One of the questions I usually get asked is how to get the horse to stretch in the lunge without side reins. I will try to respond on that in this post.
First, I would just like to say that we use side reins. But we do not use them to make the horse bend his neck. We use them to teach the horse to seek contact on the bit.
When we use side reins they are initially so long that the horse can stretch all the way down to the ground. That is, the horse can lift his head as much as he wants. The horse, therefore, does not learn to stretch due to the side reins, but they teach the horse to seek contact on the bit.
On the video is Lucky Lady where she is lunge with side reins. I use the side reins to teach her to seek the contact on the bit. I do not use side reins very often as I feel the horses work better without. But you can see that they are so long that she can easily lift her head. If that were to be optimal, she would have to work a little more actively.
How do you teach the horse to stretch?
You start by letting the horse walk around on the circle and study how it reacts. In fact, some horses will, by themselves, begin to stretch. If the horse does not do this, you go closer to the horse about one and a half to two meters. Here you try to maintain the contact with the bit. With the whip you try to get the horse to move the hind a little out of the circle/yield its hind.
Keep an eye on where the horse places the inner back hoof. You want it to set the hoof in the ground between the two front hoofs. The reason for this is that we want the horse to step under the center of gravity.
When the horse begins to step under the center of gravity, the natural response will be that the horse lowers the head and neck.
If the horse begins to stretch, then you give it longer line, let it get out on a larger circle and ease the pressure from the whip. It's the horse's reward for doing the right thing.
If the horse stops stretching, take it into a smaller circle and press again with the whip.
It is important that the horse works as actively as possible. Initially, it can not move as active as it stretches, but eventually it will get stronger and it will get better.
When we made this video, we intended to show how to get a horse to stretch. Until then, this horse was difficult to stretch and she did not stretch as deep as I would like. Right this day, she began to stretch deeper and more consistent than otherwise. This is 18 months after we started training. However, I tried to show how to get closer and push the horse when it do not stretch and how to give it longer line when it goes as you would like.
How long will it take?
It is very different how fast the horse understands what you mean. Some horses may have some physical problems that will make it take longer for them. Others may have some temperamental problems. And then there may be those who understand it already after 15 minutes.
Normally it will take a long time before you can get the horse to stretch consistently. It will usually stretch for a short while, then it will lift its head a little and then it will stretch again. If it stops stretching, then there should be some pressure as mentioned above.
When the horse can do this in a walk you go to trot and then canter.
If the horse changes between stretching and lifting the head slightly, it is fine in the beginning. Of course, you want to get the horse consistent in the long run. And how long it takes can be very individual. It may fluctuate from week to year. It depends on both the horse and one's own experiences.
The horse on this video has been very difficult to get to relax. That is, when I tried to lunge him he began to run fast with his head in the air. This day he has been worked in hand before he was lunged. You will be able to see how he momentarily begins to go too run to fast and thereby loses the balance and goes too much on the forehand. One can also see how I attach the lunge over the neck of the horse.
Side Reins and chambon
If you have a horse that will in no way lower its neck and head then the old-fashioned chambon can be a help.
If you have a horse that tends to go behind the bit, the old-fashioned chambon is a better aid than the side reins.
The side reins may be good for horses who would like to bend to much to the inside.
Walk work is important
One of the mistakes I made at the start was that I wanted the horses to work in trot. I thought that would help them develop. So I did not do much of the walk and that was a mistake. It's quite ok to let the horse trot in the lunge line, but in the beginning the most important work is the walk work.
On this video you will see a horse that is not used to being lunged. You will be able to see how he is trying to go in trot instead of walking more actively. He would like to walk slower than I would like him to, so I have to push him a lot, but then he does work very well. Especially when you think about this is the first time. In addition, he begins to stretch. We make a shift where his rider Stine takes over. Stine has not tried this before. As the horse is not used to being lunged, he does not just understand that he has to go out on the circle. I think this video is good as it shows how difficult it may be, but it also shows that it is possible to do it.
Work in hand
Work in hand can be an extremely effective way of teaching the horse to stretch. If you have trouble getting the horse to stretch in the lunge, then I would recommend starting the horse in hand.
This video shows our four horses being worked in hand.
Older versus young horses
I like to start older trained horses in hand and then lunge later. Young horses who have not been trained, I would rather start in the lunge.
Keep an eye on the rhythm
One last thing I want to draw attention to is the rhythm. Watch the horse's rhythm. How does it look when it stretches and how does it look when its not?
Keep an eye on how the rhythm changes depending on how fast or how slow the horse is moving.
You want the horse to work actively. If it does not, it will not step under the center of gravity.
If the horse starts to run, go too strongly, then it will put too much weight on the forehand. The rhythm will now be shortened. The movement gets rushed.
Train your eye
You have to train your eye for what is right and wrong. The first time you see your horse stretching really deep while working actively forward, you will be surprised. Most people will think "wouw can my horse move like that" that's what you're looking for in everything you do.