I am a great believer in lunging. Not only does it provide a great method for building up muscles to improve condition and top line, but it also makes an ideal introduction to starting up a trusting relationship with a horse, who can get used to your commands and gain respect for you without the problems and constraints of a rider's weight to deal with when he is already lacking the training and/or condition to be able to balance with a rider on board and learn at the same time. 

I have designed the following programme to be eight weeks in duration. It is dependent on the horse being sound and healthy, at least four years of age and already having done basic lunging. If any of these conditions are not met, do not start this programme until you have got the horse to this basic stage.

Equipment needed:

Lunge Cavesson

Lunge line (Cotton, webbing or rope - not nylon)

Lunge Whip

Side Reins

Boots all round


Hard Hat

A  cavesson is a must have. I hate to see people clipping a lunge line over the head to the opposite bit ring, as the weight of the lunge line and your contact then causes compression of the head which has a backward influence on the horse. The clip attached to the centre ring on the front of the cavesson on the other hand, 'leads' the horse forwards and encourages him to stretch out forwards,  bending around the circle. (See Fig 1 below) 

The first couple of weeks is spent in this way, getting to know each other, and gaining the horse's confidence allowing him to relax and get used to going forwards without restriction. Please note at this early stage it is important to allow a full 20m circle to avoid undue stress on the horse's joints and your sessions should be no more than 20 minutes 3 or 4 times a week.



                                                                                                          Fig 1.

Never be tempted to use the various contraptions available that claim to miraculously turn your horse into a beautifully balanced horse within a short space of time. Whilst these may have a place in expert hands on a well established horse I believe their use on a young or under-muscled horse, if only people realized, does nothing to help the horse's hind legs come forwards and underneath, but pulls the horse onto the forehand even more, severely hampering progress. Simple side reins are all that is needed, as it is the weeks of building up which yield the best results. 

Introduced in the third week (if all has gone well so far) the side reins will ask him to round his outline a little, helping to develop his muscles correctly and also to help him to concentrate - you won't achieve a lot with his head in the air and him gawping over the hedge to see what's going on next door! Not too tight though, as a guide the side rein clip should reach his throat before you clip it to the bit. When you've attached them take a stance slightly behind him as you ask him to walk on, so you are 'driving' him forwards and he does not think about going backwards. 

Then lots of transitions in the next week or so and changes of rein which will help him begin to adjust his balance and look to you for direction. I find it doesn't take long before the horse begins to enjoy waiting for your next voice command - they look so pleased when they get it right. The key thing here is to say very little. If you've asked for trot and he is happily going round in working trot then he knows he's doing the right thing. Notice how many people constantly say 'Trot on - trot on -trot on' etc, then they wonder why when the horse goes to sleep! Apart from an odd click to ask for more impulsion, say nothing until your next clear command. Always make your upwards commands lively and short, and make your commands for downward transitions more of a drawl. Always be clear and consistent so your horse can identify the command. Also I see the following mistake many people make. They ask, for example, a canter and when the horse canters they immediately say 'Good Boy or Good Girl!' then they wonder why the horse breaks back into a trot - they have used a phrase which any horse knows means 'You have finished - Well done!' Then the person shows the horse he has done something wrong when they try to get him back into canter - it's very confusing for him! Leave the 'Good Boy' until the end of the session then he will know he really has finished and has done well.

After 4 weeks when his lunging is well established you can progress to asking for transitions within the pace. That is, vary the speed without changing the pace. For example, if you are in working trot you can use two or three clicks and point the lunge whip a little higher than the hocks to get more impulsion and after half a circle say 'Steadyyy' in a drawl and lower your whip back to the hocks to ask him to return to working trot. After that is established you can then use the command 'Steadyyy' again for a much slower trot. Eventually your horse will immediately go from working to almost a medium trot (but make sue he has a full 20 metre circle for this), back to working and then to almost collected. 

Always finish on a comfortable working trot. 

Also you'll find you can shorten the side reins a couple of holes by this time, as his 'platform' will have shortened. You can also vary the size of the circle so you can bring him in a couple of metres closer to you to make him work a little harder (for no more than one circle) then let him back out for a 'rest'. All the above is the same for the canter, but be aware this puts more strain on his back and joints especially if a young horse so make sure you have a long lunge line so you can allow him plenty of space. As he becomes fitter and more balanced usually after around six weeks you can bring him in for two circles before allowing him out again. Don't forget to go back to walk every five or six minutes, so he can take a breather and not be put under too much pressure.

 After another 2 weeks you will be noticing a big difference in his shape and the way he goes as he will now be much less on the forehand. He will have become lighter in front and lower behind as his hind legs are more underneath him. He will also have naturally rounded outline with more muscle on his neck and shoulders, all of which now make him much better to ride too, as he will have a degree of self carriage which means he won't lean on your hands. 

You can see the evidence of this in Fig 2. Obie here is free yet is already showing signs of self carriage. He is noticably more balanced and slightly more 'uphill' than his previous way of going.

Fig 2.

This you have achieved, not by tying his head down right away with contraptions to induce a forced outline, but with several weeks of building up, using patience and compassion, and making the improvement by giving him the time he needs to adjust mentally as well as physically. You know you have done it the right way, your horse adores and respects you and he looks fantastic! It's incredibly rewarding!

Note: This programme is adopted in conjunction with a diet that is worked out to suit every individual horse I train, and is combined with ridden work, hacks out and days off to relax so as to allow the horse time to adjust and not get bored or become pressured. 

Please note before starting this or any programme with your horse, it is advised you seek the advice of a professional to ensure your horse is healthy and sound and is capable of beginning the programme.

Good luck!