Longeing is one of the most misunderstood and misused (or poorly used) means of working a horse. it’s often used as an easy way to exercise a horse, but it was designed to be far more than that.
Longeing must be also the most misspelled word in the American horse lexicon. It is not ?lungeing? (you don’t leap at the horse, nor him at you), and it’s not ?lunging? (even though the horse does have to breathe). The word ?longe? is French, and it describes the long rope or line (the longe line) attached to the horse’s halter, cavesson or bit, allowing the person holding the line to work the horse in a circle.
The Young Horse.
Ponying (see November 2010) and longeing can and should be used together when starting young horses under saddle and into
work, because they each develop strength and fitness and a working attitude.
Any horse starting work after lengthy time off has to be ?legged up? as he starts into work, and that’s just as true of young horses. they’ve been on vacation for two or three years! Fitness means strengthening the tendons and ligaments with lots of walking and trotting, and it means strengthening the muscles in the horse’s topline and hindquarters to hold the rider so they can work comfortably when under saddle.
Fitness and strength are especially important in small horses (so they?ll be strong enough to hold a rider, who may represent 15 to 25% of their body weight) and in large warmbloods or draft-crosses (because it’s hard work just carrying around their massive bodies, before you add the weight of the rider).
Using ponying and longeing together also teaches young horses to go mentally and physically forward. When you longe a horse, you must urge or drive him forward. Do not encourage or accept him mincing around the circle, looking bored, tired or resistant. Use your whip and your voice to urge him to step forward, to use and to strengthen his muscles, to learn to move his feet, and to teach him that all challenges or problems are to be solved by going forward to them, not by backing away from them.
Another reason to longe a young horses is to teach them voice aids and to respond correctly to them. When you say, ?T-rot!? or ?Can-ter!? they should do it, within a few strides, not in 50 strides. Teaching them to listen to and respond correctly to your verbal and whip commands prepares them to respond similarly to your leg, seat and rein aids when you’re sitting on them.
You can also teach young horses to jump on a longe line. Use any of the cavaletti that we reviewed in the March 2010 issue.
The Older Horse.
Developing fitness and building strength is the main reason to longe older, more experienced horses. Horses can often be resistant to working on the bit because they?re not strong enough
in their backs or hindquarters, so longeing in sidereins, a chambon or other similar devices is like a human lifting weights or doing yoga.
These devices are useful for horses who don’t trust keeping their heads down because they don’t think they?ll be able to see either interesting things or potential ?predators.? Longeing with these devices can help them develop confidence in their ability to go in a round frame and to feel safe while doing it.
Developing your communication with your horse, and his trust in your communication with him, is a good reason to longe an older horse. Think of it as developing communication in the opposite way you do with a youngster. Instead of teaching them voice commands as a precursor to other aids, you’re using communication that complements the usual legs, weight and hands. When you’re holding the longe line, all you have is your voice, your whip and your body language. Perhaps your horse has become overly used to your riding aids and learned how to ignore them. New aids challenge him to listen to you in a new way.
The effect is similar to a schoolteacher or riding instructor explaining something to you in a different way ? and suddenly you understand it. This can be especially effective with particularly smart or sensitive horses.
You can take this communication one step farther by free-longeing your older horse, either in a round pen or in a ring. We?ll discuss that in an upcoming article.
Because you’re stuck on a circle and you have fewer aids to influence your horse, the range of exercises you can do on a longe line is far more limited than you can do on your horse’s back. These exercises should emphasize energy and impulsion (power from the hindquarters), balance (as a result of that impulsion), and footwork.
The most basic longeing exercise is transitions, and this is a case of seeking perfect (or nearly perfect) practice. Don?t be satisfied with slow, sloppy transitions. Expect the horse to be focusing on you and to respond quickly to your voice and whip aids.
Once the horse has warmed up his body and his mind, work up to two or three transitions on a 20-meter circle, to encourage his focus and to help him develop strength in his back and hindquarters, strength that will help him stay round and soft through these transitions when you ride him.
Spiraling the horse in and out, from a 20-meter (or larger) circle to an six- or eight-meter circle is another useful exercise. Spiraling in develops strength in the horse’s inside hind leg, because the horse must balance his weight on that leg as the circle gets smaller. At least he will if you maintain his impulsion and use the longe line and the whip to encourage him to bend to the inside.
Keep him on the eight- or six-meter circle for only one or two revolutions, because it’s hard work (kind of like making you jump up and down on one leg repeatedly). Then allow him to gradually spiral back out to a larger circle.
Increase the demands and effect of the spiraling circles by doing transitions during the spiraling and on the small circle.
You can work on lengthening and collecting the horse’s stride on the longe line (the spiraling circle helps develop the strength needed for collection). You can also develop strength and footwork by longeing the horse over rails or cavaletti set around the circle, and you can teach your horse to take care of himself over low fences on the longe line.
Always bear in mind when working a horse on a longe line that it can be very hard work. Even if you’re just letting your horse mince around, it’s harder than riding him because of the repetitive effect the circle has on the body. A good rule of thumb is to limit your longeing to 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the horse’s age and fitness and on how demanding the work you do is.
it’s no coincidence that riders in sports that require horses to be absolutely quiet in the ring rely on ?longe ?til dead? to make them that way ? and they?re the same sports that many people think administer the most lameness medications.
Reiner Klimke, the great German dressage rider and trainer, wrote in his book Basic Training of the Young Horse, ?Longeing is as difficult as riding. The person who longes needs considerable experience. If he does not do it correctly, much damage can be done.?
Using Your Aids.
If the horse doesn’t respond to you on the longe line, just as when you ride, examine how you’re communicating with him. Start with your verbal commands. Are your aids for the three gaits and the halt distinct and clear’ They must be distinct enough for the horse to differentiate between them, just as he does with your leg or seat aids.
The walk and trot have two variations, one to move up to that gait or to in
crease the energy or tempo, and one to move down to that gait. The brisk command, ?Walk on,? tells the horse to move forward from a halt or to increase the tempo. (Many horses will try to amble at the walk on the longe line.) The two-syllable command ?Walk,? tells the horse to make a transition from trot to walk.
The brisk command ?trot!? (with an emphasis on the first T) tells the horse to go forward from the walk (or halt) to the trot. The two-syllable command ?t-rot? (with the emphasis on the second syllable), tells the horse to make the transition from the canter to the trot.
The command for the canter is also two syllables: ?Can-ter? (with the emphasis on the second syllable of canter).
The command to halt is ?Ho-o-o? or ?Whoa-o-o,? making sure that it doesn’t sound like the walk command you’re using.
Your voice commands must also coincide with the use of your whip and your body language ? visual cues to accompany your verbal cue. To do an upward transition or increase the horse’s impulsion, raise the whip, snapping it once ? or several times if the horse is slow or acting resistant.
To do a downward transition, lower the whip, nearly touching the ground with the end of the shaft. If necessary to slow down or stop the horse, gently swing the longe line in a small backward circle to move the bit in the horse’s mouth. Don?t jerk on the horse’s mouth, unless He’s dragging you across the ring.
Be sure, too, when you command the horse to halt that he halts on the circle, with his head facing in the direction he was traveling and his butt behind him. He should then stand there and wait for you to approach him, collecting the longe line as you near him and then patting him on the shoulder. Praise the horse your voice before approaching his head.
Do NOT allow the horse to turn to face you or to turn his butt to you. Either maneuver puts you in danger ? of being struck or kicked. If the horse wants to turn toward you, keep positioning yourself toward his hindquarters, pointing the tip of the whip at his face, repeating the command ?Ho-o-o? until he stops in the direction of travel. Reward him, and do it again.
If the horse points his hindquarters at you, stand clear, reprimand him with the whip and your voice, and repeat the exercise until he stops correctly.
On the longe line, the halt is the termination of the day?s exercise and must be done with willing obedience, demonstrating to the horse that you are in command.
Article by John Strassburger, our Performance Editor.