Apologies for the slightly neglected blog this week. It’s half term so everything is a bit topsy turvy. I do have some good topics to discuss with you once my brain has had a chance to stop and catch up with itself – probably the weekend.
However, to cheer you up, I thought I’d write a short (ish) post about a new lunging gadget I’ve been using this last couple of weeks.
I’ve been lunging a mare, who has her own collection of problems, whilst her owner is injured. The mare regularly has back treatment, but due to her owner being off games there was a bit of a delay between physio sessions and unfortunately this mare became very sore throughout her back.
I had been lunging her in long side reins to encourage her to stretch forwards into the contact, and using transitions to help improve the trot and get her swinging over her back more. Which she was starting to do.
When the physio came to see this mare, she found that she was very tight and sore at the base of her neck and around her shoulders. When watching her on the lunge the physio noted that she was very flat in her movement around the withers.
The physio recommended that we used either a bungee or a chambon to lunge, rather than a Pessoa or side reins. I think the physio felt there was a risk of the mare being “tied in” in the side reins, but she hadn’t seen me using them. I’ve used a bungee a few years ago, but I’ve always felt that they make a horse go too deep.
A bungee is a strong elastic cord with a clip at each end. It runs from the withers around the barrel and under the elbow, before coming up between the front legs and attaching either side of the bit. It can be shortened at the wither if necessary. It works by applying downward pressure on alternate sides of the bit as the horse moves each leg. When they have lowered their head sufficiently there is no pressure, but still movement on the bit.
Anyway, I clipped the bungee on after warming the mare up. My first instinct was that it was very tight, despite being on the longest setting. Once clipped up there was quite a lot of tension in the bungee and the mare looked very much tied in. I had my reservations, but asked the mare to walk on. After a few strides, she lowered her head, releasing the pressure, and looked more comfortable.
In the trot, she looked like she was really stretching around her shoulders and over the course of two or three lunge sessions, she began to go more forwards and lengthen her stride so she was tracking up. Her hindquarters are still swinging as they were, and yesterday I felt I could see more activity around her withers and trapezius muscles, which suggest that she’s starting to use that area of her body better. I’ve also found her more responsive to me driving her forwards into a more active trot, which isn’t really demonstrated in the video because I don’t have enough hands to video and lunge effectively!
I think for this mare the bungee has been very useful in getting her to stretch over her wither and neck, but I’m not convinced it should be used as a long term training aid because she looks a little too deep to me, and I’d want to make sure she was stretching her neck out a bit more, rather than curling it down and towards her knees.
So yes, I was pleasantly surprised at how effective the bungee has been at showing the mare how to stretch, and I think another horse I work with might benefit from using it a couple of times. However, I would be careful to which horses I use it for because there are a couple of down sides to it. When first fitted it is tight, and I can see some horses panicking with the pressure. When they are trotting there is quite a lot of see-sawing on the mouth, so again I wouldn’t want to use it on a horse with a very sensitive mouth. I also noticed that the bungee can catch on their chestnuts as they move, which exaggerates the movement on the mouth and could cause a sensitive horse to panic. I checked this mare’s chestnuts, thinking that as a cob they may be quite large, but they were flush with her leg and not overly knobbly.
I think I’d be willing to use the bungee with other horses with the physio or vet’s advice, but I would be very wary as to making sure I knew the horse was of the accepting nature that they wouldn’t panic when they felt the pressure. Like any gadget I think the bungee has the potential to be misused. An equi-ami or Pessoa has a similar effect but I think you could introduce the idea of stretching over the neck with one of the other gadgets in a more step-by-step way which would benefit those horses who don’t respond well to pressure.
It will be interesting to see what the physio thinks the next time she sees this mare, and also how she feels next time she’s ridden.