Having a lesson on the lunge line may seem like a step backward if one has been riding for a while, for years, or forever, but just about every rider can benefit from a refresher lunge lesson. Alternating regular saddle riding, rein holding lessons with lunge line work at different gaits can bring more balance and fluidity to the rider, but most importantly lessons on the lunge teach moving with the horse rather than out of rhythm with the horse.
One of the most difficult things to watch is back thumping, jolting riding, with the rider banging down on the horse’s back at the trot or the canter, the jog or the lope to create a tail twisting, head bobbing reaction in the horse. Why does the horse react badly? Well, it doesn’t feel nice to have all of that thumping around up there. As a rider who has ridden in this manner, not having access to a suitable lunging horse until Pasha was rehabilitated, I can tell you that my first lunge line lesson was enlightening, exhilarating, and exciting.
The lunge line lesson was one of the most difficult lessons that I ever had with Michael Vermaas. He had me riding in ways that just seemed a little on the edge. What do you mean put my ankle on the front of the saddle? However, changing positions this way and that way while trotting and cantering pulled my sit-bones right down into the saddle. One day soon I hope to be able to participate in my own refresher course – if Buddy is willing.
Even if the rider doesn’t have the flexibility or strength to contort while riding, a lunge lesson can still have great benefits. Removing the reins takes away one thing the rider has to worry about….later, if there’s enough balance, the stirrups can go also. Lunge line lessons must take into account the athletic ability of the rider in order to have a safe ride.
Things that help:
A horse who can be lunged at the required gaits, and who can take the sitting trot without problems.
Saddle with stirrups or without depending on ability of rider.
Instructor who knows how to give a lunge line lesson, or trusted equestrian friend who can successfully lunge the horse.
Patience and a sense of humor.
I also fasten a piece of leather or twine to the front two D rings of the saddle and make a handle…just in case. For a non-confident rider it comes in handy if she starts to lose her balance because there’s something to hang onto.
Walking on the lunge should encourage correct leg position, as well as head, hands (I have them put their hands in position as if they had reins), torso and back. This is a good time to practice stopping with the seat only.
Trotting: Some riders who learn the trot riding rather than on the lunge will slow the trot to a mincing bit of a gait. Trotting on the lunge can educate the rider about the different feels of the different trots. There’s trotting, and then there’s working trot, and medium trot, extended trot and collected trot. Maybe start with working trot with a forward movement and feet tracking up good. Posting or sitting can be explored – there’s a lot of education that can be had on the lunge.
The posting trot commonly seen is generally a large high movement. In reality the posting trot should be a low movement. The high movement comes from standing in the stirrups rather than continuing to keep weight on the thighs while allowing the seat to come forward, and it is also a result of having the stirrups too short. Practicing the posting trot without stirrups, or with very long stirrups, while on the lunge is a good way to get the feel for the posting trot.
The light seat can also be explored on the lunge, and is very important for backing a horse, or bringing a horse back into work, for warming up a tight horse or a horse who has been ridden in a lot of collected work. The sitting trot can be be much improved on the lunge.
Lunge line work means taking the awareness of the rider’s body and bringing it to the forefront of the mind. With a person on the ground to manage the gait of the horse, control the direction and speed, the rider can investigate how shifts in position affect the horse, and begin making adjustments to improve the quality of the gaits of the horse.
Transitions from walk to trot and back again, and even from trot to halt taking place with no reins can be extremely educational. First the knowledge of how to control the speed of the horse with just the seat, releases the mental reliance on the bit and reins for control of these things. Why bother with reins at all? Reins are a conversation between the horse and rider, a way of clarifying other information coming from the feet, legs, seat. Too often they are purported to be the brakes…and can function as such, certainly, however to get a flowing imperceptibly guided halt the seat is the largest factor to a good transition.
The improvement of the seat at the canter will be much appreciated by the horse. The hardest thing about riding the canter, for me anyway, is keeping my upper body still and moving with the horse rather than driving the horse forward with the seat. The lunge line lessons at the canter were extremely instructive as to how to do this. Again, either no stirrups or long stirrups, and for goodness sake’s hold on if you need to and try a few strides of canter.
A point to remember about balance is that 1) it is human nature to use arms and upper body to balance – look at anyone trying to walk across a log or a balance beam. When riding the horse, keeping one’s balance in this manner throws off the horse’s balance, and as the reins are held by the hands, any movement of the upper body or arms to ‘catch’ oneself is going to travel down to the bit and either ‘tell’ the horse something, or make the bit uncomfortable. Taking some time to spend improving one’s balance, and deepening the seat – or even for hunter jumpers to maintain their ability to ride in between the jumps is good for the rider, and is good for the horse.