Thursday, April 25, 2013

Working in the Lines

Since I am not riding at the moment, Harley and I have been doing most of our work in the lines: one or two.  On afternoons after work I usually lunge him and save the long line sessions for the weekend when I have more time.  Harley has been working like a champ.  Yesterday, I lunged him and he demonstrated his skills for a barn-goer who was interested in the art of lungeing.  Harley did all his transitions from verbal commands and stretched his head to the ground with this lovely springy trot.  He got compliments for being so obedient and relaxed.  Thinking back to how he used to motorcycle around me on the line and could not handle the balance to canter a circle that small, I realized that he has come an amazingly long way.  I never really considered him a model lungeing horse, but I guess he had other plans!

This past weekend we returned to the long lines for the first time since the failed experiment of raising the lines to the upper rings.  Thankfully, the experience had melted away and he had no resentment for the lines now comfortably placed in the middle rings on the surcingle.  We got right to work with some nice walking and stretching into the bridle.  I love how the long lines allow me to warm up my horse with circles and straight lines, just as if I were riding.  I try to turn my hips and shoulders before using my hands to turn my horse.  It is a fun challenge to see how little I can do and Harley understands.

In the walk, most of the changes of direction are relatively easy, but the trot is a whole 'nother thing.  I cannot allow Harley to trot straight ahead for very long, because I am walking with him.  My lines have to be organized and my hands nimble for clear communication.  Most of the mistakes that I make in long lining come from the lines getting too long or too short and trying to manage the whip.  I absolutely hate catching my horse in the mouth, because I didn't manage my lines properly or turn him soon enough to prevent myself from getting left behind.  His expression tells me that he understands that my intent was not to hurt his mouth or turn him rudely, but it still disturbs the flow of his work, which can be very nice.

I am trying to develop some strategies for effective long lining.  This is what I have so far:

  1. Give my hands separate jobs.  Keep excess line draped (not wrapped!) in one hand and the whip in the other.  The whip-hand is also responsible for re-draping extra line or letting more line out.  This is still not easy, because I have small hands and the whip gets heavy.
  2. Keeping the whip in my whip-hand (right), move the whip from one side to the other when we change direction.  This means that the whip is crossed over the lines when we are traveling right.  So far, this seems to be less awkward than trying to transfer the whip to my left hand, which is holding a bunch of line.
  3. Always have excess line available.  This is important if I need to let more line out so my horse has time to turn or so he can stretch.  This is also important if the horse jumps forward suddenly.  Thankfully, that is rare, but it is a possibility.
Long lining reinforces many concepts from riding and I really like how Harley and I can still share a connection through the bridle, but it is definitely a different art and has its own feel.  I am looking forward to finding ways to finesse our practice.

If you have any strategies to add to my list, please let me know!


  1. long lining is something that I want to introduce Steele to.

    I'd love to see photos of Harley being a perfect model.

    1. Long lining is great for young horses in training. I highly recommend it!

      I want some photos, too. I am waiting for a day when there is a free person to take pictures for me.

  2. Do you really need the whip? Harley seems very sensitive to you,and he is already moving off your voice commands. I wouldn't have a clue how to handle the whip, I was taught to long line without it, there are definitely different schools on how to long line, but it may be worth a try.

    1. The choice to keep the whip does complicate things, but it is part of my training philosophy.

      I could probably go without it with Harley, because he forward-thinking and listens to my voice, but as a general rule I always carry a whip for groundwork and riding. Sometimes I use the whip to adjust his body position instead of my hands (like in turns) just as I would my legs or seat in riding. Also, if my horse should start backing up in the lines, I need an effective way to send him forward. I have tried flapping the lines against his haunches, but I do not like how this motion is transmitted to the bridle.

      Sometimes I use a short driving whip as a compromise, but the lash is so short on that one that it is not very useful.

  3. It sounds like you and Harley are doing some really nice work on the lines. I have to confess I'm not much good at it but I wish I were.

    1. It's fun, but I would ride instead if I were able.


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