Line-longing is built on round-penning PLUS disengaging the front and rear.
The purpose of round penning is to teach a horse that you are the master and he is your willing companion.
The first purpose of line-longing is for your horse to learn to respectfully move forward in the direction you request and stop moving or change direction when directed to do so, then halt on command. In the first stages, he practices being compliant, soft and without resistance, ending each round by disengaging his rear.
As practice continues, he will learn to move through several gaits, transitioning up and down smoothly – keeping perfect gait and body position.
Your horse will learn to walk when asked, trot in a consistent appropriate trot with strength and balance, and canter in a controlled and easy pace with his front lifted and his rear and back engaged. He will learn to smoothly transition up to a faster pace and down to a slower one. It is 10 times easier to teach gaits to a horse under saddle if he has practiced them on line. Line longing can do all of this.
There is no horse (regardless of his eventual discipline) who cannot benefit from getting good at these exercises and no trainer who cannot benefit from understanding the purpose of longing. It is not to “wear him down” or “get the buck out”. It is first and foremost to gain his respect, then to demonstrate and teach consistent gaits with recognizable cues, and to get control of both is rear end and his front end as he learns how to change his weight distribution in preparation for collection. It is magical!
Longing: Step by Step
Initially, we must establish direction. Then speed. Then Transitions from one gait to another smoothly up and down. Then stop and face.
Using your 14′ lead, start with the horse near the center of the round pen. Facing him, point the direction you want him to go with your rope hand (direction hand). Raise your direction-hand in an obvious manner to point the way. Then send his front away from you. Either twirl the popper end of the rope at his opposite shoulder or use the handy stick to pressure that shoulder away from you until he is circling at the end of the rope. It is important that he leads off with his shoulder so that you can get his body away from you directly.
He should leave smartly. Put enough energy into your shoulder-tap/pop/intimidation so that he leaves you cleanly (leading with his shoulder) and gets to the end of the rope quickly. Don’t let him just slink off reluctantly or lazily. Watch that an aggressive horse does not try to bowl you over or kick out on the way out. (We are assuming that you have a great round-penning foundation and the horse is respectful already. If not regress back to round penning.)
Do NOT stand so close that he can hardly see you. Your point needs to be obvious. It is easiest the first few times if you are standing slightly to the side-front, making it obvious which direction to go.
Do NOT stand blocking his take-off. He needs to avoid colliding with you as he starts in the direction of travel.
Get him circling at a trot with some energy.
If you have a hot horse, he will probably start off with a fast trot. Or he may get frightened and go flying backward. If he gets frightened and tries to run away backward, just follow him and keep twirling at his shoulder until he finally moves into the direction you requested. Lower the pressure immediately so that he gets some relief and calms down into a trotting circle.
If you have a lazier or more reluctant horse, he will probably leave you in a slower trot.
When he is circling, relax your body so that you release the pressure as soon as he is circling the direction you sent him at a reasonable speed. If he slows down, raise your energy level. Twirl the rope or send the string toward his tail until he picks up his pace and then relax again. Be consistent. Get after him if he slows down, stop pressuring when he complies. He needs to take responsibility for maintaining his gait – whatever it is. (This is very important later when we ride. See Maintaining Gait Under Saddle)
If he speeds up without your asking, it is a sign that he is nervous. Relax your stance a little. Lower your energy level. Horses, like people, mirror energy. If you are up tight, agitated, fidgety, hyper, they will mirror that energy. After spending some time together, your horse will also begin to mirror your calming influence.
When first introduced to this exercise, a very nervous horse may want to move at a really fast trot. If he is nervous and moving too fast, use your calming stance and voice. If that doesn’t bring his speed down, just let him speed it out. Soon he will realize that you are not pressuring him to move. He will come down to a reasonable speed and ultimately to the speed you request with your body language and energy.
If he does not slow down, move your energy in front of his drive line to inhibit his forward movement – to slow him down. You may have to slap your rope or stick in front of him. This will startle him and cause him to hesitate. Move immediately backward when he slows down to release all pressure. Point and click again if he thinks you want him to stop.)
Find the amount of energy it takes to move your horse forward without causing unmanageable anxiety and to slow him down when he is nervous.
It will take some time for you to get him to leave you without panic and circle at an easy trot. (We will leave cantering until later)
When it is time to halt, STEP toward his rear (staring at his tail), reminding him of his rear-disengage maneuver. If he is too excited, SWING the stick or rope purposely toward his rear end (not spanking – just pointing to his rear) to cause him to turn it away (which brings his face toward you). Say Whoa!
If his rear-disengage is well-learned, he will stop, turn, and look at you. You may now invite him into your circle where he can be stroked and rewarded with a rest.
If he is still so excited that he does not stop, SNAP the halter. That will usually bring him up short. Then STEP toward and look at his rear to get his face to look at you. This is all done in this precise order with a nano-second between the movements. When he has stopped, back up to relieve all pressure. Step-Swing-Snap-Back Up.
Read the Verbal Whoa Exercise to see how to end the line-lung exercise each time you want him to stop longing, turn and face you.
The first part of line-longing is not competently done until the horse understands the cue to move away with his front in the direction we indicate and the cue to swivel his rear away from us on the halt. (Don’t worry that this swivel will detract from future performance. We can easily eliminate his face-to-the-center halt later)
Transitions – Walk, Trot, Walk, Halt (Whoa)
Now we want to be able to reliably ask him to trot, trot faster, and slow down to a walk from a trot, then halt. Up and down the keyboard like music.
Your visual and body-position pressure relative to his drive line has a profound affect on his forward movement. If your pressure is behind his drive line, you are “pushing” him forward. If you move your body/vision in front of the drive line you will be effectively shutting down his forward momentum (useful if you want him to stop, detrimental if you want him to continue to circle).
To slow him down, practice your drive-line positions. Move your energy in front of his drive line to inhibit his forward movement and slow him down. Point your belly button in front of the pink line. Or you may even have to take a step or two ahead of his travel to get your body positioned in front of the drive line. If he ignores your position, send a ripple of energy up the line to tap his jaw under his halter. He will “run into” his halter. When he startles and throws his head up, he will automatically slow down. Keep your body language low and encourage the slow-down with purring “Eaaaaasy” or “Walk-on”, then step back a little and keep your rope hand pointing so that he does not stop altogether.
Tip: It is very important that you are able to sensitize him to his drive line so that you can alter his speed from the center of the round pen with just a slight body movement. When we start canter work, he will get very excited. A spastic canter is expected the first few days. We need him to understand that canter is just another gait – neither adrenalinized nor crazy. To teach a smooth canter and a smooth transition down from a canter, we must be able to slow him down when he is excited. Practice the “Eaaaasy” voice command and drive-line cue with the walk-trot-walk until it is perfect in both directions.
Tip: Experiment to see how much energy to put into the ripple of the line to jiggle his halter for the slower pace. Usually it is very little. Start with a very small ripple and get larger if necessary. Find out how much it takes to slow him down without shutting him down completely.
Tip: As he travels around the circle, remember to get his face tipping toward the inside of the pen, not staring high-headed to the outside. This is important for three reasons:
1. He must watch you to understand you.
2. He has better balance with his head to the inside of a turn.
3. It is the first step to getting a nice supple bend in his neck and rib cage that will be needed when we are under saddle and asking for turns. AND
4. The more he looks at you (bringing his face into you as he travels the circle), the more he will be transferring his weight from dragging his body with his forehand to rounding his back and pushing with his rear end.
If he insists on looking away from you as he trots around the round pen, give a small tug on the rope that brings his head to the inside. Do this each time he strays. You don’t have to rip his head off, just a quick tug that re-positions his head. It is uncomfortable to have his head tugged repeatedly, so soon he will hold it correctly and get into that habit.
Horses that are paying attention will begin to “check in” with you during the exercise. He wants to stop and is opening a dialogue with you about that possibility. this is a good time to tell them that they are doing well and encourage him to keep moving.
You have probably long-since put down the handy stick or quit twirling the popper end of the rope to motivate your horse to circle in the direction you point at the speed you request.
You will probably have to pick it up again for canter work. You will also need a longer longe-line. You need one that reaches him at the rail with you in the center. He will need all of the room you can give him to get a smooth canter in the round pen.
The most challenging part of the canter is to get an immediate canter without going through the horrible, distended, adrenalinized trot (from slow, controlled trot to slow controlled canter) or without getting a jolting, over-sensitized take-off that leaves the rider in the dust. The perfect canter transition up and transition down can be taught on the ground with a minimum of risk to a rider.
Start by reviewing the walk-trot-walk-halt transitions. When the horse is doing a nice, balanced, relaxed trot, “kiss” (the cue to move forward and faster), and say “Canter” in a commanding voice (if you wish to have verbal cues). You will probably get no response. Follow the command by sending your longe whip or handy string to the horse’s tail end. That should get him scrambling. Depending on your horse’s sensitivity, he will either accelerate into a horrible extended trot or a frantic longing gallop – not a pretty canter. No matter. You have found his starting pressure. If you only get a few canter strides initially, take them and let him come back to his trot.
Begin asking with less pressure until you find the place where you are getting the response without the adrenaline.
If he extends his trot instead of taking up the canter, send the whip at his rear again with more “kiss” and louder “Canter” until he is actually cantering. If he is running, let him settle into it for a couple of trips around the pen, which allows him to get the feel of the pace in the confinement of a small, round space. He will slow down when you lower the pressure and when he realizes you are not continuing to push for the gallop.
In a short time you will find the right pressure, and he will become sensitized to the kiss and the word, “Canter”, transitioning up in a much more relaxed way.
Your “slow-down” transitions have been building to this point. You have a way to bring him down when he seems frantic. Transitioning up to the canter from a balanced and relaxed trot, then down from the canter to a relaxed trot is the key to getting balance and collection. It takes many sessions before he transitions up into a relaxed canter and back down, then back up again etc.
We have not asked him to maintain the canter for any prescribed length of time. As he gets more and more relaxed, you can ask for longer and longer sustained canter. Be sure to refine his carriage in a nice, arcing midsection with his head toward you so that he is forced to lengthen, take his weight off of his front, and bring his back up to push with his rear. You will see him become more and more collected and balanced as you practice this exercise.
Spend three times as much time on slow gaits as the canter gait. And don’t go from a trot to a canter every time. Only one fourth of trots should go up to a canter and only when the trot is even, rhythmic, relaxed. Otherwise you will get a horse who anticipates that a trot is ALWAYS followed by a canter, and he will be quite a handful. Follow three trots with walk or halt for every trot that accelerates to CANTER.
Horses spend MONTHS doing this exercise: 3 months for a good beginning and 9 mos to a year to build the muscle, flexibility and control it takes to go on to advanced dressage exercises done in small circles.
After about 10 sessions (depending on his disposition), your horse will begin to canter without the adrenaline, come down to a trot then a walk, then up to a canter as a matter of course. He must become as casual about the canter as he is about the walk or trot – just another gait. It should be slow and controlled – not fast and frantic. Any canter that is too fast should be slowed down using his drive line cue and your ,”Eeeeasy”. Now is not the time for running.
Transitions, transitions, transitions, transitions. Up, down, down more, halt, walk-on, trot, easy, walk-on, canter, easy, “whoa”, ad nauseum. Let him get bored. He doesn’t need to be worried as his speed increases. It’s just another day in the round pen.
Soon he will be a casual ballerina – transitioning smoothly and easily from one gait to another at your will: left, right, faster, slower, stop. He will be building strength in his back and you will see a horse who is becoming strong, supple and balanced.
When you have accomplished all of the above, repeat all of it with him wearing his saddle. Repeat it some more with people standing and sitting on the fence so that he gets used to people above him as he casually passes by.
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