Teaching on a Lunge Line -

By: Sally Cochran

Many riding instructors choose to start their students on a lunge line ' a rope, usually 25-30 feet long, that attaches to the horse's halter or runs around the bridle. The purpose of the lunge line is to aid the student in control of the horse ' that way if the student loses control, or while they are learning it, the instructor doesn't have to worry about the rider getting hurt or the horse running off. Of course, any horse that is used on a lunge line should be completely trustworthy, not prone to running off, but also easy to control in the different gaits. Giving lessons on the lunge line gives you, the instructor, control over the horse, which frees your student up to gain an understanding and feel of the horse, and also balance and coordination. Especially when the rider starts trotting for the first time, the lunge line can be a great tool to use ' it frees the rider's hands up to hold onto the saddle or the horse's mane!

Horseback riding can be very complicated. Sometimes it really helps students to only have to focus on one thing at a time until it all becomes second nature. I think that you'll find, however, that some riders don't like to be put on a lunge line ' especially if they're more advanced. They tend to feel demeaned, or that they aren't learning as much. With these students, it's important to remind them that all you're doing is freeing up their reins so that they can better focus on whatever else you're asking them to do ' whether it be posting without stirrups, cantering, sitting trot, posting to a different rhythm, or anything else. Help them to understand that it's important to go back to the basics sometimes, to reestablish a foundation that may have been upset later on by the learning of a new skill or mindset.

Some instructors like to start out teaching new students on a lunge line, while others prefer to let their students go solo right away. I teach somewhat inbetween the two ' I like to walk next to the students, and sometimes have a lead line on the horse. In this sense it allows the student to feel more in control, but they are still safe at the same time, because the instructor (or helper) is right there beside them to help out if necessary. But since this chapter is about lunge line exercises, I'll speak as if I taught all my students on a lunge line from the time they began ' because, again, this is the preference of some teachers.

After you've taught your new student all about grooming, saddling, and bridling the horse, it's time to take them to the arena and get started. The horse will still have a bridle on, so you'll have to run the lunge line around the top of the horse's bridle and clip it onto the other side. Never attach a lunge line directly to the horse's bit ' if the horse pulls, or you pull too hard, you can pull the bit right through the horse's mouth. It's dangerous. Even better than that, you can put a halter on over top the bridle to attach the lunge line to. The disadvantage to this is that the horse will not be able to feel the rider's aids as efficiently ' it's harder to communicated with the reins, via pressure on the horse's mouth, with the halter in the way. The signals tend to get confusing for the horse. Once again, this is up to you, as the instructor, and whatever you're comfortable with. Keep in mind your horse's comfort. If you have a student that yanks all over the reins and can't keep his/her hands still, then maybe a halter is a better idea after all.

There are several different ways to approach the lunge line lesson. If your student has terrible balance, sometimes it's best to do this lesson in a western saddle ' that way, they can grab onto the horn if absolutely necessary to maintain their balance. The horse you teach lunge line lessons on should already be trained to perform well on a lunge line ' which means not ignoring your commands, both verbal and physical. They should be able to walk, trot, and canter in both directions without pulling, leaning, or breaking gait.

When your have your student mount the horse, have them walk around the arena like the usually would, to warm the horse up and give its muscles a chance to relax and stretch. If you put a horse on a lunge line that hasn't been warmed up, there's a greater chance that he'll pull or stretch something, simply because he's on a smaller circle, which puts a lot more stress on his joints and muscles than if he were riding around the outer edge of the arena. After 5-10 minutes (less time in the summer, generally, than the winter), have your horse and rider come to the middle of the arena to be clipped onto the lunge line.

Take the reins and run them up under the throatlatch of the horse, then back around the horse's neck and buckle them back together. Tie the remaining length in a knot, so the reins are out of the way and cannot come undone or stepped on by the horse. This leaves the rider's hands free to sit on the hips or saddle pommel for balance. Ideally, you will teach your student to balance without hanging on to the saddle or the horse's mane.

Once the reins are secured, send the horse out on the lunge line at a walk. Have your student rest his/her hands on the pommel of the saddle, or on the horse's mane, or on their hips or legs ' just to get them out of the way. There are variations to this as well ' have the student hold his/her arms out to the sides to balance, hands on head, or hips, or windmilling forward or backward. Take the feet out of the stirrups, wiggle the toes, stretch the feet. Have more advanced students turn all the way around in the saddle, sit backwards, or go up in 2-point position. There are many combinations of things you can have your student do ' just use your imagination!

They should be focusing on a deep seat with contact with their legs at this point. Without reins, they don't have to worry about controlling the horse ' just on keeping their heels down, sitting in the center of the saddle, and not bouncing all over the place. Once the student is secure, you can begin the trot. Start with posting trot, slowly. Many people, when first put on a lunge line, feel a little disoriented because of the centrifugal force applied when the horse is on the circle versus a straight line- it throws them off balance. We don't want that happening. Keep it slow at first, then once the student has his/her balance and is moving in a nice rhythm with the horse, ask them to bump the horse up a notch ' extend the trot. The horse's legs should reach further with each step it takes, in response to the rider's forward-driving legs. The rider should be able to maintain their posting rhythm. This is a great time to get the rider used to checking their diagonals, because the horse is naturally bent on the circle, and the outside leg going forward will be easier to see.

After practicing walking, then posting trot, do some different things at the trot ' have your student hold their arms out and post (which is pretty hard for a lot of people, because they tend to balance on the balls of their feet, which invariably upsets their balance and they pitch forward, only to drop their arms down to catch their balance). Encourage the student to sit lightly down in the saddle, more on the crotch than on the back pockets, and to drop their weight down into their heels in order to more effectively create a 'long' leg that wraps around the horse's barrel for balance and stability. Once this is established, try hand on the head, or behind the back, or even two-point position at the trot, again with focus on a long leg and staying over the horse's center of gravity.

Make sure you lunge the horse and its rider equally in both directions ' otherwise you're going to effectively create a one-sided horse or rider, that prefers to go in one direction over the other.

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