Tuesday, August 12, 2014

To Lunge Or Not To Lunge???

A great tool that seems to be really misunderstood and overused in the horsemanship world today is lunging. 

With the amount of trainers and clinicians these days teaching gentle or “vaquero style” horsemanship, lunging is almost synonymous with starting colts. It can definitely be overused and used incorrectly, and all with the best of intentions, by someone with little experience. There’s pretty much two schools of thought on the whole lunging thing:

  1. The folks who think you’re crazy not to lunge your horse until he’s sweaty.
  2. The folks who think you’re crazy to lunge your horse at all.

I can still hear the echo of certain cranky cowboys muttering into their beards when someone would take too long to warm up their horse before trotting out in the morning, “We don’t have time to run a horse in circles all over the yard. Just get on and go.”

For me, I always move my horse a few feet before I get on no matter his age or experience….simply because I’m clumsy. I’ve had one too many horses get scared, get their feet stuck and then flip over and I’m terrible at stepping off quickly enough to get out of the way! So, to avoid getting squished like a bug I always get my horse to move his feet at least a few steps before I climb on.

The point of lunging is not to punish the horse or wear him out. It is a training tool that allows you to help him step over his hindquarters and move his front quarters (which sets him up for turn arounds in the future). It teaches him to respect your personal space, to rate his speed AND it gets any extra steam out of his system. And all of this is accomplished without getting on his back!

How long and how much you lunge your horse really depends on the horse. Some are going to get spookier and even more bound up if you are too aggressive in warming them up. I used to have a weird horse in my string named Owhyee who was actually quite broke once you got on him, but he was really jumpy and snorty on the ground. He definitely needed warming up in the morning so you didn’t get bucked off, because buck you off he would!! For horses like Owyhee and Adrian’s Blue Duck, I always make sure they’ve turned their front end away from me, trotted, and stepped over their hindquarters before I get on because I’m not much of a bronc rider.

For a broke horse like Albert, I just ask him to turn his front end away from me a few times and then tighten my cinches once more and step aboard. It just feels like a good habit to me.

If you’re stepping out of the way to avoid getting run over, constantly feeling like you’re being crowded, or can’t actually get your horse to move away from you…there’s a pretty big chance that your horse doesn’t respect you. If your horse doesn’t respect you on the ground that’s going to translate to him not standing still when you go to get on, not giving when you ask him to stop, and a whole bunch of other problems.

 Pay attention and emulate the handy guys and don’t ever be afraid to ask for help!! Cowboys for the most part are generally pretty happy to help out someone who genuinely wants to learn.

xo xo Liz


  1. Very good blog and wonderful photos. I think Diamond and Little Joe will need a warm up when they are old horses. Now Jake is a leave out all winter, saddle and go type. Doc is similar to Jake and he is a paternal brother to Diamond and Little Joe but he is so much like his dam who never even bucked as a youngster in training and neither have any of her offspring. Colt is a maternal brother to Jake but not as laid back as Jake. Usually Russ doesn't warm him up much unless he has had a nice long vacation. As you said each horse is different.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Linda, thank you so much for reading! My mums is the photographer, we are very fortunate to have her around!! I love those horses that you can turn out for months on end and then just get on and go...they are very far in between!

  2. Great article only thing I do differently is I tighten my cinch then move them again it will let me see if they tighten up or get that hump in there back.

    1. Hey, thanks for reading Anon!! Good point, no one wants to have to wait to doctor something if you're down on the ground tightening your cinches!

  3. if some one says I don't have time to do this I tell im, I don't have time not too do it.ignorance is bliss and,if someone doesn't understand or care about what im doing, then they can just keep moving along their merry way..because good horsemanship and mine and the horses safety is more important then someones negative opinion!!! ;)