Earlier this winter, when Willow was dealing with her ulcer and I was frantically trying to figure out what was wrong with her, I stopped riding and switched to lungeing for about four weeks, because I thought the random stomping might be signaling a lameness issue, and it's easier to see movement on the lunge than feel it under saddle. Of course, it turns out that, happily, a course of ulcer treatment and an ongoing aloe vera supplement fixed Willow right up. An added bonus: Willow really started to get her groove on on the lunge. For most of us, lungeing isn't as fun as riding, but you really can accomplish a ton on the lunge.
For a lungeing-only session, my routine is thus:
I start Willow off with very long, training-level-frame side reins. Always, when we start out, these long side reins don't look very long. Willow wants to keep her neck pretty straight and overbend at the poll. I walk her for a bit, and then when I ask her to move out of walk, she always launches straight into canter. (This has been a good clue for me that perhaps Willow is one of those horses that warms up better in canter.) I have her canter and trot for a few minutes, and then I halt her and shorten the side reins. I've been shortening the side reins very slowly over the past year, and now she can handle them being quite short. (But I don't just suddenly crank her in from training level to short: Depending on how she feels, I usually take her halfway, let her walk a bit, and then shorten all the way. If she resists, we don't shorten all the way that day. I keep an eye on the rubber donuts: if they're really stretched, I know she's leaning and resisting.)
Now I ask for a big trot and canter, to make sure she's stepping through into the new frame. I apply little "bumping" half halts if she tries to drop her head and go behind the vertical. She has mostly figured out what I'm asking for, so this has gotten to be much less of an issue. We do lots of transitions between gaits, and after about five minutes I start bringing her in on a ten meter circle, asking for trot and canter. When she's balanced at ten meters, I bring her in to eight meters. Circles this small are really hard work, so I don't keep her in so tight for very long. I use a release onto the large circle as a reward. To the left, on the very small circle, Willow tends to want to travel haunches-in, so I use little touches with the whip to ask her to move her haunches out. (Of course, you need to be cautious of the horse's reaction when they're this close to you.)
I usually finish up by asking for a medium trot. I walk along with her so she's traveling on more of a very large oval, to give her the room she needs. Then I bring her back to working trot for a bit, halt, and we change directions. (I alternate which direction I start her in with every session.) Lather, rinse, repeat in the new direction.
When we're done, I lengthen the side reins back to training-level-length and have Willow trot for a couple minutes to stretch out. The cool thing is, remember how in the warmup the side reins seemed rather short even at this length? Well, now they seem really long. Willow's withers are up and she's giving through the length of her neck. Now she has to reach a bit to find the contact. It's a pretty good indication she's working correctly, I think. We do a couple minutes of long and low, and then I have her walk for a couple minutes.
The lungeing has been going so well I'm doing an abbreviated version of the above before every ride.
In other news, on Thursday I had a doctor's appointment to establish care with a new doctor and re-up a prescription. She decided I needed vaccinations: H1N1, flu, and pneumonia. I haven't had a vaccination in forever. When I woke up yesterday, I could barely move my left arm. It felt like someone hit my upper arm, hard, with a two by four. It woke me up every couple of hours last night. Next time, I'll start on the ibuprofen immediately following the vaccinations!