Everything in Moderation

There’s been a few articles circulating recently about the detrimental effects of lunging. But before we condemn lunging forever more, let’s look at it from both sides.

Lunging is coming under criticism because studies are finding a positive correlation between horses working on circles and joint injuries. So perhaps lunging isn’t the problem here, it’s the number of circles a horse does?

I’m a great believer in doing everything in moderation; the horses I know with the longest active lives and fewest injuries are those who have a varied work load. They lunge, they hack, they do flatwork, they do polework, they jump.

From what I can see, if you do a lot of flatwork and lunge a couple of times a week then this combination puts your horse at risk of joint injuries because of the number of circles the horse does. But if you predominantly hack or jump so ride fewer circles, then lunging a similar amount has less cumulative stress on the joints.

Then of course, there is your lunging technique. There’s the old adage that lunging for twenty minutes is the equivalent of riding for an hour. I think this is an important guideline to bear in mind so your horse isn’t trotting in endless circles for an hour.

Also, do you lunge continuously on the same size circle, or do you vary the size and walk around the school in order to incorporate straight lines? Do you use transitions and variations to the gait, or just keep the horse moving in their comfort zone? Do you divide your lunging session up into periods of walk, in-hand work, such a lateral work or rein back? Trotting for twenty minutes on a fifteen metre circle stresses the joints much more than a varied lunge session.

Think about why you want to lunge? For a tense horse like Phoenix, I find lunging once a week is beneficial as she is more likely to relax and stretch over her back, which is then taken forward to her ridden work. She can do this naked, and not having my weight or the saddle on her back helps her stretch her back muscles. Some people love gadgets, others detest them; I think they are useful in the short term when used correctly to help direct the horse into working in the right frame. This is something an experienced rider may be able to do from the saddle, but a novice rider can’t, and in order to improve their horse’s way of going and increase their working lifespan, they need help to develop the correct musculature.

For some horses lunging can be useful for warming them up before you ride. They may be cold backed, or a bit sharp. But this type of lunge shouldn’t be much more than five minutes. Equally, if you think your horse is feeling fresh one day, it’s safer to lunge and get rid of their excess energy rather than have an accident riding.

Lunging is useful for assessing lameness as it is usually more pronounced on a circle or turn. Also, without the rider you can see more clearly if it is a bridle lameness or not.

So there are valid reasons for lunging, and I think we can reduce the risk of joint injuries by not lunging for too long or too often, and improving our lunge technique.

We’ve already said that it’s the number of circles a horse does which damages their legs, so let’s change our approach to a lunging session to reduce the number of circles.

Start in walk on a large circle, walking yourself so that the circle becomes less round and has a few straight lines on it. Then go into trot and work on the same principle; some circles where you stand still, mixed with some wanderings. Use transitions and spiraling in and out to give variety to the circle. Use poles on a straight line to add to the variety. The only time I don’t do a huge variety in terms of transitions is when a horse is learning to carry himself differently (for example taking his nose down and out) or needs to improve his rhythm. But then I use wanderings to break up the circles. Think of doing short bursts of canter, and focus on improving the quality of the transitions rather than having a stamina workout.

After a few minutes of trot or canter work have a walk break, getting your horse to relax out on a big circle. When you change the rein, take the opportunity to do some in hand work with them. It may be rein back, shoulder in or other lateral work. But equally it could be some general ground manners such as standing still as you move around them.

I think my pet hate, and what I think would be a large contributor to horses having joint issues and a routine of being lunged, is when a horse is literally allowed to gallop round, fly buck, and turn them inside out at the end of the lunge line. These short bursts of acceleration and deceleration on a turn are far more likely to cause injuries than when a calm, well-mannered horse being lunged. Apart from the fact it’s dangerous to the handler, it’s poor manners and in my opinion a recipe for disaster. They aren’t working correctly, and you can’t check for soundness or any other issue, so the lunging is of no benefit to anyone.

I’d be interested to read more about the studies into lunging and lameness to learn more about the quality of the lunging technique, as well as hearing more about the study horses conformation, age, workload and routine, to see what other factors could be contributing to any lameness. Then we know if lunging is as detrimental to our horse’s wellbeing as is being suggested. But otherwise I will continue to believe in everything in moderation, including moderation.

Tight Throatlashes

I was competing today, and whilst wandering through the car park I was amazed to see such a number of tight throatlashes. Or throatlatches as some write. I saw a few horses tied up to lorries with their throatlashes flush with their jaw. These horses weren`t even working onto a contact and the strap was too tight already, so heaven knows how the horse felt once the reins were picked up and they flexed at the jaw.

I was always taught to fit four fingers between the throatlash and the horse`s cheek, and if in any doubt between two holes I usually opt for the looser one. As a horse works correctly and starts cantering the windpipe needs to expand so that the horse can get enough oxygen to perform properly. The purpose of the throatlash is to prevent the bridle from coming over the horse`s ears in an accident, not to control the horse.

I did a bit of internet research to see what everyone else`s opinions are, and many people seem to be confused between the fitting of the noseband and the throatlash. This seems to be a detrimental mistake for the horse, as it can mean the difference being able to breathe properly and opening the mouth. 

In my reading I also saw a few more “fittings” , which mainly concerned the noseband. My Pony manuals told me that I should be able to fit two fingers between the cavesson noseband and the pony. Nowadays however, the trend seems to be one finger. And of course we have a choice of many different types of noseband, which all apply pressure in different parts of the horse`s face. I`m not saying it`s wrong or right, but I find with Otis a tight noseband, either cavesson or flash, creates tension in his jaw. After all, the purpose of the noseband is not to strap the mouth closed, rather encourage it to not open widely and to help with control. If the jaw is stopped from opening then the horse cannot relax; this is highlighted in the fact Otis licks his lips when he`s concentrating. If he wants to do that and he still performs well then I don`t mind!

Other forums mentioned having the flash so tight you can`t put a single finger between it and the nose. Again, to me this seems far too tight to be comfortable for the horse. Can you imagine galloping across country with someone pinching your nose?

I think what I`m trying to say here, was that I am surprised how many horse owner`s don`t seem to realise how they jeopardise their horse`s health and comfort by over tightening their tack and can hinder their performance. Perhaps it`s people taking the golden rules and adjusting them to a certain pony or horse but have forgotten to revert to the golden rules on other horses, which has resulted in tack being fitted incorrectly. Perhaps bridles or tack should be sold with a fitting guide booklet?It needn`t be big, but should just point people into the right direction. After all, if you`re told to buy a breastplate as your saddle slides back yet you don`t know how to fit it properly how do you know if the saddle is prevented from sliding back? In the worst case scenario the saddle slides back even with the breastplate on and there`s an accident. There`s so many options for tack nowadays that it is impossible to know the correct fitting and measurement for all of them, so a fitting guide would serve as a useful educating tool, as well as reminding owners to have a regular check of the way their tack sits on their horse.


Judging Coloured Classes

We went to the Royal Welsh Show today and after walking through the trade stands we stopped by one of the rings with an ice cream. Being judged was an in-hand Coloured Horse Class so we sat down to watch.

It occurred to me, as we watched, that a coloured class is very difficult to judge. For instance, there were two miniature coloured Shetlands, a 17.2hh piebald sports horse, several gypsy cobs and all range of colours in the ring today.

If you were asked to judge a Hunter class you would just need to be on the ball about the type of horse a hunter is. Yes there will be a couple of breeds, but you look at quality of movement, conformation, temperament and rideability. You are looking for the horse you most want to take on a days hunt.

If you are judging a breed class, be it Welsh Pony or Highland, you are looking for the horse which is most correct to the breed specifications; i.e. conformation, size, way of going etc.

So going back to the coloured class today. What exactly is the judge looking for? The ideal conformation will vary on whether she’s looking at a part thoroughbred or a gypsy cob. This means the judge needs to know a lot about all different types of horses. The horses action and way of going will also depend on whether he’s been bred to draw a cart or be a sports horse. Likewise, the temperament will vary as a cart horse needs to be more sedate and sturdy than the alert competition horse.

Then of course is the colouring or markings of the horse. This is completely down to judges preference, which I find hard as some people prefer piebalds over skewbalds or palomino pintos, or Appaloosas over tobianos. Then some people like a horse to be predominately white and others like large patches of colour. Others like faces to be symmetrical or to have “normal” markings such as a blaze or star. How much should the markings on a horse affect their placing in a coloured class? In theory it should be the biggest factor because that is the name of the class.

I’m not sure how the judge chose today’s winners as I personally didn’t like some of the markings or types that were in the front row. I’m sure it leads to a very biased, grey area with lots of disputes over placings, particularly in qualifying classes. So should coloured classes start to split themselves into height or type? This would make the judges job easier as they wouldn’t be looking at such a motley crew, and then competitors would be on a more even keel because the judge is clued up and has a more specific criteria to judge the animals on.

All I know is that I wouldn’t have liked to judge today’s class as it was full of so much variety and influencing factors.