Saturday, April 6, 2013

Long Lining and Allergy Update

Allergy Update:
Harley coughed so little yesterday, that I almost forgot to give him his allergy medicine!  We spent several hours together and he only coughed a few times.  We had a long lining session and I rode him a little bit and he barely coughed at all!  Yay!  Today could be totally different, but I am still going to celebrate yesterday.

I tried something new.  Grooming seems to send him into coughing fits, even if I groom him in the washstall outside, so I decided that he needs a "dust mask", just like I used to wear to clean stalls.  I draped a small towel from the noseband of his halter.  He looked kind of silly, but it actually worked.  No coughing!  I might try an old t-shirt next time, since it will be a lighter material.  He seemed to think that I "forgot" the towel and kept trying to grab it with his mouth.  So his dust mask doubled as a source of amusement.  I fed him some treats to inform him in terms that he can understand that towel = good.  I guess this is just one more use of a towel to add to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy!

Long Lining:
Since I had a week off, there was a long list of things to get done that I normally do not have time to do.  With the baby coming in less than three months, it was more critical than usual that I take advantage of this time off from work to get some work done at home.  Of course, this includes Harley.  I trimmed his front feet and I am happy to say that the preemptive strike worked.  No hoof wall separation or flare developing and the trim was pretty fast and easy.  His hinds will be next time.  Re-introducing Harley to the long lines was also on my "must do" list.  Although I am feeling great, my saddle days are definitely numbered.  I needed a couple days where I did not have to rush to bring out the surcingle and lines so that Harley and I could get reacquainted with long line work, before I feel too much like "Humpty Dumpty". 

Our first shot was on Monday.  Unfortunately, Harley's allergies were not cooperating, but he was still willing and the work was not strenuous, so we were still able to have to some fun and accomplish my goal of re-introduction of the lines.

Harley was just about perfect.  Unfortunately, I cannot take photos while long lining and I did not think to bother someone else to take any, so you will have to take my word for it.  He looked great!  I had power-steering.  He stretched into the lines almost immediately and used his back and topline in some really beautiful ways.  We circled, we went straight ahead, we walked figure eights and even trotted figure eights!  The last time that I tried trotting figure eights we had some trouble maintaining the trot for the direction change (and I had some trouble keeping my lines from tangling), but this time Harley just marched right through the change and I managed to keep my lines in check.  It was too easy.  The grand finale was a little bit of canter.  Cantering in the lines is still new for us, but you wouldn't have guessed it by the easy way he picked up the gait and rounded up into the contact.  I was delighted.  Long lining this spring is going to be fun!

The only thing that did not go excellently was the trot-walk-trot transitions.  For some reason, he preferred to shorten his trot and do this beautiful little collected trot instead of transitioning to walk.  I am not terribly worried about fixing our communication for that one.  I rode him later and realized that I release the reins when I ask for walk.  In the lines I mistakenly increased the contact, which must have told him to stay in gait and collect.  What a problem, right?

Trial and Error with emphasis on Error:
Training a horse involves experience, time, and some trial and error.  I do not like to make training mistakes, but I also think that you have to make some, or you never learn what not to do.  I made a training mistake yesterday.

After Harley's hoof  trim, I decided to take out the lines again and re-test, but this time I got the brilliant idea to put the lines through the top ring on the surcingle.  I normally use the middle ring with him and he likes this very much.  I have tried the top ring before and it was a fail (he balked and felt trapped), but I was tempted to try again.

Why use the top ring?
  • The upper position is closer to my hand position.  Harley likes my hands carried above his withers.  The middle ring seems to pull down on him sometimes, which is contrary to our training MO.  
  • I drape the lines behind his butt and I thought the top ring would make it easier to keep the lines up and out of harms way.
Harley was very tolerant, but it became clear that the upper ring is still wrong for him.  He did not stretch into the lines at all and by the end of our trial period, his back was completely turned off.  There was no swing in his step, although it sort of looked like he had more suspension in his front end.  I think this was false suspension and result of him pulling his forehand up instead of lifting with his abdominal muscles.

Eventually, he sort of went "on the bit", but his neck was short and the bloom of muscle infront of his withers was missing.  My teacher and I have worked diligently to help him release that part of his neck, so that was pretty much a deal-breaker for me.  The look in his eye was unmistakable, too.  He gets this blood-shot looking edge to his eye when he is stressed and unhappy.  His mouth was also barely moist.  He usually has a nice rim of foam.  He did his best to work forward, but eventually started to tune me out and ignore my vocal commands.  I am not opposed to pushing my horse's comfort zone for the purposes of growth and improvement, but that is not what this was. 

The final straw was the line getting stuck up, under his tail!  I cannot believe that he didn't freak.  His tail was clamped down pretty tight, so it was just a matter of time before he gave the lines the "hoof".  I reset the lines to the middle ring after that and chastised myself.

"Never try the top ring again.  Never, never."

Oh well, live and learn.

It took several minutes for Harley to relax and get even close to the wonderful work that he did on Monday.  He stretched his neck and back in relief immediately, but was resentful of the lines.  He showed his resentment by rooting against them aggressively as he walked around.  I gave him as much slack as I could and told him "no", when he rooted.  My power-steering was temporarily gone.  Thankfully, he was mostly back to normal after a few minutes. 

Harley is a forgiving horse, but he did inform me that I owed him a canter under saddle after that.  I obliged and it was a wonderful canter indeed!  That was what finally made him (and me) feel better about the whole thing.  Some happy snorts and stretchy trot were my apology accepted.  Thank goodness!


  1. I'm glad you got that happy canter in!

    1. I asked him to trot and he made it very clear that we did enough trotting in circles, by instantly picking up a nice rocking canter. Funny boy.

  2. You might not be able to take pics long lining but come on how about Harley 's new "dust mask" now that would be cute. Sounds like it worked for him, good thinking.

    As you said trial and error, it's how we learn what works. Good to hear you and Harley sorted it all out and ended with a nice ride.

    1. Okay, you are right! I will have to snap a photo of his dust mask. ;)

  3. Always know where your towel is! And, above all: Don't panic. ;-) That's really a creative way to keep Harley from coughing--maybe there is a market for Pony Dust Masks?

    I've never tried long-lining, even though I would like to, as I am a HUGE klutz and I can not see myself being able to hold two longe lines AND a longe whip. I have visions of me all tangled in the lines and Salem dragging me all over the farm at a mad gallop. Ouch.

    1. The lines can definitely get messy. I have the cotton ones from Dover that basically look like two lunge lines with rolled nylon at the ends. It IS a lot to keep organized especially with whip. I wish for the fancy (expensive) leather lines, because I think they would be smaller for my hands.

      I would not want to be at the end of the lines attached to a galloping horse, which is another reason that I do not think I will be using the top rings again. ;)

  4. Great idea with the towel!

    I have the same sort of issues when I long line through the top rings. My last long line session was crap because I was so convinced I should use those top rings! I will most definitely be following your lead and switching back to the lower rings next time.

    1. So what do you think it is about those top rings?

      I suspect Harley's conformation is part of the reason, but I still do not understand why he will not relax and stretch since I carry my hands up and he likes that just fine. Lovely Dee's conformation is very different than Harley, so maybe it has more to do with sensitivity of the individual.

    2. I've even found the same type of thing when using side reins. Put them up in a more "riding" position and I get a hollow/resistant horse. Put them a ring lower and she's soft and relaxed. Very odd. Maybe somehow related to how you can back up your hands with your body when riding but not while long lining?

    3. The absence of the other aids must make a difference. Good point!

  5. I've never tried long-lining before, mostly because I have no idea how to do it. Then I read posts like yours and it sounds so awesome, I want to try! Hopefully some day I will find someone who can teach me how to do it.

    I really like your solution to his allergies while grooming. Horse hair makes me sneeze (and I'm not allergic, it just tickles when you inhale it, lol!) so I can imagine it might make Harley cough. Hopefully his new dust mask will help him lots!

    1. If you ask your trainer for a lesson, I am sure that you will not be disappointed. My teacher introduced Harley to the lines for me and gave me a lesson before I tried it myself. It is a lot of fun, when your horse is relaxed and happy, that is. ;)

      Horse hair definitely tickles and does not taste very good if you accidentally eat some. Oh the perils of shedding season.

  6. Fabulous Idea For Harley, The Dust Towel! I Bet Dampened, Slightly, It Would Block Everything.
    Yes Cute Photos Please!

    The Only Time I've Seen The Top Ring Employed, Long Lining, Was On A Horse Forum Video. The Trainer Stood In The Middle, Lining A Brilliant Horse, Walk, Trot, Canter.
    I Would Think It Could Skew The Contact, From The Ground. Seems Harley Did Too!

    Glad You Got The Redeemed Ride, And The Rocking Canter....Something For You And Baby!

    1. Very true about the rocking. It was nice!

      Honestly, it felt very mechanical to try and work the reins in that position. I didn't enjoy it either.

      Dampening the towel is good idea. Thanks!

  7. Ok, that settles it, I have got to read the hitch hikers guide, I feel I am missing out :) I am unclear of the term "rooting" what is it that he is doing? I know when Fred "roots" he's usually under the covers.... Somehow I can't picture Harley doing that.
    I am really glad the towel has given him some relief, every little bit helps, for sure! Like GHM said, pictures please?

    1. Okay, some pictures are coming!

      When he roots he pushes strongly down on the reins. If I were holding the reins he would be pulling my elbows open or trying to pull me out the saddle. It is not a pleasant habit, but he was annoyed and aggravated so I had to let him get it out of his system. That alone is a good reason not to repeat the top ring experiment.

      It's a good book!


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