This last couple of weeks I have been watching Manolo’s assistant trainer Chantelle Matthews train two young geldings under saddle and on the lunge line. Chantelle uses lunging to develop these horses physically and mentally; and in preparation for a time when Manolo will work with them in-hand or with a rider in the saddle.
She lunges on straight as well as bended lines. Why? Because too much repetition makes for stiff and disinterested horses. Rather then lunge on a 20-meter circle only, Chantelle varies the lunging figures, incorporating circles, ovals and straight lines of different sizes, she also varies the gaits and asks the horse for different walks, trots and canters as this builds a fitter, more supple, elastic body. She lunges from the center of the circle or runs next to her horse on circles, ovals and straight lines. She changes directions throughout the session as needed. This approach gives her endless options for organizing the horses postures and building their fitness. It also keeps the horses interested as they cannot anticipate what combination of movement and gait she will ask for next.
One of the things she teaches horses is to be comfortable with a handler running parallel to them, at about an arm’s length away from their bodies. This will come in handy when the horses will be worked in-hand or Manolo will work with them and Chantelle in the saddle, and use his bamboo to enhance movements or introduce piaffe and passage. This preparation is done only in walk or trot as the work it is preparing the horses for is not done in canter.
Chantelle’s approach which she learned from Manolo is quite different from lunging that requires the handler to remain in place and turn their bodies on what is called a “diner plate” with the expectation that the horse must conform to the 20 meter circle, and must yield to the handler’s demand, no questions asked. It is also quite different from lunging that punishes bursts of energy or disobedience, puts the horse in side reins, lunges from the bit and makes the horse comply to the handler’s commands through increasingly strong action of the lunge line to demand downward transitions and a halt, and increasingly strong use of the lunge whip to drive a horse into upward transitions or obtain a bigger gait.
Chantelle’s lunging is based on the premise that all training is meant to develop a horse’s
independent balance and its willingness to work. It accepts as par for the course that a young horse will lose its balance before it finds it, that a young horse’s attention span may be quite short and that learning is a long process and it is the teacher’s job to make the classroom, ie the arena, enjoyable and safe for the student.
Like Manolo, she will work her young horses on the lunge line to prepare them for ridden work. As they progress, she will keep using lunging and in-hand work to introduce all new work, movements, transitions, etc… without a rider on. This will allow the horses to learn and organize their bodies at their own pace, without tension and without having to contend with the added weight and aids of a rider.
So, what did Chantelle do?
First, she lunged using a serrata with a single ring on the nose. Lunging from the middle of the nose ensures the horse does not tilt its head as it might if he was lunged from a halter or from the bit. Why is this important? Because we do not want to lunge with an incorrect flexion at the poll: It impacts the integrity of the entire spine and the horses’ ability to move freely and it hinders the horses’ ability to develop independent balance.
So, how do you know your horse is traveling properly on a circle or a straight line? Well, if you drew the circle it is on, it would travel exactly through the length of the horse’s body, enter through the middle of its tail dock and come out in the middle of its nose. The line would travel through the middle of the horse’s ears and its front and hind legs. The horse would have the same line traveling through the length of its body and coming out in the middle of his nose and tail dock on straight lines. You know your horse is crooked if its nose, tail dock, shoulders or hindquarters travels to either side of the line.
Second, she resolutely ignored bad behaviors typical of young horses and rewarded good behavior. Why? Reacting to a green horse acting up can begin an escalating spiral of will. While a handler will eventually get the horse under control, the purpose of lunging for wellness and to foster willingness and collaboration is lost. Better to use the voice to let the young horse know calmly his behavior is undesired, give a pat when he stops said behavior, and continue to work calmly and progressively, adapting the work to the horse’s mood until he is able to comply willingly and happily. In doing so, budding tantrums never fully develop. Watching the geldings, they seem to process what behaviors were desired and by the end of the lessons they were offering them willingly. In doing so they exhibited the following, very desirable trait: a complete lack of tension which resulted in good independent balance and good regularity in motion.
Third, as previously mentioned, to encourage the horse to remain calm and interested in the work, Chantelle lunged all over the arena in a variety of shapes from circles to ovals including some circles smaller then 20 meters here and there. She walked and ran with her horses and paid attention to their overall posture not just to the flexion running from ears to tail. She looked for balance. A long neck oscillating with movement, a good rhythm and a regular breath. She stopped often, stood quietly with her horses letting them think and offered a pat on the forehead before changing directions and mixing up the work.
Fourth, she remained patient, she was persistent and she worked progressively. (Three of the six P’s advocated by our friend Col. Carde of the Cadre Noir).
Fifth and last, she was not greedy. Often we talk about our horses being partners, but how often do we really compromise and make allowances for them? Watching Chantelle work, I thought how safe for a young horse the arena must feel with her in it. There is no loud demands for more of this or less of that, in fact there is no demand for more of anything but encouragement towards better: better posture, better balance, better rhythm and that in turn become more but it is given by the horse rather then taken by the handler. This is an important distinction because as I am learning, independent balance begins….in the mind of the horse, it comes from within and it can only be produced BY the horse, with the gentle encouragement of the rider/handler.