|The Art of Longeing Your Horse - Part 2|
|- Lynn Palm|
|As I explained in the last article, longeing, when done properly, benefits a horse by giving him conditioning, exercise, and muscle development. Longeing also teaches him to carry himself balanced on a curve and a straight line. Here are my tips for achieving these benefits while teaching your horse to be mannered and responsive during longeing.|
Use a Longe Whip
In addition to having a properly fitting halter, longe line, and leg protection on my horse, I always carry a longe whip when I longe. A longe whip has a semi-flexible shaft that is at least three feet in length with a flexible whip or “tassel” end that is one to two feet longer than the shaft. The tassel should end in a little popper that will make a pop or snap sound, when the longe whip is flicked. The horse will react to this sound by moving away from it. The longe whip is the tool to help keep the horse going forward, and keeping him forward is a key factor in his conditioning and putting him in balance.
It is important to know how to properly use a longe whip. When carrying or moving with the whip, for example as you would while leading the horse, it is carried with the tip pointed DOWNWARD. Hold the whip by its handle so the shaft extends behind you and the tip is pointed down toward the ground.
When it is time to use the whip, simply rotate your hand to change the whip’s position from being behind you to holding it out to the side as if it were an extension of your arm. The tip should remain pointed down toward the ground. The whip, in this extended position, acts as an extension of the handler’s arm and helps to keep the horse forward.
The biggest error I see in the carrying of the whip is handlers who carry their longe whip with the tips pointed up in the air with the ends dangling down. This makes the horse uneasy and unsure of what the handler wants.
The Key to Longeing Success
Handler position is the key to successful longeing. Practice the proper handler position before attempting any longeing. I will explain the correct position as if standing on the horse’s near (left) side. With the horse outfitted and ready to longe, stand facing him at his middle. Hold the longe line in the left hand, slightly bending your elbow for flexibility. The longe whip should be held in the right hand, with the right arm extended. The arm is open and the whip parallel to the horse’s hindquarters with the tip pointed toward the ground. The wrist is straight, but flexible.
When in proper position, these points of the horse and handler should form an imaginary triangle with three sides of equal length: One side of the triangle extends from horse’s nose through his shoulders to the point of his rump. A second line extending from the horse’s nose and third line extending from his rump should intersect at the handler’s feet. All three lines should be equal in length. In other words, the handler is standing in the middle of her horse. In this position, the handler will always have the best control.
If the handler moves too far in front or the shoulder of her horse, she is no longer part of an equilateral triangle. One side of the triangle, from the point of the nose to her feet, is shorter. A handler in this position will encourage her horse to slow down because she is too far in front of him. This handler position makes it easy for a horse to use to evade longeing. He will stop his forward movement in reaction to the handler’s position, turns towards her, and stop.
If the handler moves too far back from the middle, toward the horse’s hindquarters, it will encourage him to go forward. Now the imaginary triangle has shifted so the distance from the point of the rump to the handler’s feet is the shortest. This handler position works to “push” the horse forward too much. Because the handler is behind movement of her horse, she loses control. It is critical that a handler be able to evaluate her position when longeing and stay centered!
For safety sake, pick a place to start longeing within an enclosed area such as a paddock or arena that is flat and has good footing. If the horse should get away in this enclosed space, he will not be able to go far. An enclosed area will also give both of you more security during the learning phase.
I will explain this lesson as if teaching a horse longeing to the left. Simply reverse direction and attach the halter/longe properly (as explained in our last article) to longe to the right. Start by leading the horse on a medium-sized circle. Your left hand should hold the neatly coiled longe line and the whip with tip held pointed down. Your right hand should lightly grasp the longe line closer to the horse’s head. There should be slack in the line.
Walk at least one complete circle leading the horse. As he continues moving forward on the second lap of the circle, change your position from leading him to longeing him. Release your right hand so that only your left hand is holding the coiled longe line. Extend your left arm to continue guiding him on the circle. Put your right hand behind your back and switch the whip into it. The reason why the switch is made like this is to keep the whip low and behind the horse rather than waving it in front of him.
As the horse continues forward, turn your body towards him to face his barrel, or his “middle.” Instead of stepping forward towards him, cross your right leg over your left and make a small circle to follow his movement as he travels around you. This stepping motion would be reversed for longeing in the other direction. Be sure to maintain that equilateral triangle position. Avoid spinning” or pivoting in place as the horse longes around you.
Gradually start letting out the longe line through your left fingers. Check your position. You should be in the center of a triangle, with arms forming a “V.” Your left arm should be extended in a straight line to the horse’s nose. It should be holding the longe line and guiding the horse around the longe circle. Your right arm should hold the whip and be extended so it is pointed just behind his hip to encourage forward movement.
Encourage the horse to move forward using the voice command to “walk” with a cluck, if needed. If he does not respond, lift the whip up slightly and then lightly move it towards him if he needs more encouragement.
Add Some Straight Lines
Here is how to add some straight lines and variety to longeing lessons. At a walk, practice going from the curve of a longe circle to a straight line, back to longeing on a circle. A straight fence line makes a good guide to follow to introduce this. Or begin by longeing the horse at a walk, and then come off the curve of the circle so the horse is between you and the fence. Instead of continuing a curve, follow the fence with your horse and move in a straight line. While maintaining proper longeing position, cross one leg in front of the other, but move parallel to the fence. Extend the left arm to guide the horse in a straight line. Do not walk toward the horse or away from him--just stay parallel to him and the fence keeping a light tension in the longe line.
Go a short distance alongside the fence. Begin another longe circle by guiding the horse with the left hand. At the same time, turn your body and “cross step” away from the fence and onto a circle. This technique takes a little practice, but it will pay off in improving your longeing lessons and their effectiveness.
In our next article we will conclude this series on the “Art of Longeing” by learning how to solve two important body position problems, and use longeing to help the horse release his “inner” energy so he can concentrate on what you want him to do.
Make your longeing sessions more than just going around in circles. The part of my “Longevity Training Series” (available in VHS and DVD) titled “The Art of Longeing” will teach you how to use longeing to improve your horse’s body position and balance, exercise through different speeds and gaits, condition him, and evaluate his readiness for riding or training. Review it and other Palm Partnership Training™ educational products, services, and equestrian schools at www.lynnpalm.com.
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