Monday, July 25, 2016

Long Lining Demo

Long lining: An excellent tool to have in your tool box.

I'm prefacing this whole thing with: I am not a trainer. My own trainer started Mikey on the lines for me, then handed him off about 20 min later after he had a good grasp of it and had run him through all of his paces. I long lined Mikey a TON before helping her start a very troublesome mare who definitely gave me a crash course in when to let go and how to read the horse for when shit is going to hit the fan (rearing, spinning, bolting). I believe someone else started Penn on long lining as he seemed very chill with the whole deal when I tried to start him. Mikey and Penn gave me good experience in the basics, the troublesome mare gave me troubleshooting experience for sure (she had ZERO self preservation instincts). PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, use your trainer to help you get started. If a trainer is not available and you still want to try, use a dead broke horse to get going and keep it simple! Horses seem to either react well to long lining, or they lose their shit and can seriously hurt themselves. This post is how I long line and is based on my experiences with two well behaved horses and one very very naughty mare.

Several of you have expressed interest in learning to long line, but lament that there isn't a trainer to get you started (again, see above!). I took my helmet cam to the barn with me to show you how I do it.

Dressed to play! Also, matching!

You will need:
  • A dead broke horse, or one that already knows how to drive or long line. Most horses that know how to ride and steer usually take well to it.
  • A surcingle (a saddle will do, but I've never done it with one)
  • Saddle pad of some kind (I like using a half pad and regular pad because surcingles just never seem to fit right).
  • Two long lunge lines - I prefer these ones from Schneider's because they are all cotton, clip together if desired, and are the longest lines I could find at 24'.
  • Snaffle bridle, sans reins.
  • Horse leg protection (optional, but I recommend it)
  • Gloves
  • Helmet (optional, I don't wear one normally to long line, but would never judge if someone else wanted to!)
  • Whip (optional, I prefer a very long dressage whip, almost driving whip length)
  • A trainer (preferred) or willing victim friend to help get you started.

Too much on the forehand, but still an attractive picture.

Getting Started:

Before I took Mikey and Penn into the ring to get going, I rubbed them all over with the lines. Mikey was always funny about ropes/tapes running the length of his body (made measuring for blankets interesting). I didn't want either horse to panic about the lines touching them. I unrolled the lines and draped them all over and across as much of the horse as possible. No idea if either horse really needed this, but it made me feel better.

I use the bottom ring on the surcingle. Yes, your hands are near the top ring, but putting them through the bottom ring seems to keep the horse steadier. I want steady since Penn's problem is unsteady. I also hold the reins like I would regular reins, not in a driving hold.

The first time you long line, use a completely enclosed space. If you have an indoor, use that, and close all of the doors so there aren't any distractions for the horse (I didn't close them in my video because Penn has done this many times before). We started troublesome mare in a smaller flat field. Not ideal, but it was the best space available.

Stretching while I get my shit together and attempt to take pictures of him.

Hook up your lines while you have your friend hold your horse. Get behind the horse, far enough back so they can't kick you (a reason I like my 24' lines), and cluck and ask the horse to walk on while your friend leads the horse forward. Don't aggressively slap them on the sides with the lines- work up to using the lines as your leg. Have the friend lead the horse around for as long as it takes for the horse to become comfortable and understand going forward with a person behind them. I had my friend slowly walk away from Penn rather than stop and let him pass her by. It was a non-event for him though. He was mostly confused about why there was a person up there to begin with. If your friend has long lining experience and you've never done it, let your friend hold the lines and you walk by the horse's head. After the horse gets it, swap places.

Things to remember:

  • This takes A LOT of coordination.
  • Keep a good pace behind the horse. The horse shouldn't be pulling you along, but there shouldn't be excessive loop in the rein either. Keep a steady contact.
  • The lines act as both hand and leg. Direct pulls act like your hand, taps/slaps against the horse's side act like your leg. I rarely use the the whip- mostly just to ask for canter while on the circle.
  • Every cue you give will be amplified by the time it reaches the horse. Heavy in your left rein? You'll be dragging the left side of your horse's face into a wall. All the time. Small corrections with your hand may cause the horse to turn one direction or another when you're just trying to stay straight. Straight is excessively difficult.
  • You will have to "ride" every step. "Constant vigilance!" as our favorite Auror says. If you use the right rein, you have to give the left by an equal amount. Everything is the same as if you were sitting on the horse.
  • Hands together, just like you were riding. No pulling hands out to the side or splitting them up. You'd never steer with them 3-4' apart while on the horse, why would you do that here? Shorten your lines or encourage the horse to walk faster so you keep a steady contact. When turning, let the outside line slide and give instead of splitting up your hands (for small 90 degree turns I give my hand since it doesn't require much slide), then shorten the lines as appropriate as you straighten. This really helps you learn to keep your elbows at your sides and use your core to half halt.
  • You can let the ends of the lines drag on the ground, or carry them in your hand. Starting out, let them run on the ground (and don't clip them if you got the ones I recommended). I usually only clip them once I'm on my circle, otherwise I'll hold them in my hand or let them drag. Let them drag for your first few times so you can easily change rein lengths as needed.
  • REMEMBER TO ALLOW YOUR HORSE TO TURN! You will run him into a wall otherwise. Poor Mikey. The way the lines amplify your cues, the horse will not be able to turn to stop themselves from running into a wall. I made this mistake several times the first time I long lined Mikey. I had to haul on his mouth to get him to stop so I could organize myself so I could allow him to turn.
  • Keep it simple and if either of you are getting fried, quit immediately. Don't mentally (or physically) exhaust the horse. It's easy to do on the lines because the horse can't lay on your hands or use you as a crutch. Penn never goes for longer than 20 min. That said, you can probably spend 30-40 min just walking behind the horse doing stupid basic steering figures so you can learn to steer all over again and stop drunk driving.
I recorded getting started with my helmet cam. I'm a bit further back than I usually am, mostly because I wasn't sure what it would look like in the video. You may have to turn up the volume- I couldn't get the video editor to turn it up. It was 93 degrees and muggy on Sunday when I recorded this, so bear with the puffing as I talk to you.

Things to do your first time long lining:

  • Stick to the walk. You could spend an hour behind the horse practicing steering. And then spend another hour the next day practicing steering again. Repeat until you're not inadvertently driving drunk most of the time. Have fun running behind your horse for trot and canter. Try it at least once after you've got the basics down. I can't stay on my feet in sand, at the proper pace, and attempt to steer or work the horse correctly all at the same time, so I don't trot or canter off the circle unless it's to go straight for a couple strides to move down the ring.
  • Walk basic figures: 10m teardrop reversals (like in the video), diagonals, centerlines, quarterlines, 20m squares. Pay attention to your geometry and the horse's projected track vs the desired track. Don't try leg yielding or shoulder in or anything fancy until you can steer.
  • Pay attention to if you have a heavy hand (I bet you do). Is your horse's head always cocked one particular direction? I'm heavy in my left hand and outside hand.

On the circle:

You can see in the video that Penn's hindquarters are in for most of it. That's an issue I have because I'm way too heavy on my outside rein. I smother with it to try and get the turns to happen. I am not excellent at working on the circle. I can do enough to get Penn to balance and hold himself up. This is where you'll notice your horse's biggest weaknesses. Penn's canter was so unbalanced as of Jan/Feb this year that he couldn't hold himself up for more then a quarter of a circle on the lines. He'd fall and trip all over himself (that's how much I held him together). He can hold it well for about a circle now- I tend to bring him back to trot early to make a good transition happen.

Blooper reel: I asked for canter while attempting to take pictures and he didn't appreciate the stale hand. He took off and bucked. This was just before, I was so mad that my rapid fire missed it!

Pay attention to bend, circle size and shape, and walk with the horse. None of that standing still in the middle stuff. This is an active participation activity. Spiral in and out is a good exercise to do, and it takes a lot of coordination between shortening/lengthening the lines and giving correct instruction to the horse.

Better canter. Still a little zoomy and wanting to lean over the inside shoulder.

I mostly pay attention to keeping Penn as uphill as I can, and standing up and not leaning over his inside shoulder. You'll have to half halt and urge for forward and it will be like you're riding.

You can double lunge with the outside rein coming up over the spine, or behind the haunches. I like the feel that over the spine gives me, but behind the haunches encourages more stepping under. I have trouble with the outside line creeping up under the tail, especially in canter. I think this is because I'm too heavy in my outside rein.

I don't have as many tips for working on the circle, mostly because I'm still working that part out myself and I think it's very horse specific. I do know that I now despise working with a single lunge line and side reins. They feel stale and dead to me after having a feel of each side of the bit using double lines. Right now, I'm trying to encourage forward so Penn gets uphill, but it's a fine line between uphill and then running and being downhill. We're working on a strength issue right now, both on the lines and under saddle!

So proud of himself.

By the way, when I get pictures of him working on the lines, I usually hold them like the fillis hold on a double bridle. I feel like since if I use one, the other should give, this let's me have a small say in what's happening as I attempt pictures.

Troublesome Mare:

I debated with whether to include this section about the mare, however, I wanted to share my experience of when the shit hits the fan.

I wrote about the troublesome mare a while back. In fact, I worked with her on the day of Penn's PPE. She was having a problem with moving forward and Trainer wasn't comfortable sitting on her anymore, so she opted to swap to long lining to get the mare moving forward on her own. Trainer walked her forward for me, but as soon as she'd move away, the mare would violently react to my gentle tugs to steer:
  • Rearing - I'd take the lines, and just like you would on a horse that's starting to rear while you're sitting on them, attempt to break the upward motion by pulling the head to one side. I would work her back and forth until the upward motion stopped, let her rest, then politely ask her to move forward again like nothing ever happened. Crude? Yes. Effective? Yes. The mare never got further off the ground than a few inches.
  • Spinning - She'd spin and wrap the line around her neck 2 or 3 times. I removed all pressure from the situation and just try calming her with my voice. I'd unwrap her carefully, reset, and ask her to move forward again.
  • Bolting - As terrible as it sounds, I simply let go of her after making an attempt to stop her. Getting dragged is NOT worth it. We'd catch her, then reset so she wouldn't learn that pulling away would make us go away. She'd gallop full tilt for laps around the field, and never once stepped on the lines, just FYI.
These were all responses to simple cues like pulling the right rein to turn right. No tapping with the line, nothing. Basically, the goal was to remove all pressure, let her decompress for a moment, then start again. After 20 min of this, she eventually gave in to walking and turning right and left, but we could see her wheels turning to try and figure out how to get out of it. Don't start with a horse like this one, use the most broke horse you can find.

Just like air conditioning?

I hope this answers anyone's questions about long lining and how I do it. Please please please, if you decide to give it a try, don't do it alone and use your brain about how much is too much, and quit if things are going wrong.

Nom nom, more zucchini please!
Who knew? Horses like zucchini. And Penn happily ate it. And he won't eat apples.


  1. I really enjoy long lining, especially with young ones. One of my mares was hand walked then long lined in the trails for months before I rode out -- made riding her out on the trails alone a breeze!

    A clinician I rode with in May double lunges every horse before she rides -- she said she can achieve on the double lunge in 20 minutes what it might take 40 minutes to achieve under saddle. Very interesting concept! (I don't do it, but I still found it interesting)

    1. I've seen excellent results with long lining young ones everywhere under the sun- backing them is easy, trail riding is easy.

      I can totally understand her double lunging horses before riding. Penn never gives me any problems or avoidance like he does when I ride (which is why he's doing a bit more long lining and double lunging these days! He's developed an opinion!).

  2. I want to long line Stinker but the lady I got him from was told that he was broke to ride and drive as a 2 year old. Considering the issues we've had under saddle where I am a lot more comfortable I'm not sure it is worth the risk. It could be a non issue because he had 4 years of retraining on the ground before I got him and he is excellent on a lunge line. But it could also be like a whip. He is totally fine with me holding it and poking him with the blunt end and I can rub it all over him but as soon as the lash end (and I'm talking dressage whip) gets pointed towards him it's game over...

    1. Yea, that'd be something I'd bring a trainer in for, if you were to do it at all. He might have some baggage with it and could really hurt himself. Not worth the risk!

  3. I have a book on long-lining and my mule was actually broke to do it by a driving trainer. But I have never practiced it myself. You've reminded and inspired me to try it out.

  4. SUPER awesome post... this has been on my list of things to learn. Thanks!

    PS. Now I know what to do with all the damn zucchini in my garden...

    1. Great! I tried to give as much detail as I could. And yes, now I want to grow zucchini just to feed it to Penn!

  5. I got my last horse, Jet, as a 1 1/2 year old. I literally couldn't do anything but ground work, so long lining him became a staple. No one ever taught me how to do it - I just went by what snippets I could find on it. Luckily I had an awesome yearling that didn't try to kill me (until his surgery of course), so I was able to do a lot of things with him. I credit all of this ground work and long lining as the reason why we were able to advance so freaking quickly together once we started under saddle. I've never done it with Fiction, but I probably should one of these days.

    1. I think I could have started Mikey on my own, and I even got the lines and everything set to do it, but then chickened out and had Trainer help me. Every horse I know that had started on the lines has moved along so quickly once under saddle.

  6. I find long lining so much more effective than longeing in side reins. I should really incorporate it more often into our work. Great guide!

    1. I don't think I'll ever do side reins again, unless I have to for some strange reason. Through championships, I'm trying to do it once every 7-10 days. Penn gets the lines if he's especially rude to me, otherwise I try for 10 days. Or when I just don't feel like riding.