People ask me “But, what did you *do*?” to bring about the changes in Bryan and the others. Well, I did Mary’s work. I did Jack Meagher’s work. I put
on MSM. I changed his shoeing and his feet. I treated his tummy. We rode him
straight and forward, on the buckle. We did ground work and some clicker
training. We gave him a life that had clear and consistent cause and effect
while we worked to reduce his physical pain/s.
But it’s at least as instructive to write about what I didn’t do, as what I did.
There are two things I did not do with
Bryan. Both are common, accepted, and in my
view, very misunderstood and often poorly executed. The first one I will write about today.
I never lunged him. Not once. Not ever.
That's right. I never lunge horses. Sure, I used to, all the time. It was SOP in every barn and in every book and with every trainer I knew. I had draw reins, I had side reins; I knew how to use them correctly, knew the various theories about the outside one tighter or the inside one or which was better, the ones with rubber donuts or stretchy ones or plain leather. I had
Vienna reins and German
martingales. I knew how to lunge in bits and bridles and lunging cavessons and
halters. I could tell you the various benefits of the lunge line over the head,
over the nose, under the bit, attached to the bit, what have you. I knew how
and when and why to lunge; where to attach the side reins at which buckle of
the surcingle and when and why. I saw and participated in the LTD (LungeTillDead)
techniques at the hunter/jumper shows. I know it all, and I did it all.
But through the years, and all that study and work: the Jack Meagher book, the insights and issues I learned from the Tellington-Jones work and the Mary Debono work, and the *constant* soundness issues and soft tissue injuries and joint problems I saw in performance horses, the ‘benefits’ of lunging just started to become more and more questionable. I know it’s heretical. I know the old dead guys did it and the SRS does it and blah blah blah. I know.
But we all used the think the world was flat, that the sun went around the earth, and that thunder came from the Gods bowling, or whatever. And we learned different and now we know better. I think it’s going to be the same thing regarding horse people and lunging and side reins. In however many years, people will look at the practice and say ‘How could we have been so blind?’
The more I studied, the less sense it made. Just looking at horses, their structure and way of going, it is so apparent that they are not built to go in circles for any length of time. Look at feral or wild horses. They go straight. They developed, as a species, going straight. They don’t go in circles. Putting a horse on a lunge line as a way to work it, train it, build it up, what have you, is physiologically pointless and yes, harmful. And just to make sure I *really* put my foot in it, I am going to go even farther and say that if you *really* want to start a horse on a path to cripplehood, tie its head down while you lunge it. (I think that Gaitmaster thing is an instrument of the devil. I love the Pessoas, but that thing should be outlawed) Yes. I said it, and I know it is true. I read the endless discussions on the fora, the justifications, the explanations. I don’t care any more. Lunging in general and side reins in particular is not just unnecessary, but can be and often is harmful. Dr. Heuschmann knows it. Others know it. Others are figuring it out.
I see how people feel about lunging and side reins on the fora I am not interested in discussing the pros and cons or hearing why its ok if only blah, or because blah. The point of this blog is to show what is possible, and what was achieved, and how we achieved it. That’s all. We have had some pretty interesting results over the years, with many different horses. I didn't lunge any of them.
Suffice to say, I also no longer use side reins or draw reins, or any kind of martingale for training. Aside from the harm they can do, they *mask* what the horse needs to do with its body. Why would I want that?! I want to see *how* my horse is responding to the work I am asking him to do. That helps me know what is going on his body. I want to *see* when he cranes his neck, or leans to the outside, or falls to the inside. I want to *see* when he stretches his head down, how long he holds it there, and whether he does it with his nose out, or in, or to the side in an upward or downward transition. All of this will tell me what is going on in his body. If I can’t see it, how am I going to improve it? Correct it? Influence it?
Let me also clarify, and thank you to my friend Christine who rightfully asked..'huh?! what if you have a green bean at a horse show, or a horse that is wild at the new sights and sounds'? Well, in that situation, I would probably whip out the lunge line. But even still, I would certainly do in hand and ground work first, to try to get them to focus and relax. They are so habituated to that work at home that it usually serves to focus them when away or distracted. And yes, I would lunge a horse for a vet exam. And yes, lunging is an excellent way to teach the *rider*; you just have to be careful not to do it at the expense of the horse. But for training, and fitness, and developing a horse, no. Not ever.
So, other than riding them, what do I do?
I work them free. Sometimes for months without ever riding them. It all depends on how lame they are and what their issues are and how they respond to the body work, the hoof balance corrections, etc.
I work them loose, with no tack. But they aren’t just loose and galloping around. No. They are working. They learn extensions, lateral work, transitions, spirals. They halt, back, reverse, turn on the haunch and forehand. Any horse can be taught to do it easily. It’s not hard. I think horses really like it actually. They certainly become very engaged and interested. Free lunging allows the horse to respond to the work *in the way that he can*, NOT the way he is forced to. Transitions and reverses and lateral work can all be done in free work, and this lets the horse figure it out on his own, and as I said, lets me see how he is functioning and using his body.
Most importantly, I do this in a square or rectangle. NOT a circle or a round corral. It can be a space as small as 36 by 36, or as big as you like. As long as it has corners, it’s good.
Why? Think about it. A circle never gives the horse a break. Round and round, the same muscles over and over and over. Any human athlete knows that endless stressful motion is a prescription for a breakdown. But we never think twice about setting our horses up for these physical stresses. And not only do we force the horse to work in this way that is totally not natural, we *tie his head down* while we do it. Gack.
Working with corners gives the horse's muscles a change. It doesn't matter if its brief, its a change. He is straight, *then* he hits the corner and steps under *on his own*. Then he is straight again. *This* can build correct musculature. This is gymnastic training.
As you’ve read, he was a physical and emotional wreck. When we first started
free lunging him, his neck was upside down and stiff. Tracking left, he bent
his neck up and to the right in the corners and fell on his left shoulder to balance himself. By asking him
to do transitions in to and out of the corners, he was able to *find his own
balance*, step under *as needed and to the degree of which he was capable *,
and to get correctly stronger. Over time, as his strength and balance improved,
he could handle the corners by stepping under and lifting his tummy and lowering
his neck. And so his neck, and back, and tummy, and hind end learned to function
as nature had intended. With no confinement, no constraint, and no rider body
to mess him up. Transitions in to and out of corners are wonderful ways to strengthen and supple a horses body.
Horses love working this way. It is so interesting to watch them learn to do these things. I use very little voice. At first, they may ram around, thinking I’m Free! I’m Free! But they soon learn that I am there for a purpose, and that they are in there to work with me. It’s my time, I am in charge, and they are to do what I tell them. They become so tuned to my body language, to the lift of a hand or the stepping back of my body. It sounds lame and goofy, but it really does become a dance. You can set up caveletti, jumps, what have you. It can tell you so much about your horse and what is going on with his body, that day, and through time. Horses love working this way. It is so interesting to watch them learn to do these things. I use very little voice. At first, they may ram around, thinking I’m Free! I’m Free! But they soon learn that I am there for a purpose, and that they are in work with me. It’s my time, I am in charge, and they are to do what I tell them. They become so tuned to my body language, to the lift of a hand or the stepping back of my body. It sounds lame and goofy, but it really does become a dance. You can set up caveletti, jumps, what have you. It really gives you the opportunity to study your horse and how he uses his body, and if he is or is not getting correctly stronger.
These days, I have lots of cool therapeutic devices. I have pulsed magnetic blankets, a cold laser, a Revitavet unit. But then, I had a little Homedics hand percussive massager, and my hands. And a big square corral. Letting
work unconstrained, working on his muscular issues with the body work I had
learned, and riding him forward with balanced and unintrusive riders, with no
contact or connection, restored him to functional physical and emotional
There were some other things I will discuss tomorrow. But basically, this was it.