In today’s post I’m going to address a few problems that people have when starting a horse on a lunge line.
Last night I had the opportunity to work briefly with a mustang my aunt recently rescued. A very sweet little critter, he is about 14hh with the name of “Buddy”. Buddy’s only training thus far (as far as we can tell) has been halter breaking. He will let you sit on him, but he won’t move with a person on his back.
The first thing I noticed about Buddy was how INCREDIBLY tense he was. He was tense in his nostrils, his eyes, his tail, but mostly his neck. It is believed Buddy was pulled off the range at the age of 7, and is now somehwere around 14, but he has not had much productive human contact during that time. While he was quite gentle and sweet, he was also very jumpy. Every slightly quick movement or loud voice led to a jump and a scoot. While I was unable to witness this for myself, my aunt also told me that Buddy is very wary and nervous around men, and that leads her to believe the source of at least some of his tension is mistreatment in his past.
Myself and Buddy on a Short Line
As far as we know, Buddy has only been lunged twice before with my aunt, and that is the extent of his lunge-line training. When I began to attempt to lunge it, his insecurities were immediately very obvious. He would not allow me behind the drive-line (please see the ESF Horsemanship Intro Handbook to learn about drive-lines). As a prey animal, this makes sense. Behind the drive line, I have a clear shot to his relatively vulnerable flank, and it also becomes incredibly easy for me to jump onto his back if I wanted to. To keep me from dropping behind his drive-line, he did a combination of two things. He both planted hes front feet, and turned to face me.
There are three things that I do when working to address these problems.
1) Maintain Forward Motion. No matter what, keep the horse moving forward. Even if that means you just lead them normally for a few steps, do not let the front feet lock up. Eventually, the horse will begin to associate working on the lunge line with forward motion.
2) Ask Them To Yield the Shoulders Laterally. Send their shoulders away from you. Make sure that the foot moving is always placed IN FRONT of the one on the ground, so that the horse is still maintaining some level of forward motion. This step is perhaps the most important. A horse’s most strong point is their shoulder, and it is the easiest for them to overpower you by shoving their shoulder into you. By asking them to yield their shoulder, you are asking them to respect you and your space, as well as listen to you.
3) Slowly Drop Behind the Drive-Line. As you ask your horse to yield his shoulder and walk forward out and away from you, you can slowly slip back behind the drive-line and begin sending them forward. They will most likely fall into this naturally if steps one and two have been completely properly.
At that point, it becomes a bit of a dance to begin. Carefully staying behind the drive-line without making your horse uncomfortable, and without allowing them to turn towards you until you ask.
I hope this helped some of you starting out on a lunge line. I always welcome comments and discussion, but hateful comments will be deleted. Thank you!