Starting The Colt--Lungeing
Over the years I have started many horses. I "broke" my first horse when I was 13 years old. He was a gray Arabian and the hardest project of my life. Now, years later, I have a 3 year old Arabian starting this year. I've had him since his birth, and have spent hours preparing him for the big day. I subscribe to resistance free training--not just throwing a saddle on the animal's back and hanging on until he stops fighting. Instead, I take things in small steps, encouraging the horse to accept each thing before moving onto the next.
Before any serious work can begin, your horse should be halter and lead trained. He should also have some ground manners as well. These can be started at anytime with the animal. I started haltering my colt at 2 days old so he's a "professional" leading horse. You will also want to work on moving his shoulders and hips to the side while working on leading. He should respond to verbal cues such as "walk up," "whoa," and "stand" before moving into the lungeing stage.
Lungeing is a training method most young or green horses are started with. This requires just a few things. First, your horse will need a halter or lunging caveson. Second, you will need a 20 meter long line (which can be picked up at any feed or tack store), third, a proper area to lunge your animal. You may also use a lunge whip, but this is optional. (Some horses are afraid of whips if they have had bad experiences with them in the past).
I like to work my young horses in a fenced area--although this is not necessary. Start out in your designated lunge area. I typically push the horse away from me, slowing letting out slack on the lunge line. Letting the horse stay at the walk and adjust to the slight pressure on the halter is a good place to start. If you are having difficulties getting your horse to walk forward, check your position to your horse's body. Typically, you drive your horse forward from the hind quarters. If you are standing too close to him, or parallel to his head and neck, he may be reluctant to move out. Placing yourself parallel to his belly or even slightly diagnol with his back end will encourage your horse to move out. Once your horse is consistently walking around you without fighting the line, you can ask for trot.
The trot is no different from the walk: the horse should be moving around you on the line. Simply ask him to transition from the walk to the trot. I find, with green horses, if I lift my arms, and my head, they typically see me as dominant and begin to move out. (Young horse are particualrily sensitive to body language). Soon, they will trot around you. If they are reluctant to trot, you can use your lunge whip to encourage movement. However, it is important to note that the lunge whip should be an extension of your arm and not a weapon. You do not want to beat your horse or frighten him. Simply, swish it at his back end like you would your hand. Once your horse is trotting--praise him. Also, you'll want to move a little with him. Most green horses will pull against the lunge line the first couple times. If you move a little, you'll provide a small amount of slack in the lunge line and the animal will move out with more freedom.
Another important aspect of lungeing is the reverse. It is best to work on this at the walk. You have more control of your animal, and more time to prepare yourself for the cues. There are many ways to do this. I typically step toward the horse's head, give a slight tug on the line, say reverse, and if I'm holding a whip, make a barrier with it. Most horses will reverse without a problem. Just make sure your line is tight in the direction you want him to turn. Some horses will try to reverse the opposite way, flinging the line over their necks. If this happens, simply stop the animal, tug the correct direction, and ask for the reverse again.
Whoa is extremely important when lungeing. When I start a green horse, I will spend the first lesson just walking, whoaing and reversing. I find it easiest to woe a green horse by dropping my head and lowering my shoulders, while saying whoa in a calming voice. You can also step towards the shoulder and say whoa. Most horses will stop--even for a moment, and you should praise him. If he continues to walk, give a sharp downward tug on the line. This will cause the horse to throw his head and stop. Praise him for stopping. Practice this a few times before moving on to the trot.
Once your animal is comfortable on the line you can introduce the canter. I don't typically ask the animal to canter until he is listening to walk, trot, reverse, and whoa commands. It is important when asking to canter that you have a verbal canter cue. This makes it far easier once started under saddle. The canter is virtually the same as asking for the trot. Have the horse move around you at the trot. Once established, go ahead and give you verbal cue for canter, and push the animal from behind. The horse will trot faster, but probably not canter. Continue asking him to move forward. (The whip is quite useful at this stage). Eventually, your horse will break into the canter. Praise him, and let him move around you at the canter, keeping some slack in the line. If the line is too tight the horse will be reluctant to continue in the gait.
Keep practicing the basics of lungeing and in no time your horse will be a lungeing expert.
Problems on the Lunge
There are a few issues that can arise when starting young horses on the lunge line. Most are easy to correct with consistency and patience.
- Turning in on the circle: your horse is cutting one side of the circle short. To correct this, make the opposite side of the circle small. This will discourage the horse from cutting in. Also, encourage him forward, while driving him behind when he tries to cut in. I like to teach my horses an "out" cue-which means they sidestep away from me. If they start cutting in, I immediately start driving from behind, and give them an "out" cue to encourage them to step out into the circle making a balanced turn.
- Rushing on the lunge: more than likely your horse is excited or nervous. Simply decrease the size of the circle and speak calmly to your horse until he is settled. Then, put him back into the larger circle and continue your work.
- Running on the circle: This is probably the most frightening behavior on the lunge line. Your horse is bucking, rearing, or running around crazily on the circle. It may be that he is feeling frisky or frightened. Try and calm him by making a smaller circle and getting him settled. You may have to do this several times if the horse is really wound up or frightened. If he is trying to kick at you, he is not respecting your authority at all. At this point, I would free lunge the animal in a round pen (if one is available). You will need to reassert your dominance over the horse. There are a number of round pen techniques which are useful for dominance. I would suggest reading some books on round penning to achieve these results. Some of my favorites are Monty Roberts and John Lyons.
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