The lunge line is an important tool for training and conditioning. It’s also a simple one, essentially a long strap with a snap at one end. Of course, manufacturers are finding ways to enhance the simple concept. Many of the options make sense, depending on your preferences and your lunging technique.Safety is the most important consideration when selecting a lunge line because there are a lot of ways that both horses and handlers can get hurt (see Editorial this issue). For that reason alone, we prefer cotton lunge lines over nylon/poly choices despite the generally lower cost of synthetics. If the horse gets the line wrapped on a leg, or if he gets loose and the line catches on something such as a post, it’s important that the line breaks before the horse does. Nylon also tightens more readily around the hand or leg of a handler if the horse jerks the handler off her feet and can abrade a bare hand more easily than cotton.
It’s equally important for safety that the horse doesn’t pull away from the handler and doesn’t run loose in the first place. Therefore, the quality of the cotton web is vital, as is the quality of the hardware, the stitching at the snap end and the construction of the hand loop or donut at the other end of the line.
Note, we deliberately say ’hand loop,’ not ’wrist loop,’ as is used in some catalogs. You should not stick your hand through the loop onto your wrist any more than you should allow the end of the line to tighten around your hand. The choice of a rubber or leather donut gives another notch of safety, because you can grip the end of the line more quickly and easily than using a hand loop.
Some people find, however, that the donut can get in the way of forming loops in the line when you go to shorten the line up.
Length also adds a measure of safety, because the bigger the circle, the less stress that is placed on the horse’s legs. At some point, however, there is a diminishing return on safety because longer lines are bulkier and harder to hold. They really only work well when you can send your horse right out toward the end of the line.
However, in order to maintain control, the handler usually wants to work back and forth along the length of the line and hold some of it in loops or folds, and a bulky lunge line won’t allow that.
The optimum diameter of a lunging circle is 20 meters (66 feet), with a distance of 33 feet from hand to halter. If you choose a 35-foot line, you’re in business. If your line is shorter, or your horse is difficult to control on that long a line, you can use a shorter length and still keep to a radius of 33 feet by walking a smaller circle inside your horse’s larger circle instead of just pivoting in place.
Some lines have stops as markers for distance or for a warning and extra grip as you near the end of the line. However, you shouldn’t need them if you simply know how long your line is, since one loop generally shortens the line by about three feet.
If you’ve got three loops in your 35-foot line, you’re pivoting on a radius of about 25 feet. If you’ve got those three loops and you’re walking a small circle, you’re back out to the optimum 66 feet.
Another safety issue is whether you loop or fold the line in your hand. Folding is generally safer because the line can’t tighten in your hand. However, folding also takes some practice to learn, so many handlers don't bother.
Folding is generally easier with a wide-web cotton line than with a nylon line, but you’re also holding more of the line in your hand than if you are looping it. If you prefer to fold rather than loop, you will probably want a shorter cotton-web line to reduce bulk.
Because of the bulk issue, we generally prefer a cotton line to be an inch wide. We find that 3/4” web tends to twist or knot more easily, while 1 1/4” web and some thick-braided options are just too much line to hold in most hands. But there are plenty of choices as to size and texture of web to suit your own preferences in lunge lines.
Some of the newer ideas that we’re seeing in lunge lines over the past few years include elastic inserts, loops for attaching snaps in a half-hitch, lined wrist loops, a greater variety of materials and lengths, and a much more variety of separate attachments that add versatility.
The best separate bit attachment we’ve seen is a very short strap that snaps onto the bit at both ends and has a ring in the middle to attach the line. When the attachment is longer, it tends to pull more on the outside bit ring than the inside bit ring, causing uneven contact.
We feel the jury is still out on elastic inserts, and we haven’t seen one we really like for lunging. They may work well for certain horses that lean heavily on the line, but that’s a matter that should be better addressed through training.
If you prefer a hand loop over a donut, we really like the lined loops because they increase the size of the loop and keep it well open at the same time that they increase grip.
The use of a small nylon loop as a snap attachment is a sensible option. Instead of stitching the snap to the line, the loop just forms a half-hitch. Thus, the snap can be easily replaced or switched with a chain.
All the lunge lines in this trial are pretty much variations of a similar theme, except for the T-de-T Lunging Rein, which is made in France, and the Fabri-Tech line called Fib-R-Ite.
The Fib-R-Ite is a unique combination of cotton braided over a thin nylon insert to give it the strength of nylon and to keep it from stretching, while still having the softness of cotton. Of course, the nylon will also keep the line from snapping in a panic situation.
That said, the strapping on any lunge line is also no stronger than the hardware and the stitching/reinforcement used to attach it. Rod Wade of Fabri-Tech points out that the chrome-plated hardware on the line is designed to break at 650 pounds of pressure if it gets caught on something, and this may be the case on other lines as well.
The T-de-T is a braided soft poly rope with a lever snap and looks like something you would use more for rock climbing than for working with horses. The braided rope has a subtle elastic quality along the entire length that makes the hand-to-horse connection consistent.
The T-de-T’s aluminum lever snap is a lighter version of a climbing snap. It’s much easier to attach than a standard bolt snap, especially when wearing gloves, and is also much larger than a bolt snap while at the same time being much lighter. Even though this rope line is 35’ long, it makes less bulk in the hand than a 25’ web line. It was far and away our favorite line to use, and we could swallow the $49.90 price except for our general concern over the safety of using synthetic lunge lines.
Elle Moose of Beval Saddlery, which imports the line to the United States, said the snap is designed as the safety mechanism, being strong enough to han dle a horse that is acting up but will break if the horse gets loose and the line gets caught on something.
We were able to test the playful-horse part of that equation, but we weren’t able to devise a situation that would mimic the panic break without jeopardizing a test horse. Thus we’ll reserve judgment.
The World’s Finest Lungeline by Top Tack lives up to its boastful name, with quality materials and construction. If you lunge a lot of horses, it could be well worth the $35 price. If you just need a good-quality basic lunge line, Dover’s cotton web line is our Best Buy at $14.70. If you prefer a large hand loop over the rubber donut on the Dover line, choose Perri’s Amish-made line at $19.95.
Contact Your Local Tack Shop or: Tex-Tan, 800-283-9826 www.textan.com; Horse Hraps, Kahootz Inc., 620-855-3930, www.kahootzstore.com; Soft-Lunge, Rein-Aid Productions, 800-773-4885, www.rein-aid.com; Fib-R-Ite, Fabri-Tech, 800/332-4797, www.fabri-tech.com; SS German Cord, Schneiders, 800-365-1311, www.sstack.com; Perri’s Leather and Metal Crafters, 800-537-4901, www.perrisleatheronline.com; Narrow Gate Tack, 434-277-9337, www.narrowgatetack.com; Kensington Protective Products, Custom-Made Saddlery Inc., 909-469-1240, www.kensingtonhorseproducts.com; Thornhill, 800-445-2289, www.thornhillusa.com; Bunge Lunge, Ringer Products, 320-983-3626, www.ringerproducts.com; Weaver Leather, 800-932-8371, www.weaverleather.com; Smith-Worthington, 860-527-9117, www.smithworthington.com; Dover Saddlery, 800-989-1500, www.doversaddlery.com; World’s Finest Lungeline, Top Tack, 800-419-1392 or Dover Saddlery 800-989-1500, www.doversaddlery.com; T-de-T Lunging Rein, Dover Saddlery, 800-989-1500, www.doversaddlery.com.