When most of us think of the dangers of lungeing, if we think of danger at all, we think of blistered hands, tangled limbs and dragging, and kicks to the lower extremities. The following details are from two recent lungeing cases in which two experienced adults seriously took this activity for granted, much to the detriment of a couple of children.
In one case two children were lungeing one horse. One was holding the whip and the other was holding the line. They were lungeing with a halter and line in a large arena before riding. The horse kicked, apparently as it was being reversed. It kicked the child holding the lunge line.
In the other case a three-year-old horse was sold to a 12-year-old child of parents with no viable horse experience of their own. The horse was purchased with a few months of lessons to go with it. The lessons included lungeing in the round pen without a lunge line prior to riding. The seller of the horse, who was instructing the child to ride and lunge the horse, helped the child and her mother pick out a “lunge line” that was cotton rope over an inch in diameter, only 20 feet long with an 18 inch chain at the end. When the child and her mother left to take the horse home where they had a stall but no turn out or round pen, the child had never lunged the horse with a lunge line.
Both of these children were kicked in the head. One of the children was 5’6” tall at the time of the injury. Both children sustained damage that would be lifelong; one was a severe head injury.
One of the instructors had not thought lungeing dangerous enough to ask students to wait until she was on the premises. The other made the statement that she could have taught the child “to lunge in 15 minutes.” Neither had bothered to teach their students either the dangers of lungeing, the technical aspects of lungeing, how to handle the equipment, or bothered to train the horse involved to safely lunge.
The critical factor in both of the lungeing cases was the fact that neither of these instructors took lungeing seriously. Neither bothered to even attempt to teach the kids how to lunge. Neither child understood the dangers of lungeing. In fact, neither child understood that lungeing was dangerous
Lungeing is one of the most taken-for-granted activities in the equine world. Yet it is one of the most dangerous. One only needs to look at two sources, the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) and Pony Club manuals on lungeing, to see that this is true. The USDF book requires helmets. When you realize that the USDF usually deals with adults and lungeing is done from the ground and this is the USDF saying that you need a helmet in order to lunge safely, they are saying forcefully that anyone can get injured badly in this activity.
If a trainer or instructor sends a youngster or even an adult amateur out to lunge a horse without appropriate training he should be advised that in the event of an injury that might have been prevented by a helmet and/or training he may be looking at some significant liability.
The fact that the horse is a western horse is not significant and the fact that other kids at a horse show are doing it will not help either. Those other kids may ride their four-wheelers and roller blades without helmets too, but most people probably wouldn’t let them do that at their house.
The best source at the moment for what to teach is the Pony Club Manual on Lungeing. Although it was written for English riders, that makes little difference. The horses haven’t read it and they don’t care. It will tell how to fit a halter and how to go about lungeing. The most important fact for an instructor or trainer to remember is that when the largest youth equestrian organization in the world (Pony Club counts 150,000 members in 27 countries and more than the 4-H in the United States) puts so much attention into this activity and waits so long in the program introduce it, there must be a reason. These kids are not wimps. These are the kids that are preparing to gallop over uneven terrain jumping all manner of strange obstacles and they may qualify to do so by the age of 14.
Lungeing is not part of the Pony Club program until the kids are quite advanced. Lungeing with a halter is approved only as part of the HA exam, not as a regular practice. Lungeing with a halter only fails to give the handler enough control to keep the firing end of the horse turned away from herself or himself, which is what happened to the two children mentioned above. When you are in a round pen the pen does much of the work. Lungeing with a lunge line is much more dangerous than lungeing in a pen. Lungeing should be done in the corner of an arena and if possible in an area marked off in some way to show the horse some limits. Lungeing should never be done where mounted horses are present. There is little left to say if the horse you are lungeing gets loose in a place where anyone is riding.
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