Hot horse needs lunging or bad idea?

Question: My horse is a bit “hot” so I lunge him before to take the edge off. Some say I have to, and some say I will only get a hotter horse as she gets fitter. What is your take on this? I read about your sending exercise. How does this differ from lunging? I keep getting mixed answers but no real advice as to why you would choose one technique over another.

Answer from April Reeves: Oddly enough, a well-mannered hot horse comes down to good ground manners, not time on a lunge line. I often see some of the hottest horses that are still safe because they have been taught the skills to know how to channel the “heat”. Ground manners are everything.

I do not lunge a horse that is quiet, as I don’t need to and like to have the energy in the saddle, not burned out around a circle.

If the horse is hot or not joined with me in the work, then that horse is put to work until his lungs catch up with his brain. They all have a “breaking point” where they finally exhale and chew. Then you can go to work and learn something.

A horse’s individual characteristics play a huge part in the history you will have with your horse. Once in a while you get the odd one that needs to grow up until the age of 7 or 8 before you can really do anything satisfactorily with them. Others are quiet and consistent from birth. It’s all a game of give and take. You never know what you will get.

It’s also a matter of your personal skills. I’ve seen quiet horses turn hot in the wrong hands. Horses have the potential to be anything: it’s up to us.

I do like to lunge the individual horse that’s not balanced or has inconsistent gaits. It gives them a chance to learn circles before I get on. I have a style that incorporates lunging and groundwork that helps the horse from getting too much of one thing, or overstresses joints and legs. I move from lunging to groundwork to lunging and back and forth until the horse and I see eye to eye, literally.

The “sending exercise” tends to “shake” the horse up and asks him to think continually as you change direction often (each time the horse evades you). It’s a technique for horses that are screaming to go back to the herd or any time you need two eyes (their full attention). They will get quite tired quickly (as you stress them mentally), and eventually they come to know this exercise as a method of connection rather than a method of exercise as lunging can be. I find lunging to be more of an exercise method and the sending exercise a way to join up with the horse quickly.

If you just lunge a hot horse and do not use any groundwork or behavioral methods, you run the risk of having a fit, unruly horse.

If your horse is safe under saddle, why not try to ride one day without lunging? You may be surprised. Once a horse is safe under saddle, I ride because there is magic in a horse that has raw energy. You will learn to work “with” that energy instead of exhausting it. This is a turning point for many riders. This is where you learn real skills and you become more tuned into horses and their behaviors.

Try this link for learning the sending exercise:

If your horse is safe to ride (no bolting, rearing, bucking) then try it one day. You may be surprised at just how lovely a horse with “contained energy” is. Now you have something you can work with. Try it and let me know how it goes!

3 months later:

Hello April,

I wrote to you in the early spring about my horse needing to be lunged. You suggested I ride him without being lunged, remember? Well, I tried it, and now I have retired my lunge line! Wow, I have a new horse now! It was quite fun at first, like getting to know him all over again. I am more confident as well. He was a really good horse all that time but I just went with the status quo and did what everyone just did. Thank you for the advice and keep this blog going! I am trying some of the groundwork you suggest. We english riders don’t really use it much but I’m beginning to see a need, especially with some of the new horses that just came in. I’ll send them to your site for some training! Let me know if you ever do a clinic this way. Thanks again, Michelle, VA

One response to “Hot horse needs lunging or bad idea?

  1. It’s so great to see another professional emphasizing groundwork that teaches manners and builds connection instead of telling folks just to longe the horse until he or she is tired. And wonderful that the follow-up from the questioner demonstrates the value of that type of work. I so agree that longeing alone can leave you with a very fit horse who is hard to handle and no longer tires out easily. I suppose most people who have trained a few horses have made this mistake at one time – and hopefully learned from it.

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