Jane van Lennep answers:
It sounds as if you have made good progress so far. I am a great believer in the benefits of lungeing for the following reasons:
- It helps to get the young horse fit and his muscles conditioned, so he is better able to carry a rider.
- It is good discipline, achieved without any fear or aggression.
- You are able to watch the horse working and assess how he is going.
- The horse is encouraged to work away from you, helping to build independence.
- Careful use of correctly fitted side reins encourages better fitness, due to working the horse in a good outline.
- And it can help acceptance of the bit.
Make it interesting
However, it is important that the person lungeing is experienced and that he/she can handle all the equipment equally on each rein. The horse should not be drilled around in a boring way, so that it becomes mindless! Plenty of transitions and moving the circle around the school, for instance, will make lungeing a more worthwhile activity. Equally, you need to maintain a gait for long enough for the horse to find and maintain a steady rhythm.
Acceptance is key
Once she has accepted being lunged, you can gradually get her used to all of the tack. At first, run up the stirrups and wind the leathers around with the end through the loop, so that it isn’t possible for them to come down.
Then lunge her with the stirrups down, but always so that the irons are well above her elbows. It will hurt if she bangs her elbows and also, if they are too low, it is quite possible that a hind hoof could become caught, should she cow-kick at the stirrups. I know that this sounds very unlikely, but I have had it happen – many years ago!
This will help you prepare her for backing. I think you are right and very wise to delay this until she is four years of age, especially as she is finding it particularly challenging at the moment.
Your filly is especially lucky that you are giving her a good life and a caring start to her ridden career. Keep up the good work!