pen” time before riding,; and I have a couple that do not require any ground time before riding. Just depends on the horse. The more you are around horses you will come to see that each one is different, and needs to be treated as an individual ; just like “people”… they are all different. Patience is the main key <3
    Always end your training/lesson, on a good note (the horses good note). PS. you will get over being mad with your horse a lot sooner than the horse gets over being mad with you. They do NOT forget a kindness, nor do they forget you being disrespectful or mean to them. They are much more sensitive than you would think. <3

  8. Peggy Sue on December 18, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    I lunge my horse to detect THEIR mood that day and also before I tighten the saddle up that last hole

  9. Joyce Pickering on December 18, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    It depends on the horse if I lunge it or not. I have a 25 year old Quarter Horse gelding that usually doesn’t need lunging but I still see how he acts when saddled. If he acts fresh then I lunge him and engage his mind before I ride. I also have a young Paint mare that I always lunge before I ride her. She plays a lot and crowhops a few times in the round pen. I often think I don’t know if I want to get on her or not but once I get on her back she is as good as gold. I am 71 and I am much more careful than I used to be. Sometimes I have to force myself to get the courage to ride Magic after seeing her play but she has been so good and it is just me. You will find as you get older you don’t have as much courage as you used to but I can’t imagine not being able to ride. It is in my blood.

  10. teresa knowles on December 18, 2014 at 7:29 pm

    I have a 16 yr old AQHA gelding that I show in Western Pleasure, Horsemanship and Trail. Disco lives with a professional trainer full time and is still lunged almost every time before being ridden. My trainer uses lunging as a chance for the horse to play and take the edge off if the horse is feeling fresh because the weather has changed etc. I watched my trainer lunge Disco last week even when he was going to ride Disco before I did and Disco still kicked up and carried on after having been ridden daily all week. Lunging is often more work for the over 50 yr old owners in the barn then for the horse but you never know until you start. in some ways it is like what Stacy said about evaluating the horse on the ground first, lunging just gives you longer to do that and can be especially helpful when you travel to a show or other new place.

  11. darlaflack1 on December 18, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    Totally agree Stacy!! I see so many people “longe” their horse with no purpose but to wear it out. Longeing is very educational to the horse if done properly, and yes it enables the rider to assess things. I prefer free longeing to a contact line. But for that one needs a roundpen. I personally use words in conjunction with body language when I work them free. Amazing how quickly they learn! Love all your posts by the way!!!

    • Barbarann Lemos on December 18, 2014 at 7:17 pm

      I suffer from Vertigo. What other groundwork can I do that will engage my horse, and keep me from ending up in the ER?

  12. Barbarann Lemos on December 18, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    I totally agree with what Stacy said about lunging, why, and the real purpose of groundwork. What does one do if they suffer from Vertigo, and cannot manage running the horse in circles?

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