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My horse has a problem lunging
My name is Marcy and I have a 2- year old horse that has a problem lunging. Every time I start lunging my horse she instantly starts to canter. I have a hard time getting her to start off at a walk. I try to get ahead of her but she just even goes fast and starts to buck. What I'm I doing wrong and what should I do?
Lunging a horse sounds easy enough. To watch it, the process even looks very straight forward and easy to do. It is not. It is one of the hardest things to teach a human to do. It is much easier to teach a horse to lunge than to teach a human to lunge a horse. You are not alone in having challenges with this activity. Lets see if I can help. You have a very young horse and it is easy to confuse it. You must remember that it is much more about you, than about your horse. Your horse needs you to be skillful, purposeful, confident and compassionate.
Lunging techniques are about your body angle, position and where you are looking. It is also about your intention, energy and even your breathing. First thing is to remember to look at the horse. That way you will not get dizzy. Second thing to remember is to 'square your shoulders' to the horse's rump and look at the horse's rump or hips. Do not look at the horse's head. If you look at the horse's head it gives the horse a confused message. The horse's tendency is to move the body part you are looking at. You want the horse to move forward, so look at his butt. If you want the horse to back up, look at his front feet (not his eyes or head). If you being to move ahead of the horse, she thinks you are trying to corner her. She is young and easily confused and spooked.
Lets say you want the horse to move to the left around you. Start off with a rather short line as opposed to the full length lunge line. A long lead rope should do fine. Hold the lead rope in your left hand (make certain the rope cannot get wrapped around your hand) and a wand in your right hand. Forget a lung whip for a little while and use something not quite so imposing like a dressage whip. Try standing squarely, right in front of your horse. Slowly raise both hands to about your shoulder level and activate the wand in your right hand (activating the wand means jiggling it up and down just a little). As soon as the horse even leans to the left or begins to move to he left at all, bring the energy that you are putting into the wand down (even lowering the wand to almost ground level). This rewards the horse for beginning to move where you want. This is extremely important. You must reward the horse for trying to do as you request by bringing the 'pressure' down. If he stops, activate the wand just a bit to move him off again. Once the horse is moving, only use as much pressure (jiggle) as is absolutely necessary to keep the horse moving at the speed you want. If the horse goes too fast, totally bring the wand down, stand still and let the horse move around you on its own (passing the lead rope behind you so you do not get tied up in it). The horse will eventually discover nobody is asking it to move and stop on its own. Give it a Good Boy when it stops. Also, when the horse is moving as you want, praise it verbally regularly with a Good Boy. To encourage the horse to stop you can also give a LITTLE tug on the lead rope and say HO! If it doesn't stop, don't make a big deal of it. Just let it find the stop for itself. Try not to make a big deal of anything the horse does. Just stick with the process of getting it to move around you with as little hassle as possible. If the horse canters, drop all pressure and let it find out it is running itself around. If it attempts to move away from you, simply walk (move) with it and keep gently encouraging it to go in a circle. As soon as it begins to go in the circle, drop the pressure again. When the horse is complying or even trying to comply the pressure should be zero or at least minimal as a reward.
Remember, the angle of your body should be square to the horse's rump or hip. Your eyes should be looking at the rump or hip. Start out with a long lead rope (10-12 feet), not a lunge line. You can gradually increase the distance between you and the horse as you both get used to the process. Keep the pressure from the wand as minimal as possible at all times. If you overdue the pressure or are insensitive to the horse trying to comply, you will make the horse afraid. Do not make a big deal of anything the horse does as it is not being bad, stubborn, willful or anything like that. It is confused, afraid and looking for a great dance partner/leader who is confident and skillful with the steps, moves and changes in the dance. Go (move) as slowly as you can. Keep your breathing calm and normal. Do not let anything that happens take you off your calm, focused center. Do not blame the horse for anything. The truth is, the horse really does want to comply with a good leader. If it is not, it is because it does not fully understand exactly what is being requested of it and that alone makes it afraid.
This next step will really help you a lot, picture what you want clearly and distinctly in your mind. Visualize the horse moving around you perfectly, you standing and pivoting exactly as you should be, looking where you should be looking. Have a clear and precise image in your mind of what you want and you will have a very good chance the vision will materialize. This is where your intention comes in. Have as your intention the calm, but exact, manifestation of your mental image.
This is high level, mental training used by Olympic riders and other professional athletics. It WORKS! It also help you maintain your focus and calm. Consider having as your ultimate goal, the feelings of peace, safety and trust that you can help instill within your horse. Consider dropping your agenda of an activity (lunging) or 'doing' something with the horse (a task) and rather, having everything you do help create trust between you and this horse. The truth is, once the horse really comes to trust you and accept you as its confident, compassionate, skillful and appropriate leader, it will do whatever you ask anyway (assuming you know how to ask in a way that is clear and precise). The 'task' is not nearly as important as the 'trust' level you can develop with the horse. Its all about the trust. Gaining a horse's trust requires the same things it takes to earn the trust of a human. Consider how a great parent earns the trust of a child. It is the same with a horse.
There is more, as it is hard to put a technique like this in an email. There are a lot of wonderful, fun things you can do with your horse on the ground to build a great relationship. Your relationship/partnership is built, first and foremost, on the ground playing together. Consider also that how you talk about the horse reflects how you think about the horse. Would you rather 'work' the horse or 'play' with the horse? If you are playing you both are probably having more fun and not making a big deal out of small stuff. Horse are not supposed to be obedient. They are not made up that way. They want to partner with the leader. That is really what they are looking for. That way they have purpose (a job). They want that. They are not slaves. They are noble and smart. If you treat them with respect for their intelligence, they will respond appropriately and respect you as well. It is up to us (the humans) to rise up to the horse. The horse is not supposed to lower itself to our level and will resist that. Let me know how it goes and if I can offer any more assistance. I also do provide coaching in horsemanship via the telephone and online. It is efficient, inexpensive, readily available and offers the opportunity for quick feedback about a process that may not be going well or having problems. Please let me know if you have any interest in this. Let me know how it all goes. Please show this to your folks.
Sincerely yours, Franklin