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The Horse & The Lunge Line

When teaching alignment on the lunge, we first observe the horse as he turns around us. We notice that sometimes he “drifts” towards us, and at other times he “drifts” away from us. We can observe in these instances that the lunge line will at times dip towards the ground and at other times will be taunt between us and the horse. 

This variability in tension is what we refer to as an OBSERVABLE. This particular “observable” indicates to the handler whether the horse in on his circle line or drifting from one side to the other of the circle line. A deeper explanation of alignment is provided when we specifically teach alignment, but right now we are considering the relationship between the horse, his desire for comfort, and his ability to think for himself.

The foundation of the AlignmentHorse approach is that we help the handler to understand that he doesn’t have to manipulate the muscle mass of the horse and MAKE him do things for us, but rather to TEACH the horse how to answer our questions by learning how to manipulate his own muscle mass into comfort and security. This requires the handler to relinquish his desire to control. This desire is one we, as the apex predators of this planet, have trouble relinquishing at times. However, if we are to evolve into the humans horses are hoping we will become, this ability to let go is crucial. Horses are intelligent beings and if given the chance, they will surprise you with their discernment and problem solving capabilities.


So getting back to the lesson at hand. We have now observed when our horse, as he travels around us on the end of a lunge line, drifts in or out. What we are concerned with right now is not when he drifts in (which is discussed in the alignment lessons), but when he drifts out and tightens the feel of the lunge line in our hand.

In traditional lunge work the handler tends to want to confine the horse to just one place in which he asks for multiple circles in a row. When the horse drifts out, increasing tension on the line, the handler will be tempted to engage the muscles of his arm and back and prepare to protect himself by pulling. The arm bends to engage muscle and when the horse reaches the end of the line he pulls. We now have horse and handler engaged in a tug of war. 

The horse has now met the handler at the end of the lunge. In this scenario the horse will be more concerned with the pull applied by the handler, than thinking about the pull he’s applying. The horse won’t be thinking, but rather reacting to the handler’s action. We now are back into action / reaction rather than communication.


It is quite likely that the lunge is in some way attached to the horse’s head, usually to the bit in his mouth. Bits were originally designed to give the rider full control over the beast. We are certainly not against the use of bits, but only as communication tools, not as a means of control or punishment. Even horsemanship headcollars are designed to apply pressure to the most sensitive areas of the equine head. If we pull, we risk triggering the fight and flight response. And a brain cannot learn when anxious.


This is crucial to understand. To encourage the brain of the horse to find a solution, we must maintain him in a calm state of mind. If our horse comes to the end of the lunge, we want him to find only the force of his own pull, not a force pulling on him. If we use the example of a dog tied to a fence, the dog can increase or decrease pressure on his neck himself. There is no one else involved in the discomfort caused by pulling. He can release the pressure simply by stopping the pull. I’m not a great lover of tying up dogs, but it does illustrate this point quite clearly.

So now our horse meets himself at the end of the lunge line and it is not the handler applying an active pull from the other end. He will register discomfort in the pressure he feels, but will have a mind calm enough to make a judgement and then a decision. It doesn’t take long for most horses to realise that they have control over their own comfort within a new and uncomfortable experience. When the horse meets himself at the end of a lunge line, much like a dog will meet himself at the end of a chain, the respite from the discomfort of restraint rests with them. The dog can stop pulling and therefore stop the pressure on his neck. The horse can stop drifting into the feel of the restraint and step back towards the inside of the circle to lessen his discomfort.

This requires conscious thinking on the part of the animal, dog or horse. Once the excitement (eg a cat) has passed, rarely will you see a dog continue to pretty much hang himself. He will think of the comfort he prefers and will return to the safety and comfort of his dog house.

For the horse, he will have the chance to think his way back to the comfort all animals seek (including humans). For him however not only will he lessen the tension in his mouth, but also the tension in his body. When a horse drifts away from the circle line and into misalignment, the body suffers imbalance and tension. When the horse deliberately moves his feet back to the circle line, he moves his entire thoracic cage back into alignment. He will feel more balanced and stable and above all COMFORTABLE.


For the handler this is crucial. We want the horse to move back onto the circle line himself and not because we’ve attempted to pull him there. He will manoeuver his muscle mass back into alignment and will want to repeat this as he discovers its benefits. Eventually he will stop drifting out on the circle. He is now learning how to place his feet on a curved line and how to keep them there because he wants to! And not because we are making him! 

Horses make circles with their feet NOT BY BENDING!!!! But that is a whole other article.

There is of course much more to be said on this subject, but the human mind is not designed to absorb infinite amounts of information in one sitting. One brick at a time builds the pyramid of knowledge. This particular brick is part of a truly solid foundation.

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