We have talked to the renowned lunger, horse trainer and coach Nienke de Wolff from the Netherlands. Nienke has been training vaulting horse and lunging internationally since she was 18 years old. She is a riding instructor and she is managing a vaulting education center for years now. As she works with vaulting horses everyday, we wanted to get her best tips to train a vaulting horse properly.

If you want to know more about her, you can read our blog post How to start with a vaulting horse from scratch.

Train your vaulting horse by building strength, step by step

“For me it is really important that vaulting be really easy for the horse. Because it is quite a one sided load that they get. Actually to prevent injuries they have to be able to do vaulting with ease. Vaulting should be an additional training. I want them to be fit under the saddle above all, I want to work on the muscles in riding first. So that they can just do vaulting with ‘fingers in the nose’.

What you often see in vaulting is that they will try to compensate if it’s too hard. If a horse compensates, he is using or even overusing the wrong muscles. What we often forget is that vaulting is quite heavy for a horse. They actually carry a moving weight while they are in galop. The horses which we get are mostly not trained in lunging, or don’t understand what we want from them. At the beginning horses are not used to keeping balance in a circle either. So remember that they will take the easy way. To conclude, most of the work should be made under the saddle, and vaulting should be a quite light training. For instance, training a horse four times a week in vaulting is a lot in my opinion, even for advanced horses. They might get injured and bored with it very quickly.”

Understanding where the difficulties come from by observing your horse

“It is partially experience, and we always look at how the horse moves. When I notice at the longe that the horse is falling apart, or he starts to ‘run’ for instance – by running I mean that he is fastly galloping to maintain his balance. That is the sign that he is having a hard time and trying to find compensation. Horses will always choose the easy way. What we try to achieve is that the easiest way is that they are fine with being collected and galloping on the hind leg. Most of the time when the horse starts to run, it actually means that he is just out of energy. So it is getting difficult for the horse. If that is the case we will try to find a way that we can build a training plan to strengthen the horse. This means that we won’t do much of galloping in the first trainings. It will be close to 2 times half a minute of galop, and that is it. From that point you can expand and increase the amount of time galloping to two minutes. When we reach that point you can start with vaulting.”

Adapt yourself to each vaulting horse

“Look at your horse and see what type of horse you have. Find out what your horse needs  and think about ways to keep them fit. A lot of times when I am speaking about this with other people they often say:

All of our horses have a similar schedule

This means that the horses need to fit in the training plan, instead of building a training plan around each horse. Of which I think that you should look at every horse individually. What do you want to achieve with the horse? Because there is a difference between training a team horse and a individual horse. And you handle the training plan of a fast horse different than from a slow horse. There is so much distinction between that which I really want to give as an important tip to the lungers. You have to remind yourself that what you want from the horse should also be the same as that he can manage.”

Support your horse during competitions 

“Support your horse at the competition. It is already nerve wrecking for them with everything going on like the noise, the visuals, the energy. Your horse is at a very long distance of 8 metres with a team on his back. There is a lot going on around him. What often happens is that lungers often forget how difficult this is for the horse, and sometimes forget how to lunge. I mean they don’t really train the horse at a competition but still expect that the horse does the exact same thing that he does at home. It is important to train your horse and teach him how to act the same way even if the circumstances are diferent. You should be there for your horse and do it together.” 

Question yourself as a lunger

“Keep working on yourself as a lunger, it is common for dressage riders or vaulters to get lessons weekly. But why shouldn’t lungers do that? Because what you actually do is riding from a distance. It is as important for lungers to keep on educating yourself on this.”

To train a vaulting horse is a task that requires a lot of commitment, energy and patience. We hope these advice will help you to improve and get the best out of your horse!

To go further with the lunging technique, you can also read our interview of Lasse Kristensen, the path of a top lunger – part I & part II for advanced lunging.

– Debbie Kruizinga