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Qualities of a Good Lungeing Horse

By Kristin Hermann

USDF Bulletin Vol. XIX, Issue 2 /1992

The Spanish Riding School knows what it is doing when it requires novice  dressage riders to sit on a lunge horse for more than 300 hours (without reins and stirrups) to develop the rider's seat. Three hundred hours is a long time but this is a small price a rider educated at the Spanish Riding School pays to have the best instruction in the world.


At the Spanish Riding School, the older schoolmasters are used as lungeing horses. These horses are schooled to the hilt and possess all the qualities of a good lungeing horse. However, a good lungeing horse does not have to come out of the Spanish Riding School. Often we have them already in the stable but never recognized that particular horse's special qualities.


The idea to learn dressage on the lunge, before attempting to ride or train a horse on your own makes sense. Taking the time to regularly ride on the lunge teaches and improves balance, feel for rhythm and tempo, ability to time and coordinate the aids, and the skills to ride the horse without constraining or interfering with its three natural gaits.


Students who learn to feel unconstrained, swinging, elastic movement on the lunge, will be able to recognize what is correct once off the lunge. As a result, aspiring dressage riders can begin to develop good riding basics on a horse that encompasses good dressage basics itself, without having to go to the Spanish Riding School for instruction.


There are many important qualities needed for a lungeing horse that will encourage faster learning and/or improve feel for riding. Primarily, the lungeing horse should possess a good rhythm, use its whole topline when striding, have three natural and rhythmic gaits, be broad backed and balanced. The horse should take the correct leads when asked, and respond to the voice commands of the handler.


Three Unconstrained, Natural Gaits


Most important for a lungeing horse are three natural and pure gaits. The canter should be three beats, the trot two, and the walk four. As it is stated in the 1992 AHSA Rule Book [page 144], the qualities of a dressage horse, or in our case a good lungeing horse, will be shown when the horse's "walk is regular, free and unconstrained. His trot is free, supple, regular, sustained and active. His canter united, light and cadenced."


A four-beat canter, irregular trot or lateral walk are bad news in the dressage horse and the lunge horse. To learn how to ride, the student must learn to feel what correct movement is. The rider who learns how to canter on a horse with a four-beat canter will think four beats are correct.


All three gaits should be unconstrained. This means that the horse moves throughout its topline from tail to poll and is not hampered by either the rider's weight, rein, or stiffness in its muscular base. Once again, the rider will learn what a horse's free and unconstrained movement really is when learning on a horse with three pure gaits.


'Coming Through'


At the trot and walk a horse with good unconstrained movement will over-stride or track up. Of course, this should be expected of the lungeing horse. Only when the horse does at least minimally track up is it stretching throughout its whole topline and carrying the rider, as opposed to hollowing from the weight of the rider.


This is called 'coming through' because the horse's back muscles are rounding under the rider's seat and, as a result, coming from the hindquarters over the loins and back to the poll. 'Coming through' is the result of the horse taking a full stride, utilizing its whole topline with each step, and the rider's body allowing the horse through, and not inhibiting its motion. 


The short-striding horse that is not coming through may be easier to sit, but the student who pursues lessons on such a horse will not develop an influential seat, nor learn to recognize free and unconstrained movement. Any horses later trained by such a rider are apt to be very conservative in movement and lack the full spring, suspension and elastic suppleness that good dressage exemplifies.



However, sitting on a horse that is moving correctly and coming through is harder for a student because there is more spring in the gait. The amount of bounce or jolt varies from horse to horse. The quality lungeing horse would be a horse that comes through but is not too bouncy.


Steady Tempo


When a horse has total range of motion throughout its topline, and utilizes its three natural gaits in balance, the tempo of the gaits will be consistent. Tempo is the rate of repetition of the footfalls. A consistent tempo, of course, is vital with a lungeing horse.


A rider and teacher cannot focus the instruction if the horse is irregular in tempo. One minute the rider is with the horse and the next minute the horse rushes forward and the rider falls behind the motion.


The stabilizing rhythm of a good lungeing horse will not falter (well, not much) when the rider loses balance. Granted, we are asking a lot our horse, but if the stride remains regular as the student readjusts her balance, so much more glorification for this unflappable animal.


Horses that are not rhythmic are generally unbalanced and that is why they speed up and then slow down. A horse nicely balanced in both directions will have good rhythm and steady tempo.




The quality lungeing horse needs to be balanced on both sides of its body, traveling freely and rhythmically in both directions. The balanced horse should be able to carry itself equally well at the trot and canter in both directions and not rush.


If the horse is balanced laterally (from side to side), it will be balanced longitudinally (from tail to poll). As a result, the student will develop a true feeling of a balanced horse and develop as a balanced rider, too. The student who learns on an unbalanced horse will, over a period of time, start to compensate and ride off balance in order to help balance the horse.


Balance of the saddle should also be considered. If the saddle is off balance, it can affect both the horse and the rider. Check to see if the padding on the seat and under the seat is equally distributed on both sides.


The balanced saddle should sit on a broad back that will not be influenced by a stiff rider. Since many aspiring riders are stiff in their position, the instructor may utilize the rhythm of the horse's gait and supple firmness of its broad back to aid the rider in relaxing.




Any horse that has all of the above qualities, will also need to accept moving in correctly placed side-reins. With the help of side-reins, the lungeing horse will stay round throughout its topline, even with the stiffest rider mounted. This type of rider, however, should spend most of the lungeing lesson in a posting trot and have the sitting trot gradually introduced a few steps at a time in order to save the horse's back.


The use of side-reins is advisable not only to maintain the horses roundness throughout its topline with a rider, but to also aid in its lateral balance on the lunge. As with rider rein aids, the outside side-rein helps to maintain the horse's balance on the outside, and the inside side-rein encourages flexion.


Last and just as important as all the other qualities required for a good lungeing horse, is a horse that is happy in its work. This horse will show an attitude of acceptance of the side-reins and the rider. It will not try to nip when the girth is tightened, nor walk away when being mounted.


If your horse has all the qualities mentioned: three unconstrained natural gaits, a broad and supple back, unvaried tempo within all three gaits, and good balance with a rider on the lunge, then it not only has a good foundation in basic dressage, but is probably more than willing to teach some aspiring riders.


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