Horse Lunging Simplified with The Circling Game
by Parelli Natural Horsemanship on Jan 12, 2022
Horse lunging is traditionally used as a gymnastic exercise to either warm up a horse before riding or to provide a mode of exercise and training between riding sessions. What if lunging could do more for your training then just exercise? At Parelli, we focus on connection first, and the body follows. In this article, we will cover the basics of creating more connection by using horse psychology in your everyday training.
What is Horse Lunging?
Horse lunging is simply the practice of moving your horse around you in a circle at a walk, trot, or canter. Typically, it is used to burn off excess energy before riding your horse or to do some structured exercise between riding sessions. Horse trainers will also use it to develop a horse’s balance at different gaits or to teach new riders who aren’t ready to go out on their own in the arena yet.
But there are so many more benefits, particularly if you don’t limit your horse to just running around in circles, but instead use the Circling Game. The Circling Game is one of the Seven Games used to build a partnership with your horse and is the best way to develop mutual responsibilities of the partnership. Contrary to the potentially mindless work of lunging, this game stimulates your horse mentally, emotionally, and physically and teaches him to stay connected to you. It keeps a softness in the line between you and your horse, and develops your horse’s lateral muscles while establishing your leadership dynamic.
Tools + Preparation
To play the Circling Game, or lunge, you will need a 22-foot line and a Carrot Stick with String. You’ll want to find an enclosed arena that has dry, even footing. We recommend that you practice all of the Seven Games at Level One first (especially the Circling Game on the 12-foot line), because this will give you and your horse the tools to communicate well when in the lunging setting.
How to Lunge a Horse Step by Step Using the Circling Game
Before you begin, you need to understand the objectives of the Circling Game so that you can guide your horse to success. On the line, you want your horse to maintain gait, maintain direction, and look where he’s going.
To accomplish this, you want to break it down into three parts, the Send, the Allow, and the Bring Back. Here it is broken down, step by step.
Step One – The Send: Visualize yourself in the middle of a clock, and the direction you’re facing is twelve o’clock. Now, step backwards towards eight o’clock, lift your hand holding the rope outwards to lead your horse’s front end, and send your horse’s forehand out with your carrot stick. Do not walk towards your horse for the sendoff!
Step Two – The Allow: Your horse should now be trotting. As long as he maintains this gait, keep your carrot stick on the ground and remain neutral. You’re simply allowing him to continue doing what you asked. Only wave your carrot stick or whip the ground if your horse goes back down to a walk.
Step Three – The Bring Back: Step towards your horse at one o’clock, yield his hindquarters by motioning your carrot stick towards his rear end, and step backwards as you draw him in gently with the rope.
Remember: When playing the Circling Game, you are not rotating around to follow your horse’s motion! Unlike traditional lunging, you will stay put in one position and allowing your horse to circle around you while you transfer the rope around your body.
This teaches your horse your leadership, because they will begin to understand that they are the ones moving their feet, not you.
Body Language’s Role in Horse Lunging
The Circling Game is a great way to teach your horse to be connected to you and seek out your leadership. As much as possible, you want to remain neutral when your horse responds correctly to your ask. You’ll lift your energy when you want him to speed up and lower your energy when you want him to slow down.
Mastering the Circling Game is a huge step towards gaining your horse’s respect, because it gives your horse the opportunity to offer maximum effort when you’re doing the minimum effort. Contrary to what often happens when we mindlessly lunge our horses, this gets your horse in the habit of seeking your direction and gets you out of the habit of micromanaging him.
Free Lunging vs. Lunging on a Line
The Circling Game (first on a 12-foot line, then on a 22-foot line) is a great tool to connect with your horse while also exercising his mind and body. But how do you lunge a horse without a lunge line? Once you have your foundation on the line, doing the same Circling Game at Liberty will add another dimension to your partnership as you advance through the Levels. Check out the Parelli Savvy Club to learn more about doing the Circling Game at Liberty with your horse.
Common Questions + Troubleshooting
While horse lunging seems simple, challenges can certainly arise! Here are some common questions around horse lunging and how to address them.
How to Deal with a Lazy Horse: Horses that are lazy on the line are often Introverted on the Horsenality Scale, and Introverts don’t want to move their feet. Instead of continuing to push them to move their feet, simply have them change direction every time they slow down. They’ll soon realize that staying consistent at the gait you asked of them will keep you quiet.
How to Deal with a Rushing Horse: Horses that rush on the line are typically Extroverted, so instead of trying to control them (bad idea), simply disengage them every time they rush by bringing them in, petting them, and sending them back out again. This is a great way to diffuse their energy without the conversation turning into a battle.
How to Deal with a Horse That Pulls Away: Check out this video with Pat troubleshooting a situation where the horse is constantly pulling away from his owner:
How Long Should I Lunge My Horse? When you first start the Circling Game, don’t focus on getting a lot of circles. Focus on getting two full circles in each direction at a trot before advancing to more circles at a trot and canter. Check out the Savvy Club for more information on advancing your circling game.
Where Should I Lunge My Horse? Where you lunge your horse depends on your objectives. You can start the Circling Game on the 12-foot line in a well-footed arena, but when you advance to the 22-foot line, you can pick a paddock with varied (but safe) terrain so that he learns to watch where he’s going. The round pen is great when starting the Circling Game at Liberty.
What If My Horse Stops While On the Circe? Don’t worry, you’re primary focus is connection, so just back your horse up, and start again. It is likely your horse will stop at your shoulder, or behind you because you’re no longer following them with the whip, and this is a major piece for developing the responsibility of maintaining gait and direction. Stay calm, back your horse up, resend with more energy, and go back to neutral.
Use the Circling Game for Better Partnership
Traditional horse lunging is good exercise for a horse, but the Circling Game goes beyond that by engaging his mind and showing him that you are the leader that he’s looking for. Incorporate the Circling Game into your weekly routine and watch your partnership grow with your horse. For more guided teaching on playing all of the Seven Games well, check out the Savvy Club Membership, where you can watch Parelli trainings, connect with Pat and other Parelli instructors, and learn alongside thousands of other Parelli students.