Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Long Lining: DON'T PANIC.

"DON'T PANIC."  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, 1979.

I decided to long line Harley the other day.  He had been so good under saddle the day before.  We had practiced quite a lot of sitting trot and canter, so I wanted to give his back a rest, but still keep him limber.  Long lining seemed like a good solution.

I had also been thinking about which rings I use on the surcingle.  I tried passing the lines through the stirrups on my saddle one time.  Although we were able to proceed with some walking and a little trotting, this was a fail.  He kept rooting up against the reins and I had a difficult time keeping the lines from touching the ground, so we abandoned that long lining technique.  I usually use the middle ring, which places the reins at the level of Harley's mouth when he is standing normally.  This seems like a perfect setting for him, but I have been wondering about the top ring.  My horse likes it when I hold my hands a little higher than his withers.  Maybe he would like that in the long lines too?

I ran the lines through the top ring and told Harley to let me know how he liked it.  Walking around, he seemed fine, but he was not stretching his neck like he usually does.  After a couple circles and changes of direction, I asked him to trot.  He trotted off and then stopped dead and started to rear.


I immediately put slack in the lines by walking toward his shoulder and cooing "easy" to him.  Thank goodness he did not feel trapped enough to lose his mind.  He really only lifted up a little bit in front, but I was not about to let that escalate, especially since we have had such good experiences in the lines.  I do not want to ruin all the calm work up to this point or risk injury to my beloved.  I asked him to walk for half a circle and then halt, so I could adjust the lines and put them on the middle ring again.  He relaxed and chewed his bit.  I apologized and told him that "now we know".  Low and high are no good.  The middle ring is best for Harley's conformation and mind.

Once the lines were in the middle ring, he was excellent.  He started stretching his neck in walk and trotted off without a hitch.  I absolutely love how the lines allow me combine curved and straight lines.  We practiced some trot-walk-trot transitions.  I watched him figure out how to lift himself into the trot without popping off the contact and without the many variables of a rider.  I can feel his balance in the lines and see his body at the same time.  Very, very helpful.  And beautiful to watch.

We cantered in the lines for the first time earlier this summer.  He was going so well that I decided to canter on this day as well.  The right lead is his better lead, so we started there.  Unfortunately, I was not as tactful as I should have been...

I kissed.  He cantered.  And then he started to take off.


I know that I usually try to describe everything in detail, but this time I just can't.  All I can say is that I did not panic and he stopped almost as soon as he took off.  I went into instinct mode in order to diffuse the bolt.  I used my voice and the lines and even the whip, but the combination escapes me.  When it happened, I wasn't even thinking about how I was stopping him, I was trying to figure out why.  I knew we would have to repeat the transition in order to preserve our training progress.

From what I can gather, here is what I did wrong:
  1. I kissed.  This was too potent a command.  I should have used my body language by cantering myself, like we practice on the lunge.
  2. I was too far behind him.  I was in a very strong driving position.  
  3. I was over confident.  He was going so well at the trot, that I forgot that we have only cantered once in the lines and it was a very free-form, short canter in each direction.  Ego be damned!
The good news is that he did not hold a grudge.  He did hop around a bit when I asked him to canter again (I was still kissing instead of cantering myself.) and almost bolted a second time, but then the outside rein started to work.  I was able to half halt in the canter and encourage him forward without running.  He was fussing, but then it looked like he was also collecting more.  I think that the lines connected to me and the ground along with feeling them behind his hocks put him in a good situation to experience collection without my weight.  A part of me wonders if he started to run, because the lines made cantering feel so different to him.  Maybe that was scary.  Either way, we got through it.  By the time we cantered left (his trickier side), I had realized my mistakes and dropped the kiss.  I also moved up closer to his shoulder so it felt more like cantering on the lunge.  To my relief, he barely tossed his mane in this direction and looked quite round and relaxed.  We ended with some figure eights in trot, which was a first for us, but seemed anticlimactic after the excitement earlier.  His trot was no worse for the wear.  He looked great and he felt great and we tacked some more long lining miles under our belts/surcingles.

For the Hitchhiker's fans, I always keep a towel at the barn.  Tons of uses.  But I have yet to determine how the number 42 fits into training a horse.  I am sure that it does!


  1. It's great that you figured out about your too strong aid - and what a good boy Harley is :)

    "Don't Panic" is pretty much always excellent advice. Too funny - that's the second Hitchhiker's Guide reference I've run across in blogland in just over a week... I loved those books :)

  2. I followed the link. That was cute and I think you were spot on!

    He's been so calm with groundwork that I forgot to be careful. He reminded me that the fire is still alive and well. I am glad. :)

  3. Again, you decribed everything so well. I would love to see a video of your long lining sometime. It sounds a bit difficult and probably a pretty good workout in it's own right. I like the way Harley let you know his dissaisfation with the set up. I don't like it per se, it's nice that you figured out the problem. Long lining sounds like a really good way to get a good look at how your horse moves under saddle without actally being "under saddle".
    As for Fred, you're right, when my daughters' friend picked Fred up and dunked him in the river, I was actually pretty scared, thankfully nothing happened, and Fred really didn't seem to mind. I just thought of all of the what ifs. Ideally, I would like to find a swimming pool for the initial tryout with the life jacket.

  4. Very interesting discovery regarding which set of rings to use. The few times I've used my surcingle, I stuck with the middle set of rings, but I assumed the higher set would be closer to my hand position. Verrrrry interesting ... Speedy G may be getting some surcingle work again.

  5. Horses are very forgiving, particularly if your intent was good. HGG is a great book, with much good advice for regular, and horse, life!

  6. Mary- Thank you! Harley is good like that. I am still shocked that someone would take privileges with your dog! Thank goodness he was okay. I think a pool sounds like a good test site.

    Speedy G's Mom- Oh well. I know to stick with the middle ring now. The top ring was definitely too restrictive for his neck conformation, but I was not sure until I saw his reaction.

    Kate- What a relief and I agree. :)

  7. Well 42 is the answer to everything.

    How many times do I need to flex his jaw to the right before he starts to give? 42

    How many times have I washed that saddle pad? 42

    How many flies are buzzing around his face right now? 42


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