Tack: Auxiliary Equipment
By Karen Nelson
These are sold as being head setting devices that also teach the horse to come up under themselves with their
hindquarters. They are lunging equipment only, and are not safe for use over lunge jumps. A horse should NEVER be
worked loose, or left alone with this type of lunging rig on. They are sold under many different names, with the name
usually referring to a big name jumper trainer, but all do about the same thing.
This type of rig is most often seen at hunter/jumper barns.
How they are put on:
These lunging rigs can be very confusing if you have never used one before, as there are lots of straps. You need to
use a surcingle, and cannot use a saddle. When first putting it on, it is best to have an assistant, and to put it on in the
arena in case the horse panics when it feels the various ropes, and the strap behind its haunches.
Basically there is a shorter cord that runs from the top of the surcingle, back to the padded bum strap. The strap should
be set so that it hangs just above the hocks. A longer cord runs from the bum strap through the surcingle to the bit, and
then either back between the horse's legs, or up to the top of the surcingle. In some cases people do not run the long
strap through the surcingle, but this is a mistake as we will later discuss. For this reason it is very important that the
surcingle you use has rings on the side, that are big enough to allow the cord to run freely.
The cords are usually elastic.
As with all "head setting" devices, the horse should be allowed to warm up in a loose frame before the device is put into
effect. Cold muscles do not stretch and build, they tear.
How They Work:
The theory behind this type of rig, is that if the horse resists, the pressure is not just against the surcingle, but rather it
is against their hindquarters, showing the horse to tuck its bum and round when it gets stiff. This makes sense at first
glance, but lets look at the effects in more detail.
The pressure on the mouth is similar to lunging draw reins with the added complication that the cords run through the
bit are attached to a strap that runs just above the horse's hocks. The horse's hocks are of course moving when being
lunged, so as a hind leg is stretched back, the strap will be pulled to the side, and that side of the horse's mouth will get
a tug. The side to side tugging on the mouth will be in the rhythm of whatever gait the horse is in.
At this point it is important to understand that horses have a natural tendency to a very slight side to side motion at all
gaits. This is most noticeable at the walk and canter, but even at the trot the horse will slightly swing its head in the
direction of the leading front leg. Encouraging that slight side to side motion can help a horse relax its jaw and back, but
you must match the rhythm of the swing, otherwise the horse's natural movement and stretch of its back will be disrupted
and cause a stiff horse.
So, at the walk, the tugging would be in the rhythm of the back legs. So as the left hind comes back, pressure would be
placed on the left corner of the mouth. As the left hind comes back, what is the front end doing? Why the right front is
reached forward! This means the horse is being pulled away from the leading leg, rather than being allow to stretch into
the leading leg. The result? At the walk the horse will be encouraged to swing its leading front leg across the front of its
Now at the trot this thing makes a little more sense. As the horse's left hind is back, its left hind is forward, so this type of
rig will follow and encourage the natural side to side swing of the head.
At the canter it gets complicated again; assuming the horse is on the left lead, the right hind comes back to it furthest
point as the horse's left front extends to its furthest point, so again the horse's head is being pulled in the opposite
direction as would be conducive to a relaxed back. The horse would also be getting the most pull on the bit at the
stretch phase of the canter.
Now let's look at the theory that the strap under the buttocks helps the horse to collect under itself. First consider that
the bum strap is padded, and the bit is not...so far more likely the horse will give with the bit before the bum. As well, a
horse can only step under itself correctly by raising its front end...but with the horse being pulled down in front, this
seems like an unlikely course of action for the horse.
I think people legitimize this by saying of the front is pulled down, and the bum is pulled in, the back must lift, but this is
faulty logic. A horse, just like a stick, will always break/bend at its weakest point, which in a horse is usually the 3rd
vertebra. Horses are also not typical trained to move off of pressure above their hock, so there would be no reason for
this to be logical to them.
Let's look at examples of these in use:
This lovely chestnut horse is an example of a very submissive horse showing great tolerance
for being put in what must feel to it like a straight jacket. With its head pulled so low, the poor
horse has a very poor field of vision. Even with it done up this tightly, you should be able to
see that it is ineffective in creating any sense of collection; the horse is heavily on its front end
with hind legs trailing out behind. The neck is reasonably long and low, but there is no
rounding of the back which you can see by the trailing legs and high hind quarters. Note that
the outside hind hoof is still slightly airborne compared to the inside front. This horse is NOT
doing a true two beat trot, another indication of faulty training and form.
This bay horse shows the lesser used high attachment, where the head is encouraged to be
higher. The adjustment is also more compassionate towards the horse, and he is closer to the
vertical, although still behind it. This horse is also on the forehand, but its handler is driving it
more forward than was the chestnut horse and we can see that the inside hind is having to
cross under to avoid the inside front. As well his outside hind leg is also trailing...both
indicative of a horse that is on its forehand. You can also see in this photo that the horse is
breaking at its 3rd vertebra, with its poll lower than the highest point of his neck.
Back to another overbent chestnut. Please note that this rig is put on incorrectly; the long
cords need to run through rings on the surcingle. This set up also looks like the inside cords
are done up much tighter than the outside cords; you can see the slack below the horse's belly.
This is an interesting shot though; you can lateral bend in the horse's neck, yet its front
legs/shoulder are clearly not on the same bend, with the inside front crossing in front of the
line of travel. By having the inside strap shorter than the outside, this horse is being pulled off
balance and is popping its shoulder rather than bending through its back. He is contracting the
inside to create the appearance of bend rather than stretching the outside. You can also see
how the inside front is still hovering above the ground, yet the outside hind is set down. Once
again a faulty frame is causing a breakdown of the natural two beat gait.
CONS/Risks of using Lunging Rigs:
1) The horse's mouth is getting constantly bumped based on the placement of its hind legs. A horse may find the
rhythm, but it may also resort to getting behind the pressure or by locking its jaw/tongue around the bit to hold it steady.
This is NOT a habit you want the horse to learn!
2) As always, people tend to use these things for too long, without proper warm up, or adjusted too tightly to be healthy
for the horse.
3) Rather than tucking the hindquarters as advertised, this rig usually just pulls the horse down on the forehand with a
4) Encourages contraction/stiffness rather than stretching.
There is a reason you don't see these at good dressage barns! They discourage the proper use of the horse's back
and interfere with the purity of the gaits. It does not create the proper muscles, or assist the horse is learning how to use
itself better. It does not teach the horse to stretch into contact, nor to give to pressure.
When it comes right down to it, this is a submission machine; something the horse can't really fight so it may as well just