by Frank Gringeri
For horses just starting out or horses in a re-training program, longe lining is a wonderful way to develop the aids. Many good things come of long lining; education of the mouth and bit, straightness and forwardness and gathering up the horse from back to front. Of equal importance is the learning of the halt with the hand. Without that, there is no half halt or compression of the energy from the haunches.
For equipment, we need a plain snaffle bridle, longing surcingle and two longe lines. Attach longe lines through the side rings of the surcingle then to the bit ring. This will keep the young horse straight, and if they try to turn around or get crooked you have the advantage. This is all work at the walk to start, as they may be uncertain and get quick in their reactions. There are many ways to longe line but the green horse just starting out will benefit most with longe lining done from behind. Keep a safe distance from the hind legs, about 10 or 15 feet. Start in a small corral or round pen. Containment is critical because they may have a notion to run or get moving too fast. Always start on a circle so they can feel security tracking over the same ground.
Now you have your equipment on and you’re ready for walking. Where’s the go button? You can chirp or use your lines to tap them just above the hocks. They will respond but don’t overdo it so they kick out or buck. Keep the transition to walk nice and easy – don’t hurry. One horse I lined would stop at will and stall. A longe whip meant nothing to her and tapping her with the lines did nothing either. I had to take a PVC jump pole and poke her with it to get a response. But after that, she would move up with just a tap with the lines. She never challenged the tap after that. Horses will learn very quickly that if you ask softly and get no answer, you will use more force to get them to move. She had age on her and someone let her get her way in the past.
Stopping the horse with the lines is as important as making them move up. Apply pressure; if you get nothing, apply again. Soon they will connect that with stop and you can reduce pressure. Make them stand still and straight before you get moving again (about 20 seconds). This keeps the horse in a state of readiness while standing still. Starting from a halt will be less quick and they’ll be more likely to push off the ground as opposed to using quick, snappy steps. It also keeps them from anticipating your next command.
As they become familiar with lining, you can start the bending process using traffic cones to turn them through or serpentine through. This will add more pressure from the lines as you direct them around various courses. The more direction they feel from the lines, the more they will be trained and respond in a positive manner. When they’re obedient in the corral, it’s time to get them out and about. Longe line up the driveway or a dirt road. If they get worried, turn back and give them comfort by returning to a safe haven (the corral, round pen or barnyard). As they relax, start up the road again, watching for tension. Eventually, they’ll adjust and gain courage to go most anywhere.
The benefits of this work are endless. The horse will be more bridle savvy, and when it’s time to mount you will have established a familiar “hand to mouth” feel that they rely on instead of retracting from. Also, longe lining behind the horse eliminates the visual dependency horses get from a person being beside or near the vision zone. This helps them rely on the feeling of the hand without being able to see the motion of the hand. Longe lining before you ride will prepare them for the aids. You have an opportunity to see how much warmup they need on any given day. If they’re fresh or explosive you have a chance to correct them in the moment. It is also a time to evaluate lameness by watching the footfalls.
In summary, gather up snaffle bridle and surcingle. Use two identical lines and thread through the side rings of surcingle. Stay back 10 or 15 feet for safety. Stay on a circle in a pen or corral so you have some containment. If you have never lined before, have someone lead the horse while you’re on the lines behind them. Once they’re moving well, they can stop leading. Work on transitions to keep them listening – walk to halt, halt to walk. When showing relaxation, get out through the countryside. Return to safe havens if alarmed.
Longe lining is just another training tool we have to help the horse understand what we want them to do. Done properly, all horses will benefit and gain courage which will enable them to take on the many tasks us humans ask of them.