Lunging and long lining are important tools in the Balanced Equine Training program. I rarely use lunging as a form of “controlled turnout” for my horses. Instead, I use it as a tool to accomplish training that would be more difficult to accomplish from the saddle.
One of the basic premises of Balanced Equine Training is that all horses and riders have natural imbalances. When we train horses, we sometimes interfere with the horse with our own natural imbalances. While we are always working to become better balanced, sometimes it is easier to focus on horse and rider separately in order for both to progress more quickly. That is why, in an ideal weekly program, I generally spend one day per week lunging or long lining my horses and one day per week putting riders on the lunge line. One day is spent focusing solely on the horse, and one day is spent focusing solely on the rider.
When I am lunging or long lining, I am essentially riding the horse from the ground. The whip is substituted for my leg, and the lines and side reins are substituted for my reins and elbows. This gives me an opportunity to train the horse to move more correctly and in a more balanced way without the interference of the rider. This also gives me a chance to observe how my horses are travelling. I look for details such as whether the horse’s back is lifted and engaged, whether they are tracking evenly and tracking up or over-tracking, and whether they are able to stretch and stay balanced. I also observe which muscles are being engaged and how they are being used. If a horse moves drastically differently in lines when compared to how it moves with a rider, this can be very telling as to if the rider is interfering or changing the way the horse travels naturally.
Lunging is performed with one line, long lining utilizes two lines. Where the side reins are set and how the lines are run depend on what the goals are with a particular horse. Often I am trying to supple the inside of the horse in both directions and working toward maintaining the shoulder fore position. If I am lunging, I will run the line through the bit and back up to the top ring on the surcingle, which works the corner of the horse’s mouth. The line is thus in a position similar to a rider’s inside rein. When pressure is applied with the lunge line, the horse’s neck is encouraged to bend to the inside. The side reins are set low, which works the bars of the horse’s mouth. They are never so tight such that they hold the horse’s head in position, and I always use side reins with rubber donuts such that they are more elastic. I never want to lock or force my horse’s head and neck into a particular position, I want to encourage the horse to travel and move in a way that is more balanced. The side reins encourage the horse to stretch, draw down, and reach for the bit, thus encouraging the back to lift up and move more freely.
Long lines allow the person lunging to have both “reins,” thus creating the feeling of riding from the ground. Again, the lines are run through the bit to the surcingle or through the surcingle to the bit in ways that encourage the horse to move in different ways, depending on what the horse needs and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Note that long lining is not the same as ground driving. The person generally stands behind the horse while ground driving, and you are teaching the horse to respond to direct rein aids. Long lining is more complex, and the person usually stands in the same position as when lunging. Using two lines run in different ways, one can encourage and help the horse to become more balanced and travel more correctly without the rider.
Many horses that become too “stuck” with their riders benefit tremendously from lunging and long lining. Horses can become more balanced much faster through the use of lines, and it is an important component of my horses’ training.