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Lunging? No one likes going in mindless circles!

Corrective ground work can be just as if not more beneficial than work under saddle for the horse, while allowing you to train your eye to see on the ground what you should feel under saddle! Make your ground work count.

The point of ground work is not to tire your horse before a ride or let them let out steam. Ground work, especially lunging can be just as mentally stimulating as any exercise done with our horses. And just like any other exercise, our horses should benefit greatly from what we do, if there is a negative effect or no positive change at all, take time to reflect on what you are doing and what may need to be changed to make it better for both you and your horse. The fun and interesting thing is that a horse can be worked on a circle and it can be a wonderful exercise for them, it can become so much more than just lunging, and the differences and changes to your horse can be astounding!


Often when someone speaks to me about lunging their horse it is usually accompanied with a story of how they make their horse canter or trot forward until they seem to relax, that the horse needs to get worked and get nice and sweaty, or maybe the horse was being disrespectful under saddle so they need to learn that they are not getting out of work so are made to work on the lunge line. Often lunging is accompanied with side reins, draw reins, or other mechanical devices that put the horse where the person wants them to be, but may not necessarily be where the horse needs to be. These stories lead to me cringing internally a bit but to also remember to remain objective because many people are just never given the correct tools from the beginning to be more effective without feeling the need to say, do or use certain things. People usually never want to do something that may harm their horses or set them back in ways that they do not know about. The education is just not there and is something that is seriously lacking in the American equestrian world.


Though these practices and tools seem to be the answer to many and widely accepted, they may not be the most effective way to help a horse understand what it is we are trying to accomplish. How can we be effective with a horse on a circle without micro managing their every movement? Well we do just the opposite! We allow them the space and choice to figure out their body on a circle, all while making light and minor changes to help them figure out their own bodies. I have spoken of this previously and of the power of suggestion and I don't think I will ever not mention it as it is so incredibly important! We must asses and see what the specific needs are of the individual horse and go from there. Is the horse tight in the shoulder, not stepping under with one or both hind legs, stiff in the rib cage and unable to bend, tight in the poll, dropped in the wither, avoiding contact, making a blob instead of a circle, running around like a racehorse jacked up on caffeine, all of the above?! How or where to even start? Well get out your patience potion and strap on your magic goggles that pick up any hint of subtle change and be prepared to commit! Your commitment and regularity will be key to helping your horse transform and learn to be more body aware.


When our horse is working correctly on a circle, they will b slightly bent through their entire body from poll to tail. This is sometimes referred to as a banana shape, I call it a correct bend. But if there is something that prevents a horse from a correct bend and causes discomfort, they will undoubtedly brace and this brace causes the entire body to be thrown off balance.


The below image shows a very incorrect bend on the left, starting from the head and it is very clear that the horse is bracing fro the jaw. This brace is transmitted through the neck, shoulder, rib cage and hip. If this horse were seen from a side view, it would most likely be going around hollow, stepping under poorly and tripping. The horse on the right is in a correct bend and is most likely soft, fluid, supple, powerful, balanced and coordinated. You can see in these comparisons how when the horse is in a correct bend, the vertebrae are all in alignment through the bend. In bracing the horse on the left is not aligned through the spine and has harsh angles and lines throughout.



Like everything else it takes lots of time and patience to help the horse find its balance and self carriage. But in the long run, what seems to take longer will not. You see with a proper foundation and sequence of progression it will be easier for the horse to move forward and will have such a well established way of going that it will transfer to everything they do. I have even seen horses choose to move better out in the pasture after having been worked correctively on the ground! Moving well begins to feel really good and your horse will get to a point where they just go there on their own, without your help or guidance. And this is the ultimate compliment to your time and effort!




Pictured above is a lovely OTTB I had the pleasure of working with for just about 3 months. I was able to take some progress pictures and videos to clearly show how he was evolving in his body. Pictured bottom right was his first ground work session. As you can see his body is full of brace. He does not look quite hollow, but his large and powerful hind end was incapable of working correctly, he was very heavy on his forehand, his thoracic sling is dropped, his neck is short and tense, he did all that he could to avoid any sort of contact on the bit and he was very tight in his jaw and poll. The bottom left image was about 3 weeks later. His top line, though still a bit tense was beginning to elongate, causing slight lift in the thoracic sling, and allowing for the hind end and back to become more supple and the hind end was able to work better. There is still some tension in the neck, withers and poll but it is a great improvement. The last and most recent image is the top image. With stead contact on the bit, he has transformed! His neck is strong and supple, thoracic sling lifted and he is beautifully light on his front end. his withers and back are supple and powerful as is his hind end. His stomach is tucked and activated. His stride is smooth, fluid, powerful and made to look like he is functioning with ease! With the issues this boy had, he worked through them beautifully in the time that we had together and has become a wonderful example of what corrective work on a circle can do for a horse. No gadgets, no force, just allowing for the discovery of corrective function and allowing him to work through his issues.


This can be achieved with any horse and by any horseman. There is no magical trick or tool that is used. Just education through observation and allowance. Another thing I may repeat on this website is that we humans often feel the need to control and micro manage so much in life and it transfers to what we do with our horses. But the idea of control in horse training is just our own mental construct, it truly doesn't exist! So I dare you to let go of that control and see where letting go takes you!

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