Training Exercises: Line Longing

Line-longing is built on round-penning PLUS disengaging the front and rear.

The Purpose of Line-Longing

Round penning and lunging are very different. The purpose of Round Penning is to teach a horse that you are the respected leader and he is your willing companion.

The 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 learns to be compliant, soft and without resistance, ending each exercise by disengaging his rear and facing you for his next cue.

As practice continues, he will learn to move through several gaits, transitioning up and down smoothly – keeping perfect gait and body position.

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.

Longing is not to “wear him down” or “get the buck out”, although it can take up a little excess energy.

It is first and foremost to gain his respect.
It is to demonstrate and teach consistent gaits with recognizable cues.
It is to get control of both his rear end and his front end as he learns how to change his weight distribution in preparation for collection.

It is magical!

The colt in the video “Early Line Lunging” has practiced the Stop and Face on “Whoa” followed by the Invitation to Come In. He is smart. You can see that he
1. Anticipates both maneuvers. He quickly disengages when asked to whoa! (a very nice performance)
2. But then comes in without an invitation
3. Comes in too close.
Since he has a very gentle temperament, this is not a terrible problem. It is remedied with a couple of well-timed corrections. His 6th lesson will include a correction for continuing to move after the disengage, coming in without an invitation, and sensitizing him to my personal space.

Longing: Step by Step

Equipment Needed: Stiff Rope Halter with Nose Knots, a Training Stick if you use one, 14′ to 21′ Lead Rope

Training Needed: De-Sensitizing and Disengaging the Forequarters and Hindquarters are necessary pre-requisites for this exercise. Familiarity with Round-Penning/Joining UP are also helpful.

A difference between pushing and driving. Pushing is a steady pressure that a horse can push back against. Driving is a rhythmic pressure that demands movement away from the driver.

Initially, we must establish direction.
Then speed.
Then stop and face.

Later, Transitions from one gait to another smoothly up and down.

Establish Direction

point the direction of the longe
Take your horse and equipment to the center of the round pen. Face him (at least 6′ feet away), and grab your rope about 5′ from the buckle with your head-side hand.

The Send
Indicate the direction you want him to go with your rope hand by raising it in an obvious manner to point the way you want him to travel. Exaggerate your point. Make it high and obvious.

Then, moving into him, send his front away from you by either twirling the popper end of the rope at his head/neck crease or the shoulder-neck crease as you move. If you use a training stick, drive the head/shoulder away from you until he is circling at the end of the rope. Let the rope slide through your hand as he moves away from your space. Ultimately, he will be circling at nearly the end of a 14′ rope.

He should leave smartly. Put enough energy into your shoulder-tap/pop 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. And don’t let him leave in a straight line that drags his rear end past you close enough to get a good kick at you.

If your initial rhythmic air-tap, air-tap, air-tap does not make him move away, raise the pressure with actual contact and a firmer Tap, Tap, Tap. If he is still slinking off or not moving, raise the ante again to TAP! TAP! TAP!

The horse in the animation below is a very belligerent mare. She resented any instruction, and she required a training stick to keep the handler safe, while the colts in the videos needed only a twirling rope.
animation of a horse lunging
Most horses will move by the first or 2nd contact tap. A sensitive horse may move with just an intent body posture and an air-tap. A dominant, lazy horse may take an extra escalated TAP! to take off quickly. Use the minimum level of pressure that gets the job done according to your horse’s reaction.

Do NOT stand so close that he can hardly see you in front of his nose. 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.

Do NOT chase his fanny to get him to move. This is a very common mistake made by Dressage or English riders who do not understand the rear disengage or even the particular purpose for which we are teaching the lunge at this time. You can’t mix and match training methods efficiently unless you have a great deal of experience. You nearly always end up missing a critical step in one or the other and get a mess down the road.

The first few lunges will probably be a little scattered. A sensitive horse may try to run backward or get frantic before he meets the end of the rope. Just follow (lowering your pressure) and keep driving lightly at the shoulder while bringing his face toward you. Eventually he will realize that if he stays at the end of the lead, you will stop twirling. By necessity that means he is traveling in a circle since his head is connected to the lead. A circle is the only option.

If he goes the wrong direction, bump on the halter to get the head facing you again and continue to swing at the appropriate shoulder until he takes off the right direction.

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.)

Your horse should remain a nice distance from you. If he is circling close enough that you can whack him on the shoulder or the butt with your stick or your rope, he is too close! Do exactly that to send him further out. If you can reach it, you can whack it and mean it. He needs to be out of your space during the line-lunging exercises.

Control Speed

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 even a canter. 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 steadily 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 pointing hand again along with your energy level. Click. Send the rope or the string toward his head and neck again until he picks up his pace and then relax again. If he is still lazy, send your string or rope to his tail to make him tuck and move out.

How does he know the difference between speed up and disengage his rear? For speeding up, your pointing hand is in the air. You are not moving into or pointing at his butt with the disengage posture or stare. If you mean for him to disengage, you are drawing the lead down to inhibit forward movement and leaning into his butt to drive it away.

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, mad, 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 body language. Relax a little. Stop staring him down. Take a deep breath. Stop twirling! 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.

picture of the drive line on a horseIf he does not slow down, move your energy obviously in front of his drive line to inhibit his forward movement – to slow him down. Move subtly back behind his drive line when he slows down in case he thinks you want him to stop. Don’t shut him down completely.

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. Now practice moving down to a walk and back up to a trot.

Stop and Face

demonstration of horse stopping correctlyWhen it is time to stop, you want your horse to stop forward movement and turn his fanny away from you to bring his face to you.

Say Whoa! Slide your hand down the rope to inhibit his forward progress. STEP toward his rear (staring at his fanny like you did in the Disengaging Exercises) to remind him of his rear-disengage maneuver. POINT/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! again and relax all pressure when he is in the correct position.

If his rear-disengage is well-learned, he will stop, turn, and look at you. He gets to rest.

If he doesn’t stop, you have not looked and moved toward his tail adequately enough for him to want to hide it. Try it more precisely and forcefully so that he remembers his rear disengage request. Slide your hand down the rope to inhibit progress, point your stick at his rear hocks, and lean into his rear with your body posture. If you still get no disengage, Lean in and actually spank on the butt with the rope or stick like you mean business. Send his butt away with authority.

The colt in the video “Early Line Longing” has practiced the Stop and Face on “Whoa” followed by the Invitation to Come In. He is smart. You can see that he
1. Anticipates both maneuvers. He quickly disengages when asked to whoa! (a very nice performance)
2. But then comes in without an invitation
3. Come in too close.
Since he has a very gentle temperament, this is not a terrible problem. It is remedied with a couple of well-timed corrections. His 6th lesson will include a correction for continuing to move after the disengage, coming in without an invitation, and sensitizing him to my personal space.

Alternate Whoa! Correction
If he is still so excited that he does not stop, send a large snake of energy down the lead rope to the halter snap so that it SNAPS forcefully to get his attention. That will usually bring him up short. Then STEP toward and point 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. Step-Point-No Response. SNAP. Step-Point-Back Away when he disengages. Relax. Relieve all pressure so he can rest.

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 the verbal cues or his face-to-the-center halt later)

Soften the Neck and Body

Most novice horses will perform this exercise with their head straight or even looking into the wild blue yonder and their rib cage stiff. You can see this easily. You can feel their stiffness because they are “leaning on” the lead.

You want 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 hindquarters.

horse lunging with good inside head carriage
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.

Some novice horses will think that your tug is a sign that they should halt. It’s an honest mistake and shows he is trying to comply. Click, point, and otherwise encourage him to continue to move if he makes that mistake.

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.

We will refine his suppleness and bend (at the rib cage) even more in a later exercise when your horse is more accomplished and controllable. For now, we are happy that he is lunging calmly with an easy arc, halting when asked, and disengaging when asked to whoa.

Transitions – Walk, Trot, Walk, Halt (Whoa)

animation of horse longingYour horse must eventually learn to walk when asked, trot in a consistent appropriate trot with strength and balance, and canter (lope) 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.

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 or driving the hindquarters away.
If you face/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). You must be aware of your position in relation to the drive line at all times.

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 cantor is expected the first few days. We need him to understand that cantering or loping is just another gait – neither adrenalinized nor crazy. To teach a smooth cantor and a smooth transition down from a cantor, 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.

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 a faster 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.

To reiterate:
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 nauseam. 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.

Then proceed to maintaining gait under saddle or on to Liberty Longe.

Horse training can be dangerous. Not all methods work on all horses. Instruction presented here is not meant to be prescriptive in nature, and takes no responsibility for the welfare of any animal or person using our methods.

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