Lunge and Round pen work — what you want to accomplish

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Here at home we have some pretty specific goals we work to accomplish with each horse when we work either on the lunge line or in the round pen.  For each horse these happen at different times.  I think back to the first horse I lunged >20 years ago and realize just how little I knew at that time.  When I go to horse shows and other equine events I am amazed at how many people really do not seem to have a plan for working a horse on the lunge line or in a round pen.

First and foremost I want to share my philosophy on lunge/round pen work.  I believe this is work that helps the horse and rider learn to communicate with each other in a safe environment.  Notice I am saying safety and communication.  Communication is the key.

Secondly — I want to share all the things I see on a lunge line or in a round pen that do not (in my opinion) help the horse and rider learn to communicate and be safe.  Here is that list of things that do not work for me 1) Loping the horse for 15 minutes or more in a circle, 2) setting a timer and working the horse one direction for let us say 8 minutes then 8 minutes the other way, 3) Chasing the horse in circles while telling him or her — “Bad horse and if you think you are going to do that to me again I am going to make you work really hard,” and 4) lunge or round pen work while the human talks on the phone.  I could likely go on but let me get out of the bad and into the good things we want to accomplish.

Here are Five things to accomplish in the round pen or on the lunge line.

1) Learn how your horse moves its ears and body as it tries to understand what you are asking.  Look for those signs that it is listening.  Ear to you, body bent to you, eyes on you.  This is learning how the horse wants to speak to you.

2) Obtain control of the feet at the walk, trot, and lope.  Here at home we must walk the horse in a complete circle with total calmness.  That is the first step in any lunge work or round pen session.  When that horse is walking it is in listening mode…start there and get him or her to pay attention to you.

3) Be able to ask for the walk, trot or lope at any time.  It should be available quickly and with ease.  When I ask for the lope it should not take 3 complete circles to get that gait.  Likewise coming from the lope to a trot should be 2 to 4 strides (or sooner).

4) Stop on the rail or at the end of the lunge line.  When I mean stop — I do not mean turn and face you (that is good to do for some of the time) but what I mean is to have the horse stop parallel to the outside of the circle you are working on.  Wow — lots of success there when you can communicate with the horse and ask for a whoa and get it nice and easy while having the horse stay on the rail.

5) Learn the natural way your horse carries himself.  See how the body moves at the walk and trot and lope. (Note — really helpful when you are trying to make sue your horse has balance and the feet and legs are in good shape) How does your horse’s body change as you transition between the gaits?  Taking all this into account helps you to know what sort of aides and guides your horse will need to be a success when under saddle.

These are a few ideas I have been wanting to share with all of you.  Again — think communication and developing a working relationship in the round pen or on the lunge.   What can you add to this list of good things to accomplish in the round pen or on the lunge?

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

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2 thoughts on “Lunge and Round pen work — what you want to accomplish

  1. Some riders, I’ve found, enable themselves when it comes to lunging their horses; I’m talking about those who over-lunge. They lunge before they load the horse in a trailer, they lunge before they saddle, lunge before they catch the horse, etc. But knowing when and why can be a challenge for some experienced and novice riders alike.

    Perhaps those same same riders who over-lunge don’t have great communication with their horse, maybe that concept is an unknown and they over-lunge to compensate for what they don’t understand. And, although lunging too much, mostly the kind that just makes the horse go around in circles, does build endurance, it can also build resistance if it’s done improperly and repeatedly in the same manner, making the horse hard to catch, etc.

    There is so much more that can be done in a lunging session, either in hand or free, that works on communication. With visual pressure the handler can work on moving the haunches over, the barrel or the forehand, and even turn or stop the horse in it’s tracks. Through breathing, the handler can slow (or stop) the horse by letting out a long, slow, somewhat noisy breath. Backing can also be done in hand, or free, to help establish dominance (not aggression toward the horse) and leadership, or intercept resistance, as well as prepare (warm up) the back muscles for riding that day. (This all transfers into work under saddle because it is pure communication.) If I haven’t worked my horse for a few days, I lunge in this fashion to get my horse thinking and using itself, as well as to get my mind back into riding. Before riding the trails, I will lead my horse until my muscles start to warm up and I am breathing deeper, before I get on. And if I still feel that my horse needs to release some energy, I will either get off and lunge in this method or head for a long, slow hill and WALK him or her up it, because it takes more energy and builds their top-line at the same time, it also helps to quiet him or her.

    It must be noted that lunging is hard on a horse’s legs, no matter the age of the horse. If you must lunge, limit the time in the lunge pen to 20 minutes, total. Ponying the horse from another saddle broke horse is more beneficial for conditioning a young horse than lunging, as the youngster also learns valuable lessons from the mentor “pony horse”.

    Lorrie Fox

    Lorrie Fox is an author, breeder of Andalusian horses, clinician, and lifelong horse person. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and lives in Eastern Washington. Lorrie would love to talk more with you about horses and riding. She can be reached at foxl@cwu.edu.

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