To Teach Your Mini To Lunge
Teaching your mini to lunge has many benefits. If due to lack of time, space or knowledge you have a few obese and in need of exercise minis, lunging may do the trick. You can teach your mini to lunge reliably in 4 weeks.
You can teach your mini to lunge at any age but must remember overwork at a young age can cause damage to fragile growing bones and ligaments. The safest age to start is late two year old year or three is even better.
To start your mini you need a 15 foot lunge line preferably cotton. Nylon tends to burn the hands so it is best to stay away from it. Using a chain on his head is also not recommended due to dangers of him stepping on it and damaging jaw or nose. You also need a 6 foot lunge whip. The lash should be able to reach the end of the lunge line to be effective. In the early stage it is wise to have a helper. If you have access to a enclosed area all the better but a corner of a field can work just as well.
First have the person who will be giving the horse commands stand in the center of your circle with the lunge whip in the left hand tip lying on the ground but toward the direction your horse's tail. Your mini should face to the right. Have your helper hold your mini with a lead rope on the outside of your circle. To give your mini voice commands use a steady firm voice for "walk". Have your helper lead your mini on the circle. At the same time lift your whip at his tail about even with your right hand. Your right hand with the lunge line should be pointing at his head. After walking around once lower your tip of the whip to the ground and in a low drawn out voice say "whoa". Horses learn tone of the word so it is important to say each command in a slightly different tone. example: "waaalk" low and drawn out, "trot" short and crisp, "can-ter" use as two words. You can also teach words like "easy" to slow a gait or "up" or cluck to increase speed or length of stride. Most important is to be consistent in the way you give the commands. Practice with walk/whoa. Use the command word frequently while he is working. At first I say the command every other stride and decrease frequency as he learns.
When you want to go to the left have your mini halt, drop your whip to the ground and walk toward his head. Turn him to face the other way. If your mini tries to walk off say whoa, and have your helper stand by, to hold him until you get back to the center of the circle.
Have your helper give your mini some slack rein so you can tell when he starts to respond to the commands. When he seems to be halting or walking on as the command is given encourage him by praising him excessively. Give him time to respond. End your first session on a good note. (note: If your mini is fresh and want to run, buck and play it is best to turn him out for a while first. It is easier to teach him if he is focused on the lesson not in galloping around the field.)
In the following sessions progress as your mini starts to learn. Do the exercises in both directions. When he will whoa and walk on command have your helper give him one to two foot of slack rope. If he can walk and whoa without confusion have your helper unhook the lead but still stay beside him. When he is walking confidently have your helper step slowly away as your mini walks on. At first have your helper step back to walk at his hips. At the beginning he may try to slow or stop. Encourage him by waving the whip back and forth at his haunches and verbally the helper can encourage him to "go on". As the mini gets the idea the helper should step farther and farther away. This usually can be done by the fourth or fifth lesson. If he stops, turn around or is confused try again. The handler in center should encourage him on by waving the whip slightly back and forth toward his haunches. If he tries coming in on the circle or cutting corners point your whip at his shoulder, you may need to wave it a bit to let him know what you mean. After he walks, whoas and stays on the circle fairly reliably you can move up to trot. Say "trot" in sharp tone, wave the whip at his tail, cluck until he trots. Praise him generously and have him trot at least once around then ask him to walk and whoa. Once he gets the idea you can go on to longer trotting periods. At first keep your commands in order walk-trot-canter-trot-walk whoa until your mini gets to really learn each separate command.
Teaching canter is similar to trot. Canter should not be attempted until your mini is doing walk/trot comfortably. After a good warm up of walk-trot say "can-ter" wave your whip and cluck until he canters. Don't concern yourself with leads at first, just getting a canter. When he can canter on and in balance at least two times around the circle teach him to go on the correct lead by asking him to canter and if not the correct lead ask him back to trot and try again. Once he gets the correct lead on command allow him to canter on at least five strides. Only let him canter on if it is the correct lead. If he cannot seem to get that lead have him trot on as you walk in an oval rather than a circle so he will have 2 long sides and 2 shorter sides. As he is making the turn for the long side ask him to canter letting his head turn to the outside of the circle a little bit. The concept being it is the inside hind leg that starts the canter. As he comes around the turn his haunches are in the circle most of his weight on the inside leg that starts the canter. He should canter on the correct lead after a try or two. The lead being the inside front and back legs are falling more in front of the outside leg when it lands. The key to teaching correct leads is always ask for and correct any lead not asked for.
Praise generously for every small accomplishment. Wave your whip at canter requests. After awhile your mini will learn to watch how you handle your whip as well as where you stand and you will find verbal commands won't even be necessary as he will learn the commands by body language alone! Another helpful lunging technique is to teach your mini how to reverse on the end of the line so you don't have to stop and go out to him to change direction. To teach this your mini must be at least somewhat familiar with voice and whip commands. To start have your mini walk in circle to the right. You should have the lunge whip in your left hand up off the ground pointed at his tail, lunge line in the right hand. Ask him to halt by using your whoa voice and your whip tip should be on the ground. Switch hands so your left holds the line and right holds the whip. Have your helper turn the mini toward you then face the other way. Say "reverse" at the same time. Ask to walk and generously praise him. To reverse the other way halt and switch hands again. Your mini should catch on quickly and may try to reverse on his own. Don't let him! Immediately stop and turn him the way he was going.
I prefer to use a regular nylon halter, surcingle and side reins. I only use surcingle and side reins due to my mini tends to snatch grass as he goes around and was frequently getting his leg over the lunge line. If you use side reins keep them only tight enough so he can't reach the grass. To tight a rein will restrict his forward movement. If your lucky enough to have a round pen you can teach him in this enclosed area and you will find once he has learned the commands you can "free" lunge him with no lunge line attached. If your ring does not have grass all the better, no side reins would be needed. Your mini can come to enjoy his time on the lunge line and may play for his first few circles. I've found as long as they don't get too wild they quickly settle down and go willingly forward. Lunging a couple of times a week can help keep your mini happy, trim and healthy and if he is to go on to driving he will know his voice commands and make training a lot easier.
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