Under what circumstances can beginners safely be taught on the longe (or lunge) line? Anyone expecting a short answer will be out of luck. There are so many absolutely critical considerations. The ones listed below are some, possibly not all, of the aspects which, if ignored, could result in an accident which could be followed by a lawsuit.
1. The instructor must have extensive personal lunging experience, not just experience as an instructor. She must have experience lunging horses in side-reins--one never lunges without them. She must understand how to handle the horse should the rider fall so as not to pull the horse over the fallen rider. She must be competent in keeping the horse under control in a way that does not distress, let alone dump, the rider. Adequate experience means several seasons lunging many horses under varied situations. While it is possible to hand a lunge line to a less experienced instructor with a super-gentle, super-lunging horse, it is not advisable. If there is an accident, even an unavoidable one, it is preferable to have an experienced longing instructor. For example, suppose a young or novice member of your family is taking the lunge lesson and a bee stings the horse, would you be more comfortable having an experienced lunging instructor holding the line? With an instructor experienced in lunging and in teaching lunge lessons, the competency of the instructor is less of an issue in the event of an accident.
2. The lunge horse must be extremely gently and quiet, well-trained for lunging, well mannered, not included to spook; and reliably trained to the voice; and not afraid of the whip, which is required equipment. The lunge horse should not spook if the instructor stoops to pick up a whip -- a sure sign that someone, sometime has leaned over, picked up a rock and chunked it as the horse to make him go. The lunge horse should be trained with experienced riders before ever being considered as a beginner lunge horse. A found pen should not be necessary for this horse to lunge quietly. He should be well-accustomed to side rains so that if someone forgets to lunge him both ways before the student mounts he will not react with surprise.
3. Lunging requires a proper web lunge line with a loop or stopper at one end and a swivel snap at the other; side reins long enough to allow the horse to have his move even with the point of his shoulder and travel in a comfortable frame; and a whip long enough to reach the horse's hocks. It is also important, whether in a round pen or small 60 foot square pen or a larger area that the surface be smooth to lessen the chance of a stumble and well-worked to avoid injuring the horse's legs and feet. An area smaller than 50 feet is too small.
4. If all of the above are covered, there are still some guidelines to follow. Even though the reins are twisted and the throat latch runs through them when no rider is present, free them and tie them short for no hands work. Students should be able to get to the reins and they always feel more comfortable if they can. Always lunge the horse both ways in the side reins as they will be adjusted before the rider mounts. If using a portable mounting block, have it removed before beginning or it will be under foot all the time. The gate to the area should be closed. The same safety check is required before a lunge lesson as any other, that is, all parts of tack, stitching, the same dress requirements are in place --ASTM/SEI helmet, correctly fitted, long pants, boots or lace-up shoes with a one inch heel. Loose fitting clothing is discouraged. No necklaces or hoops or dangling earrings. Be sure the student spits out her gum. Long hair must be tied back or netted so it will not impair vision.
5. The round pen, if you use one, needs special consideration. Lunging in a round pen presents other dangers that must be dealt with before any lunging takes place. The round pen should be too high for a horse to jump out. It should not be possible for a rider to hang a knee on the side. In a tubular pen, the safety of the lunged student's kneed depends on the instructor keeping the rider out of the rail. The pen should be either solid at the bottom to prevent a horse's feet catching posts or very pen, except for vertical wooden posts, or widely separated metal panel legs.
Cautionary Note: The debate over the safety of beginning lunging hinges on the experience of the instructor since it will be she who controls the horse and the safety of the round pen. There is no such thing as a completely safe round pen. Again, the safety of the lunge lesson depends directly on the experience of the instructor.
Excerpted from AAHS Instructor's Handbook of Horsemanship Safety.
Copyright 1996 by Jan Dawson.