Sunday, June 5, 2011

Long Lining: Techniques and the Canter

Memorial Day was a hot one, here in New Jersey.  Ninety-three degrees!  I decided that it was too hot to ride, so I took down the surcingle and brought out my long lines.  Why make the horse work hard when I can run myself ragged?  After all, horse people put the horse first. 

Exercise horse.  Check.
Exercise human.  Check.
Schedule medical appointment to have head examined for doing this on the hottest day of the year.  Nah.

All horse-related activities are inherently dangerous, as respectable horse people know, but I just want to be explicit in saying that long lining is not something to try without experienced help.  A year ago, I asked my teacher to give me a long lining lesson with Harley and we had a great experience.  She introduced him to the lines and demonstrated her technique before I got "behind the wheel".  We now have this tool in our repertoire, but I am certainly not an expert and I am definitely still learning the ropes, so to speak.  
Please be safe with your horse!

I long line Harley in a surcingle and his bridle.  I have flat cotton long lines with rolled black nylon sections that clip onto his bridle and pass through the middle rings on the surcingle.  For safety purposes, I leave the lines disconnected and I wear gloves.  I also roll the bridle reins and secure them with the throatlatch to prevent them from flipping over his head.  I carry a lunge whip or a driving whip.  I prefer the driving whip because I can use it like a super long dressage whip and it doesn't have a pesky lash to get tangled in the lines.  Also, I am terrible at cracking the whip, so the lunge whip is not much use to me.  There is seriously enough rope to manage without a whip lash to untwist!

Line management is something that I must relearn each time that we practice long lining.  I have tried holding folded line in each hand, but this makes it difficult to feel down the line and impossible, at least for me, to adjust the line length.  The hand that also has to hold the whip becomes especially clumsy.  Thank goodness Harley does not overreact to the whip and is patient enough to stand and wait while I organize my lines for the umpteenth time.

After some careful trial and error, I think that I have come up with a line technique that works for me.  I fold the excess lines to a workable length together (but disconnected) and hold them in my left hand.  I do not wrap the line around my arm or hand, which is a big safety no-no.  I carry the whip in my right hand.  My left hand's responsibility is to hold all the line and feel my horse at the end.  My right hand's responsibility is to direct the whip and adjust the line length for my left hand.  I will carry the right line in my right hand with the whip when changing direction or straightening my horse, but when we are moving along I can stay connected to him solely with my left hand.  I am right handed, so I find organizing the lines and directing the whip much easier with my right hand.  I tried switching the lines and the whip when we changed direction, but this was very awkward and unsuccessful at best.  I gave it a couple tries, because the rider in me wants to strive for ambidexterity, but it just was not practical, especially for figure-eights.  So the main downside to my technique is that when traveling right, I have the whip in my right hand and I have to reach across my left arm to touch his hindquarters.  The horse might be inclined to stop with the whip in the handler's "front" hand, but Harley has accepted it without any upset.  My clumsy readjustment of the lines and whip in an already tenuous directional change was far more aggravating to our practice.  In fact, he would toss his head up and look back at me like "would you quit messing around".  I was creating a lot of static, while he was trying his best to listen.

Memorial Day was the first time we had long lined in several months, so I spent a lot of time in the walk.  When I felt organized and he understood the plan, I asked him to trot.  At first he popped up in front, pushing off his front end to move into trot, but once he got moving he stretched into the lines and gave me some beautiful collected trot.  What I really like about long lining, is that you can offer your horse information about balance and straightness, but unlike side reins, you can also offer him more rein to stretch.  Long lines are like "living side reins" that give and respond just like a rider in the saddle, but without the number of variables that accompany carrying a person.  Having me walking or jogging slowly on the ground, encourages Harley to slow down and engage.  I can touch his hindquarters with the whip to inspire him to step more under and the outside line draping behind his body helps him think about using the posterior region of his body as he moves.  My teacher was the one to point this out.  The outside line actually creates body awareness, something that is difficult to duplicate with a single lunge line or even in the saddle.

My original goal for long lining was to help Harley balance in the canter.  Also, if I ever decide to pursue an Advanced Instructor certification from NARHA, I must be able to demonstrate long lining.  Up until this point, I had never ventured to canter him on the lines, but today felt really good.  I decided to go for it.  We only had to canter for a couple steps and I would consider that a success.  From the trot on a nice circle, I gave him the verbal cue and hopped myself into canter.  I loved the look on his face.  He was concentrating and seemed to understand that this was something very important.  It took him a couple attempts.  He jumped into the canter, but felt the outside rein and immediately returned to trot.  This was a good thing.  He was thinking.  I asked again, and finally he stretched into both reins and cantered on the left lead.  The engagement of his hindquarters and the lift in his back was gorgeous.  I encouraged him on with my voice and my energy.  I marveled in how easily he turned around me.  He was turning himself; the lines were just there to give him boundaries for his balance.  This was what I had always wanted for him.

We repeated the transitions a couple times and then changed direction through the walk.  After a break, he was equally stellar on the right lead.  Being his more balanced lead, he found the collected work easier, so I encouraged him to stretch his frame in canter.  Despite the heat, Harley looked good.  Without a saddle or passenger, he was just a little sweaty under his tack and around his hind legs, an indicator that he was working the correct muscle groups (Yes!).  I, on the other hand, had sweat running down my face, but I was having way too much fun to notice until my horse halted for the final time with a huge "Good Boy"!


  1. I'm impressed (and a little jealous) reading this, as I am still trying to manage just plain lunging my horse properly.

    Organizing the lines, extra line and whip safely and effectively must really takes some concentration. Sounds like you and Harley were working very well together - congratulations! :)

  2. Thank you for your comment!
    Believe me, this is after lots of groundwork (leading, lunging, obedience) and time together. I am very aware of my vulnerability when I am behind him in the long lines, but our years together have established an understanding and trust that allows us to find success. This is the newest horsie technique in my tool box and something that I have always dreamed of learning!

  3. Poor Speedy, yet another exercise he"ll get to try. Sounds like fun. I haven't used my long lines in awhile. They're very helpful when starting a horse under saddle, but I never think to go back and use them once the horse is "broke." Thanks for sharing!


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