Round and Round We Go

Teaching horses to lunge has never been something I’m terribly great at. I managed to teach Robin how to lunge when she was young (13 years ago…), but of all my horses, she’s the least skilled at it. Luckily Copper lunges like a pro. That was pretty much the one skill he learned at the training barn back in the day that was worth anything. So needless to say that I wasn’t terribly confident in my ability to teach Joey to lunge, especially knowing how lazy he tends to be.

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Not lazy at all.

I actually googled “teaching a young horse to lunge” and got a variety of entertaining youtube videos of varying quality, both video quality and quality of training… I eventually found a decent video of a cowboy type teaching a horse to lunge. I would like to go on record that this horse very obviously already knows how to lunge. Finding a video of someone who knows what they’re doing who is working with a horse who doesn’t already lunge is rare (plus video quality is important to me…). So basically I followed this fellow’s instructions with Joey at a walk, pushing his shoulder away from me and establishing a circle. Since I don’t have a round pen, we worked on it in the barn the first night, then the second night we went out in the “diet lot” that S and I built behind the barn. Basically the diet lot has morphed into a impromptu arena since it is level, shady, and away from the other baby who tends to distract Joey.

Since A is quite literally a horse trainer, I asked her to come up and advise me. While keeping Joey on a circle at a walk was going well enough, moving up to a consistent trot seemed to be what would challenge us. I also wanted someone to watch me and tell me when I was messing up so that I didn’t mistakenly mess Joey up. Apparently I’d lead her to believe I was having big issues with teaching lunging, so when she took him to show me how to put him on a circle and he went on a circle immediately, she was impressed with where we were at. Luckily I have the most intelligent baby horse ever who makes everything fairly simple and makes me look better at training than I really am. With the circle already established, we began working on trotting on the lungeline (which is currently just a long lead rope to be honest).

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He only stretches his neck out when something is scary.

A’s go to way to get them trotting on the lunge line is to turn the lunge whip so that the part closest to the horse is the handle while she keeps them on a small, controllable circle. When she clucks and asks them to trot, she’ll thump them on the butt with the handle of the lunge whip, if they pick up the trot, she rewards them with a release of pressure (the thumping), if they ignore the thumping, it gets “louder” until they acknowledge the thumping, then they get the release from the thumping. Joey was responsive to the thumping and immediately put two and two together, so she allowed me to take over with the new principle in place while she watched.

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This went well until Joey started to create evasions to working…mainly trying to leave the barn to go back to his buddies. So A stationed herself in the door area where he kept stubbing up on me and encouraged forward motion from there.

Since that day, Joey and I have been working on lunging in the evening after he has dinner. He considers evading occasionally, but it hasn’t been anything that I can’t resolve on my own and he has been very responsive.

I’ve always tried to train Joey with the least pressure possible because I want him to be light. When lunging, I try to make sure that my body language and verbal signals are matching up with the cues that he already knows for certain movements. If I want him to speed up on the lunge, I’ll cluck to him and look at his hip; if I want him to slow down, I’ll move in front of him and stare at his face while saying whoa. These are all things that I do with Copper on the lunge line that makes it so that I can mostly work him based on body language. These prompts may come to the horse intuitively to a certain degree, but I want to make sure I set Joey up to be as light and responsive as possible, so I’m exaggerating them a bit here in the beginning.

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I totally didn’t buy him a show blanket years in advance because it was cheap and pretty…

A couple of noticeable improvements in Joey have occurred since I taught him how to lunge: he knows WHOA so much better, and he sets up better (which is partially because he does whoa better). When I move in front of him and say whoa, he stops without me having to pull on the line to redirect his focus (most of the time…occasionally we still have a dumb baby moment). When I go to set him up, I say whoa firmly before I step away to place his feet and for the most part, he doesn’t move a foot unless I touch it…the variable there being the new cat who likes to assist in training…

I do want to go on record about something here though…Joey isn’t being worked to death. His training session literally last less than 30 minutes, and that’s if I take the time to do everything, which includes the following in case anyone is curious:

  • Catching him
  • Removing his fly mask
  • Tying him/grooming
  • Picking all four feet
  • Leading him to the center of the barn where we trot in hand two/three times for the length of the barn.
  • Putting him on the end of the lunge line at a walk, then trot. Two minutes?
  • Reversing, walk, then trot. Two minutes?
  • Reversing, walk, then trot. Two minutes?
  • Reversing, walk, then trot. Two minutes?
  • Intermittent whoaing in the above four steps…
  • Whoa, set up. Stand set up.
  • Walk off a little ways, whoa. Set up. Stand set up.
  • Repeat.
  • Repeat.
  • Scratches for the good baby.
  • Turned back out with fly mask reapplied.

This is basically life for Joey currently. Often his sessions are much shorter because I have things I need to run and do so we’ll either not lunge, not trot in hand, or not work on setting up. Some nights we do it all. Some nights we do it all very quickly because he does so well that I don’t want to drill him on a concept to the point of boredom. Either way, I don’t anticipate this workload will negatively effect his body despite the fact that he’s being lunged at a young age. I understand that excessive lunging on a circle can negatively impact baby’s joints, but I don’t think the amount of work he is doing will break him. I also don’t handle him every single night. A lot of time I just verify that he (and the rest of the herd…) still has four legs and no open wounds and leave to go to K’s to ride Paige, etc.

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Best baby horse can trot sometimes.

Sorry for the soapbox, but I know there are negative feelings about lunging babies and I want to be transparent that I am aware of the risks involved and I’m keeping them in mind when working with my baby horse. Trust me when I say that no one has his long term soundness more in mind than I do.

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Baby piglet eating out of the hay wagon.

 

3 thoughts on “Round and Round We Go

  1. A’s teaching method sounds pretty fair. I got Grif at 1½ and we did tons of ground work. I know people can get super opinionated about working young horses, too, but I never ran Griffin into the ground and you can obviously tell he didn’t suffer much from the ordeal when you see him today. We’d work for 5 minutes or for 30 minutes but never much more. It was all pretty easy on his body and more focused on getting his mind wrapped around concepts. A strong mind should be developed early, I think. I didn’t ask him for a frame or to carry himself properly until about 2015. I rode him, sure, but didn’t ask him to do more than listen to requests for direction or speed changes. You and Joey sound like you’re going down a very similar path and I’m sure he’ll turn into quite the model citizen in no time at all! He seems like such a solid fellow already.

    • Thanks for this, I feel like he’s such a little sponge right now and not teaching him when he’s this willing to learn would be a mistake on my part. I think it helps his attitude in that he’s learning early on that I can snatch him from his friends and make him work alone for a period of time and his life doesn’t end. 😉

  2. It’s a shame that so many people ruin babies with excessive circle work that regular people doing extremely reasonable training sessions have to mention they aren’t working their babies into the ground and early retirement.
    Your post is completely shaming me. Joey is doing so much and he’s doing it so well! Smart babies are the absolute best. I can’t wait to hear how he does at the show(s).
    I like your technique for lunging. It’s very close to what my trainer does and is what I plan to do when I wean in 4 weeks.

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