The Art of Longeing, by Lynn Palm
I call longeing an “art” because learning how to do it properly takes time, but mastering longeing is well worth the effort. Equip the horse for longeing with halter with longe line attached either over the nose or under the chin, longe whip, leg protection, and bell boots. Carry a longe whip with the tip pointed downward and behind you until ready to use it.
Ask the horse to walk at least one full circle on the longe, adding some variety like using straight lines to keep his interest. After a few circles of walking, warm him up at the trot. If you are longeing to the left, extend your left arm and give the command to “trot.” Reinforce the voice command by raising the whip behind the horse, if needed. If he becomes a little exuberant or speeds up as he starts longeing at the trot, he is telling you that he has some inner energy to get out.
Make Him Responsive Before letting him play on the longe line. He needs to show some manners and be responsive. Do not let him trot uncontrollably around in circles. If you need a more controlled gait, slow him down by gradually shortening the amount of longe line that is played out in your left hand. Decreasing the size of the longe circle will decrease his speed. Use your voice and say “easy” to ask him to slow.
The key to controlling the horse and getting mannerly responses is keeping control of his head at all times. For example, when longeing to the left, it is extremely important to control the head and neck so they are slightly positioned to the left””even when the horse is playing on the longe line. Gently position his head and neck by bringing your lower left arm, from hand to the elbow, forward and away from your body. This encourages the horse to keep his head and neck long and his head stretching inward. Avoid grasping the longe line with one or both hands and pulling his head toward the middle of your body because this only gives him something to lean or brace against.
Handlers must be able to recognize and correct the two biggest longeing problems that will cause them to lose control of their horse.
Problem #1: Falling Out – This problem is caused when the horse, instead of following the longe circle’s arc with his body, moves his shoulders outward off the circle. The rest of his body soon moves out, too. He begins an outward spiral off the circle. Excess tension in the longe line is a clue that the horse is falling out. The shape of the longe circle bulges outward wherever the horse falls out. When this happens, the handler, instead of crossing her right leg over her left and staying in position, typically steps (or is pulled) towards her horse allowing him to move outward even more. Tension increases in the longe line. The more the handler responds by stepping away from her spot in the center of the longe circle, the more her horse will only move off the circle’s arc more pulling the her further away from the center.
To correct falling out do not leave the center point of the longe circle even if the horse feels like he is pulling you outward. Pull on the longe line firmly enough to move his shoulder inward to reposition him on the circle, then release the pressure immediately and send him forward with a cluck and/or the whip.
Be careful not to exert steady pressure on the longe line. This makes you lock your arm and lose flexibility. The horse will lean against the pressure making the falling out all the worse. Whenever you feel the pressure on the line lighten, release. After the correction, make sure the horse stays forward and guide him around the circle by extending your arm and drawing his nose inward.
Problem #2: Falling In – This is just the opposite problem. The horse moves his shoulders off the circle towards the center. He starts making his turns shorter and cuts in toward the circle’s center. The horse is not properly bending his body to follow the circle’s arc. Excessive slack in the longe line is a telltale clue that the horse is falling in. Typically the handler responds by backing up to keep the tension. This only makes the problem worse as the horse continues his inward spiral.
To correct falling in, toss or flick the slack in a wave-like action towards the horse’s head and neck. Do not move more than one step forward from the proper handler position while tossing the line to keep him away. Repeat this gesture until he moves out. Make sure not to release too much longe line and make the circle so big that you lose control. If the horse speeds up after tossing the line at him, use your voice and/or a smaller circle to slow him. As soon as the horse has corrected his position, guide him around the circle by extending your left arm and bringing his nose inward. A light tension on the longe line between you and the horse is okay.
Let Him Play – Ask him for several circles at the trot until you have established a responsive mannerly rapport. Only then is it time to let him play and release his “inner energy.” Longe your horse at a trot, and use your voice to encourage him to play. I like to rapidly repeat the word “shoo” as I slap the longe coils against my leg to encourage a horse to move. Clapping the hands also can be an effective stimulus to get the horse to react. If he does react, he may buck, toss his head, squeal, and speed up to a fast trot or a canter so be prepared! Put both hands on the longe line, and keep your position. Use a give and take tension to position his head inward while letting him play. The horse will start to slow down once he has burned off some energy. When he does, it is time to re-establish disciplined longeing.
Put the longe line back in your left hand and resume proper handler position with left arm out to your side and the whip in the extended right arm. Use your voice to slow him and keep his attention on you. Use the words “easy” or a long, low “slow down” to ask him to slow down. Use your peripheral vision to detect if the horse is falling in, as evidenced by slack in the longe line, or falling out that is most easily noticed by increases tension in the line. Be ready to correct these issues. Strive to keep a nice, relaxed longe line. Watch the horse’s reactions. If you see him licking his lips, he is telling you that he is relaxing, too. He has burned off some of that inner fire and is ready to concentrate.
Troubleshooting This Lesson – Some handlers use longeing only as a means to tire out a horse. While longeing can help take the edge off a horse and get his inner energy out, its primary purpose is as an effective conditioning and training tool for his future under saddle.
Avoid two common longe line management problems.
1. Some handlers let out too much line. The excess drags on the ground. The result is the horse steps on the line and becomes startled or the handler backs up and moves out of proper position to take up the slack.
2. Other handlers do not keep the longe line neatly coiled in their hand, but let it lie on the ground at their feet. This is one of the most dangerous situations in longeing because the handler can become tangled in the line. It is easily corrected by keeping the line in a neat organized coil in your hand!
Author’s note: For more step-by-step instruction on these important lessons, check out my training manuals and dvds available at www.shoplynnpalm.com along with other fine training products and information about our courses.
[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 4, Issue 12.]
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