As both a rider and trainer of your horse, one of your responsibilities is to help your horse build responsibility. In order for riders and their horses to take their training further, both sides of the team need to show up and work together. This cannot happen if we, the riders, are trying to control all of the moving parts. And so, this can bring up a few questions for riders…
How can I begin to help my horse work ‘with’ me, rather than just ‘for’ me? And how can I develop his confidence so that he feels ready to take on some of the responsibility?
Now, I believe that the responsible way to do this is to be consistent and invest time. I also think that this part of the learning should be approached in a few different ways. In the saddle, on the ground, and on the lunge or long lines. This way we can both explain, allow, and respond to our horses from lots of different perspectives. And this, in turn, allows them more opportunities to develop their ‘responsibility muscle’.
Recently I spoke about how to begin doing this while riding. You can read or listen to that article/episode HERE. However, today, I want to dive into a personal favorite of mine; lunging.
The Rider’s Responsibility
Let’s start this conversation by saying the obvious… Before you can expect your horse to begin taking responsibility, it’s important that you do this first. In my experience, the most successful way to train horses is to ‘model’ what we expect from them. In this case, that is a personal responsibility for their role in the overall conversation and work. So, you must ‘show up’ first…
This begins with the understanding that lunging is not just running in circles. It is an opportunity to introduce, develop, and refine aids and responses between horse and rider
So, it makes sense that before you can truly begin focusing on your horse taking care of his own stuff, you must first ensure that you’re both on the same page regarding expectations and communication.
Once you have established the basics in your lunging, you can then start working on delegating some of the responsibility for the work to your horse
The Horse’s Responsibility
So, once there is a basic level of understanding regarding basic communication while lunging, you can begin going a little deeper with your horse. Often this is simply beginning to expect a little ‘more’ from your horse. Tweaking those expectations slightly creates slightly different outcomes and results.
Some of the specific ways you can begin this work are:-
- More responsiveness to increasingly more subtle aids (this requires your horse to pay greater attention)
- Greater accuracy regarding where and when (increased ‘body control’ and, again, more attention)
- Maintaining rhythm for longer periods (working alone without constant input)
- Larger circles (working more independently from you)
- More accurate circles in open spaces (developing true straightness through the body)
- Accuracy & rhythm over ground poles (increased physical abilities and concentration)
- Self-carriage and collection (physical and mental development)
Now, obviously, this is not a definitive list; there are many other opportunities for your horse while lunging to develop responsibility, however, these are probably the most obvious. Today, I want to dive a little deeper into one of these. My hope is to demonstrate how versatile this is and how it truly does develop personal responsibility in your horse.
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD a printable version of this article now, so that you can refer back to this list over the coming weeks and months to help you plan your training with your horse.
Working on Larger Circles
Often, when we initially begin lunging a horse for the first time, the circle can get big pretty quickly. However, this is generally due to the horse going faster, larger, and wider as he explores this new way of working together; exuberance rather than focused work! This is why I generally suggest getting started with lunging in a more enclosed space.
It is really important that you are not using the lunge line, the contact, to keep your horse in the circle. This will instantly close the door on any true work and connection begin achieved
So, that being said, the larger circles I am referring to here are intentional ones. Where, you actually ask your horse to move further away from you while on the circle, and he happily responds and obliges.
It is key to understand, at this point, that you are not achieving this bigger circle by you standing still… You must be an active participant in lunging. The amount of lunge line between you and your horse has simply increased
Working in Open Spaces
When your horse is willing to work more independently from you, while still listening for and responding to your aids, it is a sign that he has developed greater confidence in both of you. And this is where you can begin to apply other intentions to your training session together. I would start by opening up the space you are working with.
By removing the outside boundary, you are also removing an artificial aid – and you can only do this when your natural aids are being understood and respected
By being able to effectively work with your horse in an open space, you have proven that your horse can be responsible for his part in the conversation as a whole. This is an important milestone when working with horses. And for him to do this while maintaining that space between both of you; that is developing independence as well.
The more independent and responsible your horse becomes, the more he can add to the ongoing conversation that’s happening between you. On the ground, on the lunge, and in the saddle
Lunging to Build Responsibility
Anything great that took time to build, required someone who maintained focus while getting there. When it comes to you and your horse, this will be one of your responsibilities inside your partnership together. It will be up to you to create the plans and set the intentions.
By choosing something specific to work on each lunging session, you will help your horse to develop more confidence in his own abilities – and in yours.
You can download this article so that you can keep the list above to use to help you plan by CLICKING HERE. And then, from there, just show up and be consistent. If part of your responsibility is to model what you desire for your horse, start there🙂
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