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HEY RAY!: Lunging is a large part of my training program. Most of my horses go around nice and easy, while some pull really hard. I give and take on the lunge line, but it mostly turns into a pulling contest that I lose. They listen and look good going around, but my hands hurt by the end of the lesson. Why do some horses pull and others don’t? How do I stop this tug of war?
–Wendy, Phelan, Calif.

HEY WENDY: I suggest you buy yourself a pair of gloves while you figure out your new approach. Like anything else with a horse, it’s all about the preparation that comes before that counts.

Sometimes learning to train a horse is a lot like experimenting with cooking. We sometimes end up with a delicious dish that we can’t duplicate because of the lack of a recipe. We end up with something we really like but we are not exactly sure how it happened. The dish we are about to prepare will now not only be simple to make but will be palatable for you and your horse.

The challenge here will not only be having your horse flex laterally without resistance but also being able to do it while moving forward through all the gaits with freedom. It doesn’t matter whether you use a lunging cavason or a halter. What is important, is that you use the kind of head gear that gives you leverage to make an impression if needed. Preparing the horse for lunging has nothing to do with lunging the horse. It’s easier to push the hind end away from you, than to pull the front end around you when trying to influence direction. When you are lunging, the horse is pulling on you. Pulling back only perpetuates the problem. Lunge the horse one or two feet away from you. The moment you feel resistance in your hand, push his hindquarters to the outside of the circle while resisting with your hands. When he makes the attempt to cross over and out with his hindquarters, his head will turn in toward you, releasing the pressure of the line in your hands. At that moment, feed him more line and drive him forward back on to the circle, but be careful not to unsettle him. That way he has a better chance of getting the picture you are trying to paint.

It’s all about getting that breakthrough. Continue this process every time you feel your horse leaning on your hands. This will teach him that looking toward you while slightly stepping out behind is more comfortable than leaning on the line. As he becomes more aware of the benefits of not leaning and pulling on the line, while walking or trotting closely around you, moving into a bigger circle should be part of the reward.

At the first signs of leaning, capture that pressure in your hand and — without losing it –simply reel him in slowly but consistently until he remembers the lesson. When he does, and he will, immediately put him back in a big circle. He will soon associate lightening up with big circles and big circles with being on the right track. This will become a self-rewarding system for your horse. Because bigger circles are easier to travel on than small ones, the horse will soon be motivated to do whatever is needed to be let out on to the big circle. Don’t attempt working at the canter with this exercise until the walk and trot are easy and clear for your horse.

Also, here is my answer your question, “Why do some horses pull and some don’t while lunging?”: A horse will do the right thing ( in this situation, not leaning) because you either intentionally taught him by explaining the value through an approach and/or system. The other reason a horse might do the right thing is because he simply figured it out on his own without your help. A situation presented itself with a challenge and the horse adjusted to it with the right answer simply by chance. When those things happen, we should feel lucky. The other way to feel lucky is to have a well thought-out system with a good approach and good, consistent practice. So, I hope you feel lucky in whatever you do.

Trust your instincts and think safe,


Horsetrader columnist Ray Ariss, husband to Pippa Ariss and father of six, shares his insight into the relationship of horseand human twice each month, in print and on www.horsetrader.com. He lives and trains in “Horsetown USA”, Norco, Calif., at his bustling Starbrite Riding Academy, where he currently has 50 horses in various stages of training, including Andalusians, Friesians, Quarter Horses, Paints, Thoroughbreds, Arabs, Mustangs and more. Ray attributes his training success to the support of his wife and partner, Pippa, and a system he calls S.W.A.P., to which he credits his multiple championships in several disciplines. His passionate understanding of the “human-horse” relationship was evident when he took on the challenge of training a wild Mustang and — in just 100 days — produced the highest-priced adopted Mustang ever — $50,000. Does your “horse-human relationship” leave you with a question for Ray? Click here to submit one!

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