Jerry and Jake were getting some of the horses ready to go out for a trail ride up the mountains with one of our former students. This student graduated four years ago and had come back for a visit.  Jerry asked me to lunge the horse he had just saddled. Lunging a horse before you ride establishes the relationship between horse and rider and who is the leader.  The goal is to get the horse to move in a circle around you as you hold the lead rope in your hand. I thought,”Sure. “How hard could that be?”  I had watched it many times and done it a few times myself.

As I started to lunge the horse, he wanted to run and didn’t like that I had the lead rope.  He seemed a little agitated and quickly jerked his neck. The lead rope came out of my hand.  At that point, it’s dangerous because he could step on the rope and buck. The horse got really excited. He started to jump around and found his way out of the gate that I had left about 3 feet open –  since I hadn’t planned on being there very long. The horse ran down the alley toward Jerry.  He was able to stop the horse quickly and I walked back to Jerry and the horse.  Jerry then handed me the lead rope again and instructed me to take off the harness and lead rope and just lunge him with out it..which is more of a training technique.  I was nervous and my heart was racing but I was willing to try.

The horse was visibly excited or agitated but still followed me back into the round corral…he felt just like I did!  I followed Jerry’s instructions and began to lunge the horse by stepping into his “personal space,” which is about 20 feet from the horse.  I could control which way the horse runs based on how I approached his personal space.  However, the horse, who wants to be seen as more dominant, will reverse and run the way that he wants, which he did. Jerry was watching and came over and coached me from the sidelines.

As I put pressure on the horse, he would try and show he was in charge and tried to reverse his direction a few times.  I was able to push him through it. He bucked a few times and even approached me a few times, which scared me to death, but I persisted and kept constant pressure.  After about 10 minutes of lunging, Jerry instructed me that once the horse looks at me, to release the pressure and back away.  I did this 3 times and the last time, the horse approached me with his head down and just came and stood by me.  He was calm and now saw me as the leader.  I now could just walk around and he would follow me without a rope.  I had a new friend.

I learned a lot from this experience.  Our students are much the same as this horse.  They test our limits and push things as far as they can to see if we will stay firm and consistent.  Once we prove that, they relax, feel safe to change, and a true relationship can be built. – Clinton Dorny, Executive Director