Why lunge a horse before you ride?

The ability to lunging a horse has many uses. In this article, I’m going to focus on one area: prevention.

One role that lunging, or groundwork, fills for me is prevention. Preventing the horse from getting into a habit that I might not enjoy now…or in the future. 

Have you ever seen someone mount up and ride for 5-10 minutes to ‘take the edge off’ and thought to yourself, “I”m not sure I would want to ride that.” or “I for sure do NOT want to ride that.”

If I see that kind of ride I call it a ‘red flag’. A warning. 

I immediately want to know how often this happens. 

Was this the first time?

Does this happen once a month?

Does this happen every ride?

The reason I care about frequency is that if this happens with regularity…there is a good chance it will become a habit. 

And this is NOT a habit I want to instill in any horse. 

My rule of thumb with groundwork is if you can skip the groundwork, mount up AND encounter a ‘problem’…and solving the problem still looks reasonably under control, I’m fine with it. There comes a time in my training plan where I expect to be able to mount up and ride without lunging. By that point, I have taught the horse how I want him to respond to my hand and leg cues and he has shown me that he will respect those cues, even under pressure. 

If, however, you mount up and for the first five minutes the horse’s head is tossing, he’s sidestepping with his haunches swinging left and right…and you can’t clearly identify the gait you are in because it is something between a walk, prance or jog…

This is when it becomes important to know how often you are allowing this. 

If you make it a habit to ‘just ride through it’ you should also acknowledge you are letting the horse practice this behavior. 

I remember a lady that attended one of my clinics. She was scheduled to ride in the clinic but at the last minute became an auditor. When she came up to me to introduce herself I intended to ask, “Why the change?” but I didn’t need to ask. She was black and blue down half her face, shoulder and arm. 

Very, very bruised.

Instead of asking, “Why aren’t you riding?” the question naturally became, “What happened?”

The short version of the story is that she sent her horse away for training. Everything seemed good when she went to visit.

When she got him home, she climbed on to ride…and he started bucking.

That’s where all the bruises were from.

I asked if she had called the trainer and what he had said.

She told me, “Well, he’s a bronc rider…”

Habits. Prevention. They matter.

Yes, some people can ride those first few minutes of ‘stuff’ but remember, that horse might not spend his whole life with you. Do him a favor and teach him to behave the whole time you’re mounted. 

And if  that means you need to do some groundwork, including lunging, before you mount up. Please. Do it for your horse’s sake. His future may depend on it. And so might yours.

If you like this article, I have a podcast on the subject. Simple search Stacy Westfall Horse Podcast in your smartphones podcast player or visit this page on my website.Episode 72: Why lunging horses? Benefits and warnings.

4 Comments

  1. Philomena on April 9, 2020 at 3:25 pm

    I agree with this article 100%. I had a green horse that was sent to a “bronc riding trainer”. He didn’t do anything to TRAIN the horse. When I got her back she was in a sorry state; he too just jumped on her to “ride out the lumps”, explaining to me that she “liked to rear alot”. That was my red flag. What I did after that was Stacy’s book and DVDs, and now I can ride that same horse with minor lumps. I love ground lunging and use it every time before a ride. I just like being safe rather than sorry. Thanks, Stacy! P.S. She has never reared on me.

  2. Lind Pankuch on April 6, 2020 at 1:00 pm

    A wonderful refresher…Thank you…safety first for rider and equine friend.

  3. Carol Domansky on April 3, 2020 at 4:00 am

    I agree 100%! Even taking just a few minutes to make sure your horse is “dialed in” to you makes all the difference.

  4. Traci Gaspar on April 2, 2020 at 7:01 pm

    Thank you very helpful and makes sense.

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