Longe Whip Techniques

With a weekend off from shows (shocking in May), on Saturday I indulged a long-held desire to try fly fishing, especially since a local chapter of Trout Unlimited was offering an all-day course at a local park. Tryon being a horsey capital, there was a three-ring hunter show right next door (cutting into our field for casting practice), but I mostly kept my eyes where they belonged. But I couldn’t keep my mind from swirling around the similarities between fly casting and longeing, and I even picked up some ideas to improve my longeing technique.

Fly fishing improved my whip technique while longeing my horse.

For example, when I got a pop of sound, my fishing coach said it was because my line wasn’t fully extended on the back cast and still curling forward at the end when I brought it forward. And, when I got a knot in my leader (annoying in a longe line, but a breaking point in a fishing leader and thus a much more serious matter) it was because I again hadn’t allowed the cast to fully extend behind me or I had allowed the line to pool on the ground behind me.

Huh, I thought, would the same thing apply to longeing? A fly fishing pole is much lighter than a longe whip and the line much thinner, but the arm mechanics are similar. One difference is that you mainly cast overhead while fishing (you wouldn’t want to do that with a longe whip unless you want the whip to snap the top of the horse’s back!), while you mainly cast side arm when longeing. We were admonished to keep the upper arm near near the body and do most of the action with the lower arm, keeping the wrist stiff. I found that lower-arm mechanic to both have better control than if my arm was extended and to be less tiring.

I could hardly wait to try the same techniques with my longe whips at the barn Sunday. I have both a telescoping Fleck longe whip with a long leather lash and a traditional one-piece nylon braided whip, and I tried both. The fly casting technique worked better with the Fleck – no surprise there since it’s closer in weight and construction to a fly rod – but it also worked with the one-piece whip.

I know some people like to pop their longe whip, but I was taught not to do that – rather to cast steadily toward the horse’s hind leg and if I needed a bit of emphasis to flick the tip at a hock rather than to crack the whip. Since a pop is basically the tip of the whip breaking the speed of sound, it makes sense that allowing the lash to fully extend would reduce some of the speed there and thus the likelihood of a pop. It worked just that way. When I started the whip back while it still had curl, I got a pop, but when I got a steady rhythm and allowed it to extend – with a brief pause as instructed by the fly casting coach – there was no pop and I had overall better control of where the tip ended up.

And, sure enough, when I brought the whip forward while the tip was still curled, or if I let it puddle behind me, I got knots near the end, which was much more annoying and harder to release with the leather lash than with the braided nylon lash. I found I could replicate all the instructions from the overhead fly cast to the side arm longe cast, including the part about keeping the upper arm close to my side. Again, holding the heavier longe whip that way was much less tiring than letting the arm extend.

So, fly fishing school actually turned out to be horsemanship school. Who would have guessed?!

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