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Cavaletti – working on a lunge

Published: 2015-09-02 08:15:25 Categories: Guides Rss feed

Cavaletti – working on a lunge Background picture:

Advantages of working with a lunge

Lunging is a great method for relaxing and exercising your horse. What is more, it helps developing clear gaits, extends the proper musculature, but also teaches obedience - thereby it gives the possibility to correct the difficult horses, and also those with some defects of physique and those who are "wrongly" ridden.

Working on a lunge with the use of cavaletti improves actions of the back, pace of a gait, builds the horse's steps consciousness, and also diversifies the training. Another advantage is the possibility of eliminating one-sided stiffness of thorax and the horse's neck. While working on a circle, the inner side of the steed becomes "concave", and the outer side - along with the muscles of the neck and thorax are"lengthening". These kind of exercises force our horse to put his inner hinder leg deeper, at the same time he has to shift a larger weight.

Ground poles excellently support training of lengthening and shortening lunge in all three gaits. It happens without setting obstacles, because according to our will the horse might ride on cavalettis closer to us - on a smaller circle, or farther from us - on a bigger circle, at the same time changing the length of his steps minding various spacings between the poles.

Lengthening and shortening the steps

A few words about the mere lunging

Preparing the rider 

I hope that we're reminding the obvious and well-known to everybody matters. The lunging one should:

  • wear proper shoes, with hard soles and no spurs
  • wear durable, properly fit gloves
  • wear helmet while working with young and inexperienced horses

Preparing the horse 

We have to equip our horse with:

  • properly fit boots or wrappers for all four legs, which would not slip while working on the ground poles
  • belt for lunging under which there will be a thick pad, or saddle pad with underlay (if you don't posses either, a good idea will be to fold a saddle pad in half, like in the below video) or a saddle with pad and lifted stirrups so they wouldn't bruise the horse's sides while exercising 
  • bridles with reins hooked on the throat latch (or put over a saddle and attached with the use of stirrups) 
  • bit that allows to chew, which increases the production of saliva and relaxes the muscles of salivary glands 
  • crupper, if our steed has poorly developed back muscles or has a low withers, in order to prevent the belt or saddle from shifting towards the front after pinning the side reins 
  • side reins - at the beginning of training pinned only to the saddle/belt, without any contact to the bit; leather or made from tape, without rubber elements (resilient).  


Rubber elements are resilient during lunging, so when the animal presses on the releasing bit, at the same time he gets used to not respecting the rider's hand in the future. Rubber side reins make any sense only in a situation where we lunge the beginning riders or we practice with a vaulting group. In such a situation, the horse tries to keep his balance which he constantly loses because the people who train on him.

Attaching the lunge 

All the below-mentioned ways are shown in the above video.

A very good idea is to use a cavesson in which we can attach the lunge to the revolving hoop on the top, on the horse's nose. A good substitution might be a halter to which the lunge might be attached on the side ring. It works similarly to the cavesson, but is milder, which unfortunately doesn't provide full control over the steed. Both the halter and cavesson are put on the bit bridles.

The most common, however, is attaching the lunge to the inner hoop of the bit. It allows to keep a soft, delicate contact between the horse's muzzle and our hand. It also allows us to have control over the horse's position through realising and gathering the lunge.

The way in which we will reeve the lunge through the inner hoop of the bit and attaching it to the outer hoop is suitable only to the curb bits. A snaffle bridle bit causes the "nutcracker" effect, hurting the horse.

Fastening a lunge requires a solid experience and a sensitive hand, when you put it through the inner hoop of the bit and attach it to the lunging belt. This kind of fastening positions the horse in his occiput just by a gentle contact of the hand and the activating aids. However, you have to be careful, because too strong actions of your hand might cause a wrong, too centred positioning of the horse, which will provoke him to "stick out" his shoulder or croup.

Lunge laid over the occiput (ie. lead through the inner hoop of the bid, then through the occiput and fastened to the outer hoop of the bit) works very brutally, pulling the muzzle's angles up. The horse, in order to free himself from pain, raises his muzzle and starts to jounce it. It ends up with losing the relaxation and regularity of gait. 

Horse being lunged on a cavesson
Horse being lunged on a cavesson, source:


Under no circumstance can you use the so-called bridge (connector) when working with lunge. It causes pressure of the outer hoop of the bit onto the horse's cheek and places it vertically, which results in a very painful squeeze on the horse's palate.

Setting the ground

The best place for training with a lunge is a fenced, rounded ground which the horse couldn't escape. While working with an experienced horse, we might use a bit more space, especially when you decide to arrange cavalettis for the walk, trot or gallop. The surface, on which we will work cannot be too deep and soft, but it also cannot be too hard. Too deep will put some additional load on tendons and ligaments, and too hard may be too slippery for hoofed horses.

Lunging the horse

The lunging circle diameter is approximately 12 - 16 m. If we work on a circle that's too big, we will lose control over our horse. In case of working on a circle that's too small, we might cause some injuries and afflictions for the side-torsion load of our pet. You should also remember about the appropriate pace, for the exercises to make sense, the horse cannot rush.

Work on cavaletti with young or unexperienced horses 

If we work on cavaletti for the first time with our horse, it's best to lead him with a hand through one pole laying on the ground. Next, on the lunge, the horse should be lead in a walk, so before and after crossing the pole he can follow in a straight line, which will make the task easier for him.

Way of leading on a single pole
Way of leading on a single pole.

The next step might be to put the pole in a circle. The horse should extend his neck before the pole and lower his head, not losing the rhythm in a walk. Next, we can add more poles (preferably up to four), still trying to lead the horse only in a walk. Along the progress, the horse will be ready to take the poles in a trot, starting with two, and ending with four.

In the next stage you can try to change the poles laying on the ground on the higher ground poles. But you cannot forget about the rule of gradually increasing the difficulty. Slow, systematic work brings a lot more benefits and strengthens our horse's trust towards us.

Work on cavaletti with an experienced horse 

The most effective is the arrangement presented below, as it doesn't demand rearranging any of the obstacles during our work with the horse. You can calmly start from the middle circle, then moving to the circle with cavaletti arrange for a walk, then for a trot and for a gallop. The outer side of the circles should be protected with rods. If you don't have that many poles, you can set only two or three on each circle, and replace the missing ones with poles placed on the ground.

Work on cavaletti with an experienced horse


Warming up without the side reins

10 min walk

5 – 10 min trot and gallop

Working on the side reins

10 – 15 min trot and gallop

20 min work with cavaletti

Unwalking without the side reins

10 min walk

Side reins

It's worth to begin with - what do our horse need the side reins while working on the lunge for. The outer side rein is supposed to limit the positioning to the inside and prevent the outer shoulder-blade from sticking out. Just like while working with volt and saddle.

The best height on which the side reins should be fastened is on the hand's width above the point of shoulder. Fastening it lower provokes the horse to back his muzzle, and placing it higher is used in order to get higher position.

If you're not using the lunging belt, the side reins should be attached to the girth below panels so they won't slip. Remember that your horse should move on a circle, so the outer side rein has to be 5 - 10 cm longer than the inner one. Length od the side reins has to be corrected up to few times during one workout.


Worth remembering

Working with the ground poles puts a lot of load on the hinder leg, so we have to plan and conduct the training in such a way that the animal is won't injure his joints and ligaments.

Even if our aim is to eliminate one-sided stiffening of the horse's body, we have to remember about changing the direction. The horses relax way quicker after working in the "stiffened" direction, if firstly they practice in the opposite direction for a moment.

Working with cavaletti with a lunge shouldn't be longer than 20 minutes and also shouldn't be held more often than once every 1-2 weeks. Remember that it's worth to reserve some time for working with cavaletti also under the saddle.

Trainings on a lung helps building bond between the rider and his or her horse. The lunging one by focusing all the attention on the horse, modulating the voice, can build a respect and trust towards the rider. The horse, with time, will need less and less help and it will get easier to steer him. That will make the work with our steed a mere pleasure and will prepare us better for the further work under the saddle.

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