Lunging With Two Reins

I’ve fallen back in love with lunging with two reins for a number of reasons, but in all the cases I’ve used it with there has been a huge improvement.

My first victim, I mean client, was a mare who has always struggled with straightness due to previous injuries, but is becoming much better under saddle. However I don’t find her lunging sessions as beneficial to her because she drifts out, bananas her body, gets a bit stuck on the track and is a touch lazy. I felt that she needed an outside rein contact to reduce how much she could twist and pull me out on the lunge. I also hoped that the outside lunge line going around her hindquarters would be a prompt for her to go forwards.

She was not impressed. When I flicked the outside rein over her rump and she felt it come into contact with her haunches she stopped, tail facing me, swishing it angrily. I let her tell me how upset she was before asking her to walk on, and initially I had my work cut out to keep her walking and on my circle, not drifting to the fence line. After arguing with me for a circuit she started to relax, and I felt she was straighter through her body and not holding her hindquarters in so I asked her to trot. Again, she grumbled for a few minutes until she aligned herself and began to move with more impulsion and efficiency. Combined with her circles becoming rounder and her inside hind leg becoming more engaged, the trot improved in cadence and she started to use her abdominal muscles and topline.

The next time her owner rode, she felt a huge difference in her mare’s vertical balance; she had a uniform bend throughout her body and had an engaged inside hind leg. The mare was also less fixated on staying on the track, which triggered my next lesson of working on the inner track, and my rider had more of a response from her outside aids.

I suggested double lunging to another client with her young horse who long reins well, but tries to turn in on the lunge. The outside rein will prevent him turning in to his handler, which means he can be taught how to lunge and then just lunged with one rein as required. This will allow his owner to introduce canter work safely on the lunge.

Double-line lunging a little pony in rehab has really helped her learn to seek the contact forwards and stretch over her back and subsequently develop her topline.

Then last week I decided to lunge a horse who I often school, to change things up a bit. He’s a long horse, who finds it hard to connect his back end to his front end and wiggles to avoid doing so. I’ve done a lot of work improving his rider’s outside aids to help stabilise the wiggles, and I felt lunging with two reins would complement this work.

This horse was the only one I felt was ready to canter in the double lines, and where I felt would benefit the most. You can see in the video how balanced this horse is with the outside lunge line supporting him.

Lunging with two reins helps bring the outside shoulder around on the circle, so improves the horse’s straightness, understanding of the outside aids, engagement and connection. This results in an improvement to the horse’s vertical balance and way of going as they use their body correctly.

So how do you lunge with two reins? Fit a bridle and roller to the horse, and run the lunge lines from the bit through the rings on the roller. The outside lunge line then runs round the horse’s hindquarters and into your hand which is nearest the tail as you stand in the usual lunging stance. The inside rein is held in your hand closest to the horse’s head. The horse is sent forwards with the voice, a flick of the lunge whip, or the outside lunge line against the hindquarters. Once you’ve got used to handling the two reins (experience with long lining is helpful!) Lunging with double reins is not that difficult, and has remarkable benefits to the horses when ridden. Definitely worth trying as a change to your usual lunging technique.

Teaching Leg Yielding

Leg Yielding is probably the first lateral movement you will teach a client, so it`s really important that you, as an instructor, explain it succinctly and clearly. I`ve done it a few times recently, and each time I find I miss out, or don`t explain an element sufficiently, so I`ve done a bit of research to collect my thoughts.

I usually begin a couple of lessons before, introducing the idea that the horse moves away from the leg, not just forwards. So I often spend a few minutes spiralling in and out on circles. I don`t tell them about leg yielding, I just work on keeping a consistent contact, checking that they are not pulling their horse round, and that they can use their legs independently. I sometimes tell them, if I don`t think they are already aware, that the inside leg isn`t always the one furthest away from the arena fence. This is usually a mind boggler, especially when combined with the words “counter flexion”. Cue me attempting to bend my body in demonstration.

The next time I see the client, and am planning to introduce leg yield I start off with the circles, spiralling in and then out, and then explain what leg yield is. Put simply, it is when the horse is moving forwards and sideways at the same time, producing a diagonal movement. It is a suppling exercise, and teaches the horse to move away from the leg. Likewise it teaches the rider to use their legs independently. At this point I usually suggest they YouTube “leg yielding” to get a visual interpretation of what they are aiming for. Two good ones are below. If there is a suitable livery or client nearby then I ask for a demonstration.

It becomes a little bit more complicated when trying to explain to the client about how the horse`s body is positioned – i.e. bent slightly away from the direction of movement. Then I move on to explain the aids for leg yield, and help the client position their legs. A lot of people swing the outside leg back wildly and wonder why it`s ineffective. We then discuss how the horse`s legs move, almost crossing in front of the other leg.

I use the riding school horse`s natural inclination to drift to the track, by starting to leg yield from the three quarter line to the track. Initially I find that most clients almost just turn their horse towards the fenceline and walk on two tracks. This is when I remind them that the horse needs to stay parallel with the fenceline. When the horse turns it means there is a problem with their rein contact. Too much outside rein and the horse turns; not enough outside rein contact and the horse falls through the outside shoulder and curves their body. This is usually my sticking point because the client struggles with the rein contact. I can also see that it`s pretty difficult when learning something new because you don`t know what to feel, so you can`t tell if it`s right or wrong, and you aren`t necessarily pressing the right buttons. We usually have a few attempts, while I`m telling them which buttons to press and how to correct themselves. Sometimes the client can be seen sliding to the inside in an attempt to push more with their inside leg!
Another common mistake, is losing the forwards impulsion, the client curls themselves into a ball, applying tension on the rein, and losing their seat aid. This encourages the horse even more the fall through the shoulder and curl themselves excessively round the inside leg. If this happens I send them off into trot to get some impulsion back and to reassess their horse`s rhythm.

After a couple of lessons or attempts, I hope that my client will have a light bulb moment. Either they feel the sideways step, or the correct feel down the reins and pressure on the legs. Usually this means that their aids become a bit more subtle and the leg yield becomes smoother. Once this is established in walk we progress to trot, by which time the horse is usually predicting the exercise and rushing to the track, so I revert back to spiralling in and out on a circle. Except this time it is leg-yielding out. I then ask the client how their outside contact feels. Hopefully it is more secure!

Another exercise is leg yielding away from the track, but it is usually very difficult for the client to set up counter flexion, or at least keep the horse straight coming out of the corner, so I don`t tend to use this when learning leg yield.

We can also discuss how the horse`s trot feels before and after leg yielding. I taught with a lovely, but green, horse last week, and in the trot work we did micro-yielding. That is, moving him around using the leg a step at a time, coming out of the corner, and it just unlocked him! He started stretching and lifting his back. Last night`s client found her horse`s trot more active and he was more alert. Eventually, clients come to understand how being laterally flexible can improve their way of going in straight lines, and circles, and them onto jumping. Hopefully by this point I now have their full attention and we can move on to shoulder in and studying the horse`s straightness a but more, and utilise leg yield into their warm up and improving the horse`s way of going.untitled3

Further Reading:


Lunging is an incredibly useful tool … provided we do it correctly. Otherwise it can enforce bad habits and horses can learn to “cheat” the gadgets we provide.
Initially, we all learnt to lunge to exercise the horse; be it when they are fresh and overly excited, or if we don`t have time to ride them. After all, 20 minutes of lunging is equivalent to an hour of riding … in theory. I find that if you work the horse correctly on the lunge for 20 minutes then he has worked as hard as if he has done an hours schooling; however, if he is just allowed to trot round willy-nilly then I tend to feel that 20 minutes is only really equivalent to about half an hours riding. Which is why we all turn to gadgets to help up improve our horses.

When training for the BHS exams we`re all shown the side reins technique, how to correctly fit them and to recite their uses off by heart. Now I`m not saying they`re useless, in fact they are very good for teaching the horse to accept a steady contact, but also a horse with a particularly sensitive mouth can be desensitised a little bit so they can be ridden more easily, or if their rider`s hands aren`t yet stable enough for them. I loaned an ex-racer who I lunged with side reins because she wouldn`t accept my hand. When I clipped the side reins on (really loosely) I used to have to run backwards and send her forwards before she started rearing. It can teach horses to seek the contact, but like any gadgets they have their design pros and cons. To quote Patrick Print, “plain leather side reins are the best. With buckles, not sliders, so you can make sure they are equal in length. Those great heavy doughnuts are useless as they bounce on the horse`s mouth. Neither are those ones with elastic, as the horse takes the contact they stretch and relaxes the contact.” Before my Stage 4 I could quote him word for word when he posed the question “What do you think about your lunging equipment?” Anyway, that is in the ideal world. Have you ever tried to get these plain leather side reins?

I tried a few times to put side reins on my youngster, and found that the side reins made him tuck back and lift his head up so that the side reins were loose, emphasising his already slightly ewe neck and under developed top line. He didn`t go forwards to it because he didn`t understand them. Someone suggested attaching the side reins to the girth between his front legs, to have a similar effect to a martingale. Which was marginally better; except for the fact that he started to pull upwards on them. So I stopped lunging for a while, I was better off lightly schooling him. Then someone suggested the Pessoa. It was enlightening.
The first time a friend helped me kit him out, and it really helped him. I used it two or three times a week all winter; it helped engage his hindquarters, but also he started to drop his head and neck, the wrinkles at the base started to disappear, and you could see his back muscles starting to work. Through the summer I just tend to use it once a week. I only really used the Pessoa on the lowest setting, but then I noticed that whilst he went down and lifted his back he also dipped his nose behind the vertical. On those occasions I would put the Pessoa on a higher setting for a few minutes.
About six months ago I took him in the lunge arena in just a bridle and cavesson, and lunged him naked, to see how he was carrying himself, and to make sure he wasn`t relying on the Pessoa. I was pleasantly surprised; once he`d settled and warmed up a bit and I was sending him forwards he dropped his head an lifted his shoulders and withers; over tracked, and his abdominal muscles were working. You could also see the latissimus dorsi and longissimus dorsi twitching as they worked. The canter wasn`t too bad either, as he had to hold himself together. If he`s not going forwards then he doesn`t work correctly … which goes back to the basic ridden training.

So now when I lunge him, I still make him work correctly, and he works hard, but I don`t use any gadgets, just the cavesson and bridle, then send him forwards until he works himself. The only thing I can`t improve easily is his bend; he has the tendency to have counter flexion on the right rein. Lots of circles, and making sure I keep the rein contact, and do half halts, making the circles smaller then bigger, and pointing the whip at his shoulder too. I also love using poles and caveletti to engage his hindquarters. How high do people put caveletti poles? The older riding school horses I tend to just lift them 5″ above the ground on one side, but with my horse they can be 2` or more on one side. It really makes him think, and when he does it properly his head and neck comes right down as he has to flex the shoulders and stifles. Moral of the story? Don`t be afraid of raising cavaletti poles to improve your horse`s way of going.

The other gadgets that are available are the Chambon, the bungee, and a tail bandage wrapped around the horse`s torso … I don`t really understand how that works. I`m not against gadgets in any way and think they are of great benefit to horses, but I also think it`s important that they are temporary, and not to be relied upon as it means that you are not training your horse correctly.
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