University of Vermont AAHS

The Safe Lunge Lesson

Jan Dawson
President, American Association for Horsemanship Safety

[reproduced from Horse Show, September 2000]


UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES can beginners safely be taught on the lunge line? There are many critical considerations. The ones listed below are some of the aspects which, if ignored, could result in an accident.

1. 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 horse that is gentle and experienced on the lunge, it is not advisable. It is preferable to have an experienced lunging instructor. Suppose a young or novice member of your family is taught a 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 safety of the lunge lesson is greatly enhanced.

2. The lunge horse must be extremely gentle and quiet, well-trained for lunging, not prone to spook, 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. The lunge horse should be trained with experienced riders before ever being considered as a beginner lunge horse. He should be well-accustomed to side reins so that if someone forgets to lunge him both ways before the student mounts, he will not react with surprise.

3. The lesson 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 move, even with the point of his shoulder and to allow the horse to 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 arc covered, there are still some guidelines to follow. Even though the reins are twisted and the throat latch runs through them when the horse is not being ridden, free them and tie them short. Students should be able to reach to the reins; they feel more comfortable if they can. Always lunge the horse both ways in the side-reins as they will need to be adjusted before the rider mounts. If using a portable mounting block, have it removed before beginning or it will be in the way and a potential hazard. 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. Long hair must be tied back or netted so it will not impair vision

5. A round pen, if used, 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 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, except for vertical wooden posts, or widely separated metal panel legs.

Finally, it cannot be overemphasized that the safety of the lunge lesson depends directly on the experience of the instructor.


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