Principle 1. Work on the lunge replaces the single pillar

For those of us in the U.K who haven’t studied European classical riding, this principle may not entirely make sense. Most of us probably haven’t ever considered using a ‘single pillar’ to train our horse, other than to lay it on its side and jump over it on our way to the pub.

I am certainly no scholar of European classical riding, so here is the briefest of synopsis.  There appear to be different possible dates for the first of use and subsequent promotion of pillars in training horses, but around 1620 ish, Pluvinel (French Dude) saw those fancy Italians using both one and two pillars to develop the education of their horses, and  brought these ideas back to France.   The pillars were also popular in Germany, and proponents of them say they produced suppleness, lightness, understanding, and submission in horses. When used well they were perceived to be an excellent training tool.

However, while they can still be seen in use today in the main classical schools –Real Escuela de Arte Ecuestre in Jerez (Spain), The Spanish school of Vienne, The Cadre Noir of Saumur and the Escolo Portuguese de Arte, in the main they fell out of favour.

The use of the single pillar to produce suppleness and balance in the horse, was replaced with the use of training on the lunge and this is where we find ourselves in the modern day Ecole de Legerete.   High quality lunging is something we value and educate ourselves and our horses about.

The thing about the pillar is it that it doesn’t move, nor feel, (nor care). What should be useful about humans is that we can do all these things. However, if we are just going to stand stock still in the middle of a circle with the horse passing around us. then in some respects we might as well be a pillar. At least the pillar won’t be saying, ‘Walk on, walk on, walk on’ all the time, or scrolling on its mobile phone.

Benefits of Lunging 

Lunging ‘can’ be a really excellent way to help your horse develop the balance, mobility, straightness and strength that he’s going to need to be a riding horse. It is a great way to educate young horses about moving their body differently, it can be used as a warm up and warm down.  If you have a horse that can’t be ridden for any reason, high quality lunging can be a way to bring them back from injury, help reduce tension in soft tissue, and promote healthy movement.

However, to use lunging in a way that is beneficial to your horse,  there are some things you need to  specifically educate him (and first yourself)  about.  This approach to lunging asks him use his mental dexterity as well as his physical capacity. These lessons are going to include;

  • All too many horses have been taught that being on the lunge just means trotting and cantering, but actually walk is vital.
  • Lateral flexion or inside bend
  • Improving then maintaining balance on the shoulders
  • Influencing front to back (longitudinal) balance
  • Easily go forwards and access the power of the hind legs
  • Being happy to have a person walk and run alongside. The horse will be shown how go on straight lines, circles, squares, change the rein etc etc
  • And some more besides…

In this approach to lunging, we never stand in one place while our horse bores circles into the sand. We move all around the arena, constantly changing gait, balance and posture. This not only keeps things interesting for us both, but also through many, considered changes promotes flexibility, postural strength, freedom of movement and straightness.

No gadgets required

As we do not use any gadgets or constraining instruments, there is all on us in terms of our own equestrian tact  and knowledge– but again, these are learnable skills. The equipment  is a simple cavesson and lunge line, that’s it. The important bit is that YOU are attached to to your horse via this equipment.  Your feel,  ability to judge what would help you horse the most, noticing what is happening step by step are essential. With some guidance and time any one of us can learn how to lunge our horse well and to use that skill to help him feel better and move better.

I for one am glad that we use lunging rather than the single pillar in the Ecoke de Legerete I hope I might be more useful to my horse than a post in the ground (mostly….).

Written by Kate Sandel