To Lunge or Not To Lunge
Tuesdays with Tony
Those crazy sticks that horses walk around on. It’s not a great design. Then you humans do crazy things like lunging. I mean, I get it. Horses worry about big cats, like me, attacking them out of nowhere, especially if they’re in a new environment like a horse show. A great way to get them to worry less about make-believe monsters is to make sure they’re a bit on the tired side. Lunging has become the preferred method for this. Let’s talk about why that’s not such a great idea for the long term soundness of your best friend.
Circles. All the circles
Let’s begin with the obvious. Lunging involves horses going around in a circle on a long lead rope. Most of those lead ropes are in the 30 foot range. For a human, this would be like running around on about a 10 foot diameter circle. Try it for a while, and see how it feels. I’ll give you the answer: if you are going to the left, after about 5 minutes the inside of your right foot and the outside of your left foot are going to get sore. Keep going and your knees are going to get sore. Throw in a buck, and a rear while someone pulls on your head just to see how that goes. I think you probably get the idea.
Lunging is really, really hard on the joints. It’s even harder on the joints when your horse is wild, and doing the gallop whilst leaning at a 45 degree angle to the ground, oh and adding some airs above the ground work. You can see where this could be really, really hard on those sticks they run around on. Add in a foot that’s off balance, and you have a real recipe for disaster. Shameless plug for my many foot blogs. It’s a very important topic, and that’s why I talk about it A LOT.
Options other than circles
I get it. I’ve seen what those crazy horses do when they decide the world is a scary place. I certainly wouldn’t want to ride them when they’re like that! This is a good time to evaluate options before it’s time to tame the wild beast. I hear trainers talk about the importance of transitions all the time. Asking your horse to walk, trot, walk, canter a few steps, walk, while on the lunge line is a great way to get their brain thinking.
Teach them this before the horse show. Don’t just stand in one place while your horse runs around you. Move around. This will make the circle bigger, which will put less stress on your horse’s joints. If your horse is a real wild one at shows, you may want to consider teaching them how to lunge in a surcingle, and side reins. This will give you a whole new level of control. A surcingle and side reins also help your horse work while lunging, instead of running around in circles.
My favorite option is the ‘not lunging’ option. There are lots of ways to do this. Finding the way that works best for you is key. My favorite is groundwork. There are approximately 8,432 natural horsemanship videos on YouTube. It’s a good place to start getting an understanding of what good groundwork can do for you, and your horse. I myself didn’t understand this whole groundwork thing for a very long time, but I now know it’s all about teaching your horse to stay calm when you say it’s ok. Yes, there can be lots of circles involved in that process, but these can be done at home, and in a controlled fashion. Once your horse understands the principles, there are very few circles, and you can “catch” the brain pretty quickly in even the craziest of horse show worlds. Hand walking for long periods of time around showgrounds is also great. It is low impact on your horse, but let’s them see all the sights and sounds.
Better Living Through Chemistry
Now, I know there are two definite camps here. One is, you don’t need drugs, you can get it done with training. I agree with that camp, but I also agree with the other camp. That camp says I’m old, and it’s really going to hurt if I fall off. Both are the right answer. If you have all the time in the world, and you aren’t worried about falling off, go with the first one. Time will get you there. If you are scared, don’t make a bad situation worse. Talk to my Docs about options for a little sedation. The key is A LITTLE sedation, AND spending time helping your horse understand how calm they can be. To be clear, I’m not saying that you show your sedated horse, and I’m not saying sedate the snot out of them, then get on. I’m saying a little sedation and a training opportunity can go a very long way to teaching horses they can be calm. This should also only be tried under the supervision of my Docs, and a good trainer.
Lunging is a great way to cause, and exacerbate, lameness. Make it your goal to do less of it, and work on horsemanship more. That’s really good advice from a very wise cat. You should follow it. Know what else you should do? Scroll down a little bit, and click on the subscribe button. All the cool humans subscribe to my blog.
Until next week,
P.S. Have you listened to any of the podcast episodes my docs produce? It’s called Straight from the Horse Doctor’s Mouth, and it’s absolutely loaded with good information, much like my blogs. Oh, and it’s free! Check it out here: Podcast
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!