Reteaching lunging with a target stick and clicker training

Before I bought Dante, I saw a video of him lunging and I saw him being lunged in person during my visit to his stable. However, when he arrived here he decided that no, he didn’t want to lunge (the horse turns to face you, moving his hindquarters away so you can’t tap him to send him on the circle).

After a few spectacular sessions of him bucking and leaping about, I decided to table that problem and deal first with known pain issues (which could have been contributing to this) such as a dental floating (the interior of his mouth was cut and sore); the removal of a cracked molar which was infected; and making dietary changes for gaining weight but not making him hot, while also addressing possible PSSM medical issues.


While I was working on the above getting done, for our training work I decided to use Straightness Training and Art2Ride to make him stronger and more flexible, especially in the back. Using a target with clicker training to teach a head down cue, I worked him daily 10-20 minutes (as this horrible hot weather would permit) in the pasture at liberty going long and low. We started with straight lines and then I slowly added arcs and half circles, and going up my small hill.

Having the head down stretches the muscles of the back; working on an arc or circle causes the inside hind leg to push up the back, strengthening this long flat muscle with the power to carry a rider or to collect. As you add in shoulder-in or leg yield, you continue to strengthen the hind legs and push the back up – BTW Dante doesn’t even know what these movements are so yes those are in the very near future for us! 😀

Some things became clear during this work: Dante was a left bended horse so when going clockwise (his weaker right side) he would shrink the circle and take the easy way out. This put me, the trainer, at a disadvantage because I would have 1200-1400 pounds of horse barging into me!

I definitely noticed he was weaker on the right hind – the one that had been injured prior to his transport to me. While the gash didn’t cut muscle or go down to bone, it seemed to bother him so we continued to keep sessions short while it healed. I also added in exercises like asking him to stand square, carrot stretches, tail pulls, belly lifts, and used the Masterson Method to unblock trouble areas of the body.

After being on the ALCAR supplement, he showed a lot more desire to trot when following the target stick and was far more physically engaged so I feel that that supplement is helping him feel better.


Since he’s continued to improve physically, I felt this past week would be a good time to start really doing a full circle.

I set up a playground of cones and poles to keep me in a safe square while I asked him to trot around the outside of this keeping to a circle and following my target stick. When I did this Saturday, Grenwinae had a chance to observe and he also noticed how much more stiff he was going clockwise – which at one point ended in a levitation off the ground with all four feet that one of the other boarders got to watch 😉


Thinking this through and doing some more exercises with him (see below), I decided to try a ring of my 18″ vinyl cones. This will allow me to show him a visual barrier and help him keep to the outside of the cone circle when I’m on the inside – and using either a Target stick or traditional with lungeline and whip method.


BTW the price and quality of these 18″ tall vinyl cones (here I show the blue color but they have other colors) can’t be beat! They shipped amazingly fast to me too!


When I have a helper, like I did Sunday, I will use a different method to help him better say on task. As the trainer, I’m in the middle of the circle with Dante connected to me on a lungeline attached to the inside ring of the halter. I am in control of the clicker and will determine when desired behavior (head down, nose out, nice circle shape) will be marked.

The Helper has the target stick and the bag of treats and is positioned about 2 yards in front of the horse’s nose. The Helper will be walking the arc of the circle but in front of the horse at all times. The Helper has the treats because he is closer to Dante and so can feed while Dante remains on the circle. One goal is to teach him that when not being asked to go forward, his stop should be on the circle (not hindquarters out or walking to me in the center).


Using the lunge whip, I ask Dante to move forward, as the same time, the Helper also moves forward. Dante gets a click and reward if he moves forward, nose down and out (already taught using the target), and keeps his body in a good position on the circle. It’s important that the Helper stays out in front of the horse for safety but also as motivation for the horse to move forward.

Not rewarded (but ignored) is the horse turning his hindquarters outside of the circle or closing the diameter of the circle. If the horse does this behavior, just keep moving the horse forward with an urge from the whip or target stick.

As long as the Helper stays in front and to the outside of the circle of Dante’s movement he will be safe from any rambunctious behavior. Where the Helper will get into trouble is letting the horse get too close too him – keep the distance by walking or even trotting faster; or staying in front of the horse because if the horse went forward too fast he might knock the Helper over.

He did great on his first session so I expect that we will be advancing quickly on this lesson. Dante already knows how to lunge so this is just a refresher course of what behavior I desire and to spark motivation, while keeping his mind off misbehavior!

PS. I don’t have a round pen so no that isn’t an option. If your horse doesn’t know how to lunge at all, I’ll be posting about a second method that doesn’t use a Target Stick, but does require a Helper.

This entry was posted in Art2Ride, Clicker Training, Dante, Straightness Training, Training, videos. Bookmark the permalink.

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