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Equine Lunging Systems: The What, How, and Why?

As horsemen and horsewomen, we have all heard the term “topline” and the importance of building, maintaining, and properly supporting the horse’s topline for optimal movement, soundness, and performance.

What is The Topline?

The topline is a collection of muscles that support the spine, from neck to hindquarters. Specifically, the longissimus dorsi which attaches spine to pelvis; latissimus dorsi that attaches the upper and mid back vertebrae to the lower lumbar vertebrae, and the thoracic trapezius which attaches the neck and mid back vertebrae to the shoulder blade.

Photo courtesy of Topline Balance

In addition to proper nutrition, turnout, correct saddle fit, and overall care, the topline can strengthen and grow with regular work – including riding, ground work, and lunging (specifically with some sort of lunging system). Having a properly balanced topline will not only improve your horse’s appearance and performance, his sense of balance, posture, and comfort will improve much like strengthening our own core does!

A regular working schedule including riding, groundwork, and lunging can utilize and exercise your horse’s topline. A fun and proven way to make your horse move his booty in the saddle is by incorporating trot poles, stretching, various terrain work, and lots of transitions. It’s worth mentioning that ensuring a proper fit is CRUCIAL to this process, as an ill-fitting saddle will inhibit your horse’s topline growth, as well as a source of soreness, injury, imbalance, and overall negativity for your horse (and you)!

Pole work is a GREAT way to develop your horse’s rhythm, balance, and overall topline
Photo courtesy of FEI.org

Another popular way to build your horse’s topline, for any English, Western, or Equine-related discipline is with the use of a Lunging system. One of the best things about using a lunging system is that it takes the stress and worry out of forcing your horse into a frame, as the rig encourages the horse to self-carry and any resistance is from the horse and not you. Originally developed by American showjumper Nelson Pessoa, it was the first set designed specifically to lift and engage a horse’s core and topline to develop self-carriage and encourage proper movement.

Today, there are great options for those that are wanting to purchase a Lunging System of their own, but it’s important to make sure you have all the essential items needed for lunging.

What You’ll Need

  1. Lunging System:The Pessoa Lunging System is more of an investment, priced at $235, or Waldhausen Lunging System is more of an economic pricepoint at $55. Personally, I love both of them but I’ve had my Pessoa now for about 5 years, and it’s held up beautifully!
  2. Lunge Line Surcingle: These have various attachments, depending on the frame you’d like your horse to be in. There are many different types of material these are made in, from leather to neoprene to nylon. I personally use this one because of the variety of D rings available – so I can use it for dressage, hunters, or Western frames.
  3. Saddle Pad: Because the surcingles are designed to fit snug against the horse, I make sure I use a pad of some kind to keep it in place and prevent slipping, plus add to my horse’s comfort. I use the Back on Track Back Pad because it covers the entire topline area, and it’s great for bareback riding too!
  4. Bridle or Lunging Cavesson: Lunging systems must always be used with a bit for the lines and pulleys to attach to. You can either use a regular bridle with a lunging attachment (like this one) or Lunging Cavesson.
  5. Lunge Line: These can be made in either nylon or cotton. You’ll want to make sure yours has plenty of length for proper control and to change the size circle your horse goes in, depending on the amount of collection or engagement preferred. Ideally, you’ll want one with a 25 or 30-foot length with a durable, heavier snap.
  6. Lunge Whip
  7. Lots of treats for rewarding and praising your horse for a job well done!

I love this surcingle from Big Dee’s! With the multiple rings and sturdy neoprene grip, I can use this for Dressage, Hunters, or Western frame
Mustang Neoprene Training Surcingle : $34.95

When you’re done, then end result should look something like this!

How To Fit Your Lunging System

  1. Fit your surcingle and pad on your horses back. Gather all your clips in place to avoid a detangling mess!
  2. Take the snap that branches from the “V-clip” and attach to the D ring on your surcingle that is at the center of your horse’s back.
  3. Set the bum roll under your horse’s tail. A note for fitting, it may look a little high at first when standing, but as you encourage him to move and tuck underneath, the roller will lower.
  4. Separate the left and rein lines from each other, then gather the right line to keep in place, making sure it’s tidy and away from the ground to avoid getting caught in your horse’s legs.
  5. Take the pulley snap and attach to the solid ring near the girth attachment of the surcingle.
  6. Attach the end snap to the bit as a place holder and repeat on the other side.
  7. Take the front clips and run them through the bit rings going out-to-in towards the middle of the horse’s front legs).
  8. Attach the clips at the D-ring underneath the surcingle. Some people use baling twine for younger or green horses as an easy break point.
  9. You’re done! You can send your horse out on the line and begin lunging.

Waldhausen Lunging System in Practice

One of our Customer Service Support Specialists, Laura, had been curious about trying various Lunging Systems. After trial and error with other Lunging Systems, hear how she found a winner with the Waldhausen Lunging System!

” I purchased the Waldhausen lunging system when other lunging aids were not cutting it for my dressage gelding. He would pull himself into frame and be “collected” but not engage his hind end on the ground. After a lot of research, I found the Waldhausen system and decided to purchase it and test it out! The instructions were very simple to understand and they show a few different ways to hook up the system on your horse. I started with the most basic, which is what is pictured. After my horses’ first initial few steps of confusion with the padded strap behind his legs, he started tracking up better in both the walk and the trot. Moving on to the canter, he showed actual full collection and engaged both his hind end and back going into the transition. I have now started to use the Waldhausen system in our monthly training/lunging program to help keep his mind working with the rest of his body which helps him both move and feel better when being ridden!”

Customer Service Rep Laura’s handsome OTTB gelding, Cash, quickly improved his self-carriage and hind-end engagement with the Waldhausen system, while Laura loved the price tag and ease of setup.

Tips and Final Words

When using any Lunging System for the first time, it’s always important to desensitize your horse to all the lines, pulleys, and clips before putting it on. Start slowly when you begin, begin at a walk encouraging your horse to move freely and without resistance. As your horse begins to become more comfortable and trained to the system, feel free to experiment and have fun with different gaits, transitions, circle sizes, and change of directions. As always, make sure you are working with a professional and in a safe environment with the addition of any new training aid, to make sure everything fits correctly and she can observe the initial reactions of your horse.

Like any training aid, it’s important to not over-do the frequency of use. These are designed to be used in conjunction with proper riding and training, not to replace it. But lastly, have fun and be patient! Take this time to bond with your horse out of the saddle and not be afraid to try something new.

Rotti’s well-developed topline has resulted from patience, consistency, and kindness. We use a Lunging System at least once a week.

Enjoy the ride,

Colleen