Spring has finally sprung, which means I am in the arena with some regularity again! I’ve been stocking up ideas and inspiration all winter, and I’m excited to finally get to put them into practice. Both of my horses are on the older side, and it has been a long winter layup for them, so we are starting out slow and easy with groundwork and lunging to ease their bodies and minds back into work.
Problems That We Don’t Know We Have
Here is a video that really caught my attention. I have been excited to try tweaking my lunging technique based on it for some time. Before you watch… the reaction of the horse when the handler changes to incorrect technique is one of my horses to a “t.”
(All video credit goes to the original presenter, demonstrator, poster, uploader, etc. I remain a humble surfer of the Tubes of You.)
After watching this video, and seeing this lovely young horse who moves and lunges so nicely devolve into the exact behaviors of my grumpy old man when the handler simply steps off on the wrong leg, I had to dust off the lungeline and give this a shot.
My boy’s story since his earliest training has been “he hates lunging and groundwork,” That label has stuck with him, wisdom passed along to me years ago from his previous owner. He’ll lunge, but not with a smile on his face, especially not at the beginning of the exercise. Expect some low-grade bucking in canter, pinned ears and grumpiness in trot, and a draggy reticence to move forward in all gaits. Historically, I have left groundwork alone with him beyond basic decent citizenship. He has always just been happier to work under saddle.
I am stunned by the results of applying the lessons in this video. Absolutely stunned. Like, I waited to call “confirmed” until I tried it again and duplicated my results. Three for three. I call that confirmed.
Keeping Perspective in Perspective
I do not have a horse that hates lunging, or even dislikes the practice. I have a communication issue. And like any problem in life, recognition of the problem is the first step to solving it.
This was not an easy thing. Like so much of horsemanship, it is simple, but not easy, especially working against fifteen years’ worth of muscle memory. I am slow. I am clumsy. I have to be present and deliberate in this new technique. I bobble as I catch myself stepping off on the wrong leg and “dumping my manure.”
But, as I apply what I have learned, my horse has amazingly become forgiving, if slightly distracted by the grass underfoot, and has not even offered to buck. He can tell that I am trying. I’m lunging him in the same simple rope halter and line that I use on my pony who “loves” groundwork (and on whom I am also excited to try this tweak), instead of the thick web halter and chain shank that is the default gear on the rare occasion that this horse must be lunged before a ride. I’m telling you, this is a total 360 degree change for this horse.
The constant learning curve is part of what has always captivated me about horses and horsemanship. There is never a point at which one has “made it,” when there is mastery with no more to learn. Horsemanship truly is an art; there is always more to learn, more to practice, more finesse to achieve. Our communication, our relationships with the horses in our lives, can always be improved.
What do you think, dear reader? Have you ever had a lightbulb moment like this? Solved a problem that you didn’t know you had with a simple change that wasn’t necessarily easy? Please share in the comments — I love to hear your stories!
I dug for more info from Chris Irwin. As far as free content goes, I vaguely remember that State Line Tack’s website used to have an incredibly helpful video library that featured him as the host, but apparently those are no more. YouTube has a few gems, snippets of his clinics like the one above, but I haven’t found any longer form lessons or clinic videos. I am very interested to see, hear, and learn more. I’m adding his books and DVDs to my wish list. I’m especially interested to hear more about how he transitions these concepts from groundwork to the saddle. If you’re interest is as piqued as mine, you can check out his website here. I get zero kickback for sharing — I am simply interested and spreading something I stumbled across that seems to work.