During these very random times in our lives I’ve been lucky enough that my horses live at home with myself, so I haven’t had horsey withdrawal symptoms!
I only have stables on site and currently no arena so the warm weather and dry fields have been perfect for continuing to keep my horses fit and toned, ready for when we can start more intensive training and competitions.
Ticking my horses over has been as important for me as it has been for them. I can’t walk my dogs in the traditional way, taking them on a mobility scooter doesn’t really use enough calories up! I can’t go jogging and can’t use gym equipment so horse riding is one of my only feasible exercises that I can do along with some swimming and unfortunately, I don’t have a swimming pool on site!
Even during normal times, lunging is an important part of producing my horses and even the advanced horses have at least a weekly lunge. It can add some variety to their work, I can assess their way of going without a rider on, I can see their weight, muscle tone and evaluate their manners whilst lunging.
When I first take my horses out and hire an arena for training I will certainly give my horses a lunge as it also gives them a chance to kick their heals up if needed and then when I ride them I can expect them to be more focused on myself rather than thinking it’s party time. Even with my disability and walking with crutches I do lunge my own horses, I have just one crutch on one side, the lunge line and the lunge whip in the other hand and somehow I still managed to have equal lunge line loops and the lunge whip always pointing at the horses quarters.
I get dismayed at how badly many people lunge their horses, often the lunge line is wrapped dangerously around body parts, the horses flying around or the opposite and going nowhere, often still with their heads in the air and hollowing and working all the wrong muscles. I lunge my horses as if I’m riding them so once they have had a leg stretch I expect them to be in front of the leg, accepting the contact and to be listening when I would like them to do transitions.
Obviously, all horses are different and you need to treat them as individuals when lunging as much as you would when riding them. I do use side reins if I feel that these are the best aids to help that particular horse, but something that I really do like a lot when lunging horses is a chambon. I feel it is one of the only aids that creates a contact in the mouth that is similar angle to the contact of a rider when a horse is on the bit.
The horses can stretch both forwards and down as much as they would like so it doesn’t encourage a short neck whatsoever and it only creates a contact when the horse is hollow and releases when your horse is more over the back if set up correctly.
When riding I always have the horses on a rein contact whether it’s a long rein or short rein. I feel if your horse is walking around looking at the clouds or flying pigs and briefly spooks or makes an unexpected change that’s unbalancing then it’s not fair to be annoyed or shocked with your horse when you were not being connected with them or directing a positive and supportive way of going.
When either riding a nervous, excitable horse or riding an established horse in a strange arena I rarely go around the outside of the arena on the track.
Keeping your horse on a 10 to 15 meter circle in the middle of the arena enables you to subtly create submission by having your horses gently bent around your inside leg, it gives your horse the opportunity to see the whole of the arena without having the intimidation of going past anything scary at close quarters when they are feeling a little bit nervous or excitable.
Obviously being on a circle doesn’t have a start and finish when schooling so you can focus on your horses way of going instead of riding around the edge focusing on all the scary areas which can be quite intimidating for both human and equine. Human nature often wants to win this challenge of getting around the arena, but I found it’s much less confrontational if you stay in the middle until you feel your horse is focussed more on you. Then either ride out or leg yield out to the inner track and work there for a while until you eventually work on the outer track with hopefully no issues whatsoever.
If your horse is still on its toes then I advise you do the opposite to what I would normally say and stay in working trot for a little bit longer than normal to try and empty the energy barrel a little. When you feel your horse has settled more then go back to doing more transitions that you think you should be doing and getting your horse listening to you and what you are asking of them.
I hope this helps a little, go out there and enjoy your wonderful horses!