Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lungeing for losers

Kids go through stages. They thumb-suck, they bed-wet, they eat glue, but fortunately these are only phases. Riley is in a new annoying phase. It's the I won't lunge phase. He's been lungeing since he was a 2-year-old. I'm baffled.
Ri is not the kind of horse you need to lunge before riding, so till a few weeks ago he hadn't been lunged in a long time. When we had all the rain here in PA, the horses were all stallbound, and I started lungeing again. Or rather I didn't.

I'm a lungeline loser
Ri flat-out refused, and in the battle of wills I was on the losing end. He would not go counter-clockwise at all. The evasions:
  • He would turn into the circle and trot boldly into my space--I had to dodge him.  
  • He would bolt in the opposite direction and canter wildly. 
Either way, it was dangerous. My trainer worked with him briefly. She pushed him pretty hard for cooperation, working him on  a tight circle. He started kicking out sideways (at her), and I made her stop for her safety.   We wondered if he was lame, or hurting, but he was sound under saddle.

Rebel Riley
He was definitely challenging authority and using intimidation to get the upper hand. Now Riley is not a jerk; he's an easy-going horse, but he can be stubborn. I think his "challenging" behavior is more playful dominance than real aggression but when you're standing there and he's trotting into your space that's not much comfort.

The video below was taken yesterday. He is 80% better after a week or so of working with him, but here you see residual misbehavior--in four minutes he tries his maneuver three times, but at least he complied eventually. How sad is it that this represents progress? Oh well, he's a little better every time I work with him.

So what did I do?
I was at a loss, and I had no "strategy." I was scared, especially when he turned into me -- he was moving into my personal space, ears back, and I was never sure if he'd keep coming at me or would turn away. But I put Ri on the lunge every day. While I couldn't quite bring myself to escalate to a flat-out confrontation, I made sure he got no satisfaction from his antics.
  • I kept the circle as small as I safely could  and started carrying the lunge whip butt-end out -- he respected the butt end more. When he came into the circle or tried to change directions, I whacked him HARD on the neck (preferred) or snout (last resort). I tried to whack the left side to drive him back to his original direction. 
  • I stood further behind him than normal, almost as if I was long-lining, and I drove him forward with a sharp whip-crack when I saw his head start to turn inward (a sign he was about to misbehave).   The down-side to this is that if Ri did turn this position put me more in the "line of fire." He turned right into me.
  • If he managed to switch directions, I was too busy gathering the slack line and organizing it to react. But once I was organized I flipped the whip to the butt end, got in front of him, and whacked him on the neck to drive him counterclockwise again. That was a vulnerable moment--but if I did it right, and reacted quickly, he didn't get far in the wrong direction before being swatted back to the right way.
  • When he was going the desired direction I praised, praised, praised. I counted 20 seconds and let him stop (staying in the same direction at the halt) so that he got relief when he behaved correctly. I let more time pass as he got more consistent.
One look at the video and you'll see that I'm far from the confident authoritative lunger. But somehow we seem to have gotten back on track over the course of 4-5 days.


  1. Oooo, naughty boy Riley!!!

    I had a horse that used to do that to me and here's what I did that helped me a LOT!

    First - I round penned my horse to get him more responsive to my body language and got him doing inside turns, I natural horsemanship for these types of issues. I don't use NH for anything BUT basic ground work - I much prefer classical training once they respect space! (And Riley is CLEARLY not respecting yours!)

    THEN, on the lungeline - I ditched the lunge whip as it was just getting in the way and giving my horse a nice rewarding rest time while I tried to reorganize everything.

    I found a lunge line with a big old fat rubber stopper at the end

    I lunged in a small enough circle initially that when my horse started to misbehave I'd just throw the end of the rope at him and hopefully pop him on the tush with the end of the lunge line/rubber stopper. If they're forward enough they can't change directions very easily.

    I also wore a big loud jacket and made HUGE movements w/ my driving hand and made sure my jacket made lots of noise. I also made growling sounds.

    Also since horses like to stand and be comfortable make it more relaxed and fun for Riley to go his bad way initially and make it MORE work to go his good way.

    Good luck!!!

  2. It seems like you're on the right track...hopefully he'll realize he's not getting anywhere with his shenanigans and quit all together before long. He sure is a handsome boy!

  3. Naughty boy! Just when you think you have things down... horses they keep you humble!

    Until he's back to his reliable self consider wearing your helmet while lunging. Cutting in may get you a kick and best to protect your noggin.

  4. When my cockatiel went through his "terrible-twos" (at 6 months old), it was not pretty. Just picture a hissing parrot flying at your husband's face. It was SCARY! Thank goodness that is over, but not without some creative behavior-mods and a few nasty bites.

    You definitely won Riley over by the end of the short video. If I could offer a piece of advice, I would suggest that you teach him to move out of your space so that he walks backwards instead of you walking backwards out of his space. Practice this separate from the lunging exercise first, so that he learns that you have a bubble and he is not to enter unless invited. There are lots of techniques that work, if one were so inclined to do a Google search. This is a respect lesson, which I feel English trainers/riders should adopt from the Western world.

  5. I do not like the whole NH thing because of Parelli but I will say this, horses DO respect your body language. I trained my horse to lunge by listening to my body. When Ri goes to behave badly I notice sometimes (if not everytime-camera angle, I couldnt be sure) you are a titch too far ahead of his "shoulder line". Maybe Ri is a little more sensitive about that than other horses. I trained my horse to turn around or stop by stepping in front of that shoulder line, so that could be something...just offering my $.02 :)

  6. I don't think that just because he is sound under saddle means that he is not hurting. I don't think horses suddenly, out of the clear blue sky, develop a one sided hatred of lungeing that is completely absent to the other side. Just because you cannot see the soreness and because you don't feel it when riding doesn't mean it isn't there--he developed this behavior for a reason, and I think it is worth having a good sports medicine vet coming out to do a good once over to see whats going on. I bet you that he finds something.

  7. I don't think horses suddenly develop without any explanation a one sided violent hatred of going one particular direction on the lunge line. There are lots of standard ways to be naughty but based on my knowledge of your horse via your blog, he isn't a violent/mean/overly defiant horse, though he may sometimes be stubborn. Being stubborn is one thing, but I am willing to put money on this: whether you can see it or not, whether you can feel it or not, that horse is hurting and if you have a good sports medicine vet come out and look, he will find what it is.

  8. I've got a particularly troubled horse right now and he tore my rotator cuff on the lunge the other day. It's not his fault, but he makes Riley look like a saint.

    I have to agree with your comment at the end of the entry. You DON'T look like a confident lunger and I think your horse is picking up on that. You look like you're fumbling with the line and the whip and your timing is off. It only takes a split second to let your horse get away with murder.

    I'm glad you guys were able to work through it in a few days. It sounds like you've got his respect back now.

  9. I agree with Val. My horse was doing the same thing after we moved here. I stopped lunging him and did a few "who's the boss" lessons about body language and whose space is whose. I puffed all up and stared him in the eye and demanded that he focus on me and back up if I came closer. Also not allowed: looking all around the arena, sniffing the dirt, keeping his head craned up. I reminded him to keep his focus on me by shaking the lead rope, or if needed, thwacking my boot sharply with the crop to make a loud sound. After a couple of days of that, he agreed I was the boss, my space was to be respected, and that he needed to lunge when I asked. Plus, he was much more relaxed and at ease. "Whew. Someone else is in charge. I don't have to be hyper vigilant."

  10. I work a lot of youngsters and stallions. My first guess is always a physical problem, but he does seem fine in the video. That leaves obnoxious teenager saying "I'm not a baby anymore." He needs a serious lesson in respecting your space, but you need a serious lesson in not accidentally inviting him into it, such as stepping back. And, yeah, you better get your helmet on. BTW, I find it much easier to pass the whip under the line, but I keep my line a bit neater due to lots of practice. If he persists you may want to step up the tack by adding a surcingle and sidereins until he gets the message that he is not in charge.

  11. What does he do if you lunge him in full tack? I discovered that my horse is a perfect gentleman in full tack and/or surcingle, but when lunged w/o it, he comes in to the circle. He will do anything I ask him to once he is "with" me inside the circle, but doesn't want to go back out.

    I know his previous trainer did some Parelli with him, and he was trained very classically by a German dressage trainer. So I think he has come to associate lunging with tack/surcingle as "work" and lunging w/o tack as the NH stuff. If I take the line off and just free lunge he actually does much better when not tacked up.

    I rarely lunge him so it's not a big deal, but it was interesting sorting this out.

    I have found that getting quieter and more subtle works better than getting louder, but that's a 4-horse sample so not sure it generalizes beyond my herd.

  12. They do sometimes just test the boundaries. Nina is a lunging machine but one day she just took off, heading for the horizon. We were indoors and I managed to run her into a wall. Half an hour later we called it a bloody draw. The next time I lunged her she was perfect. I have no idea what caused that. Not fun at all.

  13. I don't think this has much to do with his age. My 16 year old TB who is typically well-behaved on the lunge line has been naughty this week too. I too am trying to incorporate body language into my lunging and when he starts to hesitate like he's going to turn I quickly move further to his rear and lift the lunge whip higher to drive him forward. This mostly works except when he throws unexpected tantrums with no warning.

  14. Dom and others, Thanks for the feedback. Ri has his share of transient inexplicable behaviors (grinding lasted about a month) that resolve. Dom, you are so right. And those of you who mention lunger body language, I totally get it in theory. I don't give Riley the consistent cues or the authoritative presence right now. Need to read up on what my body position communicates and how to modify it to be more effective. Suggestions welcome, we'll all benefit!

  15. It's total terrible twos. My horse is like that, too. She's fine for a short while, but when she's ready to be done begin the evasion tactics. It's a total dominance test.

    I agree with the other posters. They do sense your fear and your lack of confidence. But it's good you're correcting it now, because it just gets worse once they've figured out, "Hmm, if I act like this, she gets scared and I get to stop. Yay!"

    What's worked for me was a rope halter, a thick rope lungeline and one of those NH sticks with rope. I like the heft of a heavier rope and the rope halter seems to help keep her from pulling as bad. Also, the stick has come in handy oh so many times when my mare has decided to try lunging into my space.

    I don't beat my mare, but she has gotten a good thwack on the neck when she decided to run in and then rear up. My thought is if they come in close enough to get hit with that stick, they probably deserved to get hit.

    Good Luck!

  16. Some great comments on here, I agree with pretty much all of them.

    Do you have access to a roundpen? That way you can lunge him and work on your body language/positioning without worrying about that lead line. That way you can react and turn him back faster if/when he turns on you because you don't have to worry about tripping on the line or getting it out of the way.

  17. naughty boy!!

    I second (or maybe third) the suggestion to lunge him in tack with side reins (assuming this is not new to him). This will help him to focus his vision and energy straight out in front of him rather than being able to turn his head into you.

    In the video, it seems like the head turning towards you is the point where he takes over. When you get a smidge in front of his shoulder line, he turns his head and gets even further behind you. Then you've lost him because he's now entering your space.

    If you can prevent him from turning his head in, you'll have a chance of getting behind him again and pushing him forward to stay out on the circle. In HIS space.

    Lunging an uncooperative horse is hard. It's amazing how much we take for granted when our horses cooperate and make us look good!!

    what does the linden flower say? ;-)

  18. I'm not a trainer, just a fellow adult am., but here are a few tips that might help you feel more organized:

    - When you put your lunge line away, start with the a few feet of the tail end and then go over and back (like a big accordian pleat)until you run out of length, wrap with your snap end to secure. That way you can hold your extra line in your other hand with out any danger of loops.

    - If you're lunging to the left, hold your line connected to your horse in your left hand and your extra line and whip in your right hand visa versa.You can take up and let up slack with your offhand while you maintain connnection.

    -Hold your line like you'd hold your reins - shoulders back, strong elbows, closed had, grounded body.

  19. I can't help but wonder if it wasn't a pain issue also, but that being said, how about if your trainer stands in the middle with you and helps keep him from coming in?

  20. Had a longer comment and Blogger lost it for me.

    Just a support on the idea of wearing a helmet when you lunge. If Riley is going to be naughty, the precaution is a good one.

  21. Lots of helpful comments. I would add that wearing your helmet is not only for safety, it will make you FEEL safer and therefore be more confident. Honestly - try it!

    Re the Parelli comment - there's so much more to natural horsemanship than them. Take a look at Monty Roberts/Kelly Marks' advice on how to keep a horse out of your personal space cos this is what Riley's doing - getting in your face!

    Making him back up when on a line, sending him to the back of the stable when you go in and then inviting him forward into your space, or just sending him away from you in a confined space like a small arena (round pen would be ideal) and not letting him back "into the herd" (your space) until he's chewing and submissive will all tell him you are the dominant herd leader, the alpha mare! and he's only in the herd at your invitation. It's dangerous for a young horse to be excluded from the herd and he won't want to be so he'll soon get the message. All this translates into the lunge situation.

    Good luck - let us know how you get on.

  22. I also lunged Harv during the rainy time, and he reminds me of why I never learned to lunge in a more educated way. He's so easy! And he is so focused on me and cooperative. I guess it's one more analogy to having kids, they're all so different and some are just more challenging than others.

    The Linden Flower COULD be doing it's magic, as Riley has not been turned out in ten days and not really lunged either. He is an angel from the standpoint of handwalking, and I'ved watched my trainer ride him with the little bag of herbs tucked against the saddle. He's been very soft and compliant. Hard to say what that means, but he certainly hasn't gotten worse....

  23. I had this happen to me recently with my mare, although it was while free-lunging. Usually I turn her loose in the arena (when no one's in it, of course) and let her blow off some steam if it's been a few days since I've ridden. Then I'll often come in and lunge. Most days I use a lunge line, but occasionally I like to free lunge. On this particular day, I came in and clucked to her and asked her to move out, and instead, she came barrelling towards me. I didn't have anything to shoo her off with (I usually just carry her lead rope, which I will swing like a propeller in her direction if she gets too close) and I had to jump up and down and growl at her to get her NOT to run me over. What a surprise! She has impeccable ground manners. Well, she got what was coming to her: I chased her around that arena for 5-10 minutes, making her continue to work, asking her to change direction, etc. She doesn't do much licking and chewing normally (I never really have to get her to the point of showing submission) but she was that day! I appreciated the horse apology ... and the lesson in not assuming you're safe because your horse is well-trained. I'm 99% certain her behavior was intended to be playful; I think she was thinking of me like a buddy she was going to romp with. I just had to remind her that although she's my buddy, she's 10 times bigger than me!

  24. Haven't read all the comments but my first thought if he is reluctant to go a certain direction would be pain, or the memory of a pain.

    I teach all my horses to lunge in a roundpen first, with no lunge line, so that they are trained to the voice cues. Do you have access to one? To reverse them you use your body language, stepping in front of the shoulder even from the middle of the pen will get them to reverse.
    Out in the arena if they are being naughty and not slowing to my command or refusing to reverse, I simply run them into the wall:) Works every time.

  25. Naughty! He needs a few thwocks for that disrespect. Maybe he is also bored with lungeing. How much of his exercise is regular hacking and a nice long trot outside the ring? Maybe people talk about the training so much they forget to mention how often they just have recreational riding exercise.

  26. Don't have much to add than what's been said above— I would have to agree that (A) a helmet isn't a bad idea for a horse being that pushy; (B) hope you have yourself a good roundpen where you can work on getting his feet moving at your decree; and (C) you are doing right in administering the "thwacks" fairly and at the EXACT right now!

    Just stumbled across your blog yesterday and have enjoyed catching up on it. Write on and ride on, ma'am!

    — MA

  27. Just sharing my experience, so we all have more information, options, things to consider. My ottb never presented as lame or as having issues with holding one back leg up, however he very insistently - spinning, bucking, backing, bolting, kicking out- refused to ever track right on the longe. Finally called in a vet/ chiro and low and behold found out my horse has an si joint issue - when the vet explained it and manipulated that area it became rather obvious that the diagnosis is on-the-spot. Wish horses could talk - for a bit I thought it was behavioral, now I know he was in pain. Once again, he never presented as being lame. Just saying this if it helps one other person, I feel awful.

  28. I heard somewhere that you shouldn't be walking around when lunging as so many people do... Makes sense to me. I imagine body language would be much more clear when you're standing (relatively) still. Following the horse around while lunging could also be toeing the line of nagging. Plus, it would probably be frustrating for the horse to have to keep adjusting to maintain a good distance from you.

  29. Hi,

    YES, I've heard moving around is bad. Problem is I don't like putting riley on tight circles so I walk to make the circle larger. Okay, I also walk because I want the whip to stay in range while making the circle larger. I can see how it would confusing to the horse.

  30. My horse also doesnt longe as well without tack on and gets "more playful" and less respectful and I have to remind him who is boss....he knows very well how to longe and I was able to successfully longe him when I had laryngitis for petes sake and couldnt talk other than cluck or kiss for canter.....I was impressed with how much he still picked up on

    I was taught that the ideal is not to 'travel' around so much in the circle and to think of keeping yourself in relation to the horse like a triangle or piece of pizza with it not quite being equal on all sides and you at the back driving....if you get towards the front/shoulder then it changes the energy and my horse thinks you are either going to stop or change direction....

    I also use a smaller lunge whip b/c I can't manage a long one...for whatever reason I am more confident and more effective balancing the short one and therefore even though it cant "reach him" he respects it/me more.....I crack it on the ground if I have to near his hind end to get him forward....i also 'point" it at his shoulder to keep him out there and out of my fact having to long of a longe whip to feel comfortable is usually my number one thing about how successful I may or may not be

  31. This is where a round pen really proves useful. You have the space to get out of the way, but you don't have to fuss with the rope if you need to force the horse into hard rollbacks if they object. Additionally, it fixes the attitudeness.

    Once a horse is broke, you don't have to do it often, maybe once or twice a year. But a little refresher does wonders for respecting your space.


    I strongly recommend you get him under control and respectful of your space. Use as little force as possible, as much as necessary.

    On many occasions in that video, you backed away from him. A HUGE No No No... make him move. Do whatever is necessary - a knotted nose halter, shorter line, and show him just how much the popper end of the longe whip hurts.

    Don't end up like me, teaching your fancy horse that disrespect is okay ...


    Time to teach respect, and based on how ugly he's being, it's time for you to step up the demand for respect. Each time you back away from him, or let him stand to fiddle and orgvanize the line and whip, he gets a release for his misbehavior.

    NH or not, NOBODY should tolerate that much disrespect.

    Don't end up like I did - those hooves hurt ... Be VERY careful in a round pen, and learn how to pop the whip close enough that he knows you mean business.


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