Wednesday, September 28, 2011
My Lungeing Quandry
Do you work your horse on a lunge line? Despite having been involved with horses for decades I’m a bit of a newbie when it comes to lungeing. In fact, I don’t think I ever lunged my first two horses, Kali and Amanda, which seems strange to me now, particularly as far as Amanda was concerned. That highly strung mare would definitely have benefitted from being worked on the lunge, but seeing as nobody ever worked their horses on the lunge at that particular yard, the concept never even entered my head. I didn’t lunge my third horse, Monty, much either. Truth be told, I didn’t have the opportunity to do very much of anything with him, as I only had him for two years, the majority of which were spent recovering from broken limbs (I broke my leg sledding soon after getting him and was out of action for nine months, and, soon after I recovered, Monty threw me off, shattered my shoulder and nearly fell on top of me, whereupon I gave him to a good home and quit riding for seven years).
Kwintus, who has now been retired for close to a year, was clearly accustomed to lunge work (we bought him as a fifteen-year old schoolmaster), but due to his stumbling problems we soon decided it was best avoided. But when seven-year old Qrac came into my life earlier this year, I immediately knew I’d have to learn how to lunge him. The person who took care of Qrac while he was being sold always lunged him for ten minutes or so before riding him, so I initially felt I should do the same. It was reassuring to allow my horse to get rid of any excess energy before I climbed on, not that he ever did. Qrac has always been very well behaved on the lunge and impressed me from day one with his response to verbal cues. I suppose most horses do the same, but with my lack of experience, the fact that he springs into trot whenever I say “Qraaaaaac; au trot” (I tend to speak French to him when I lunge him) still astounds me. I think he’s such a clever boy!
What I’m still uncertain about is whether I should lunge him in draw reins, or side reins, or something. My trainer, Marie-Valentine, always lunges horses in draw reins. She says they don’t work properly through their backs if they’re not coaxed into a long and low frame. So when I bought Qrac I set out to buy a lunge, a surcingle and draw reins so that Marie-Valentine could give me some lunging lessons. But who would have thought that finding a surcingle to fit a Lusitano would have been so complicated! Regular horse-sized ones were way too big for him, and none of the shops around here carried anything in between “pony” and “horse”, so for the first few weeks I simply lunged him “au naturel”. I eventually found him a cob-sized one that fit fine, but by that time Marie-Valentine was busy travelling around Europe, going to shows with some of more advanced students, so I only managed to have one lesson on lunging Qrac with draw reins. And being a world class worrier, when it came to having to do it alone I got all freaked out about adjusting the damn things. Were they too slack? Too tight? Was he holding himself right? Was he too tense through his back? Was I doing it right? So worried was I about doing it wrong that I soon took everything off and went back to lungeing him “au naturel” again, which, from what I sensed, was what he was used to anyway.
In fact, from what I’ve seen on the Internet, it seems to me that most Iberian horses are lunged without draw reins or side reins or any other equipment to keep them in a frame. My other trainer, Greg, prefers to lunge horses without restraints; he says that what good lungeing really comes down to is observation.
I’ve lunged Qrac about twice a week for the past few months and he seems to be doing fine without draw reins. I watch carefully, talk to him a lot, play with my fingers, adapt my body language, coaxing him to reach down and stretch, but, of course, this isn’t as efficient as physically closing him. Another drawback (is it a drawback?) is that, without draw reins or side reins, I can’t “force” Qrac to stay flexed to the inside, and he does tend to bend to the outside on the right lead canter, at least for the first few minutes. However, now that he’s become stronger, after a few rounds I coax him into a smaller circle, whereupon he needs to stay in the correct flexion in order to remain balanced. He seems quite comfortable performing a couple of rounds of slow canter around me, really coming under with the hind leg, so I guess I must be doing something right.
Nevertheless, that little niggly voice inside my head still constantly harangues me, going on about that virtually unused cob-sized surcingle hanging on my peg. Would Qrac be better off being lunged in a more contained frame? Would it be more efficient? Or does lungeing with draw reins/side-reins/etc just make them work harder? I don’t think I’m wasting my time lunging him “au naturel”, but then again, maybe I am. Maybe I’m just “moving” him, as opposed to working him. What do you think? How do you lunge your horse?