The Forgotten Art

I've struggled with writing this post because I'm really not an expert at this. I'm not a professional, I haven't trained multiple horses to long line, I don't have a long resume of backing babies and producing them to any kind of level. That being said, I feel like I'm a good example that if you are patient with your horse and yourself, you both can absolutely learn to long line.

All these gifs are from our first day.
Step One: Buy Some Equipment (or be a mooch and borrow from someone else)
Some long lines are like two long lunge lines, and some buckle at the end like a pair of really long reins. I like the buckle kind because if I let my circle get too big it allowed me to keep hold of the reins with one hand and kind of run to catch up and fix my mistake. That way I don't drop one, spook my horse running after the trailing snake, or rip his face off trying to keep control of him.

Centaur 45 Foot Long Lines
I didn't even buy my long reins, I borrow them from my barn owner who graciously lets me use her things even though what I am probably most famous for at my barn is leaving my lunge equipment out in the rain. For days.

Step Two: Buy a book
I would not advise slapping the lines on the horse and expecting it to go well. I think a horse that trusted me and wasn't in a full state of panic constantly might not have been that bad, but that horse was not Spicy. The less said about that little experiment, the better. I may have water skii-ed across the muck heap.

The moment I realized I didn't really know how to stop.
Ideally Step 2 would be: get someone to teach you. But for some reason not many people know this tried and tested skill that can (and should) be applicable in every discipline. My dressage trainer, CC, has a few clinics over the winter with Richard Malmgren and I wanted to go, but my work schedule didn't allow it. Plus, apparently he doesn't really teach you to do it, he just works with the horse. Not saying this is wrong but I'm a nosy amateur who wants to get her grubby little hands on All The Knowledge.

Fortunately, there are a number of detailed, wonderful books that teach you how to teach your horse to long line. I love Richard Maxwell's books because they don't even require lots of additional equipment (you don't even need a surcingle!) and he breaks it down into small steps with very clear 'tests' before you should allow yourself to move on. I have a couple other in-hand books, but there's a book by Philippe Karl that I will totally be buying soon.

Get in my library, you bad boy.

Step Three: Teach your horse the cues before putting the long lines on. Be patient, and take your time.
Changing directions is essential when long lining. If your horse starts to get tense and quick, that's a good way to diffuse his energy. In the method I've decided to use for Spicy, that's the main operation for diffusing tense forward energy in the horse. In Unlock Your Horse's Talent, Max talks about looping the line around the horse, behind his hind quarters, as well as turning away from you when pressure is applied.

These introductory steps had a couple of weird attempts at what I wanted including very crooked backing up, but within a couple of days he learned what the pressure meant and readily turned when I asked. He didn't spook at the feeling of the line touching his side or hindquarters, or being asked to turn towards an invisible pressure away from me.

Step Four: Go do it. You're going to make mistakes, don't turn yourself in a knot over it.
The first time I hooked Spicy up to the lines I was really nervous. I had images of him running away, getting the lines tangled in his legs and hanging himself with a noose from a tree. We started out well, but within minutes I got the far line stuck over his hindquarters instead of looping around the back of them. I tried to flick them to the right place a.k.a. I slapped him in the ass with the long line. When he started to jig off I realized I had also stepped in the loop of my lines (which might be a reason to get unattached lines, I don't know, maybe I like living on the edge).

Shockingly, no one died. Because I took my time in Step Three teaching him exactly what I meant, when Spicy got confused he didn't completely lose his potatoes. We went on to have a lovely, relaxed work. It made me trust him because I realized he was learning to use his left brain to be okay with things, and it made him trust me because he started to realize I wasn't going to let anything terrible happen to him.

Even if I do make really idiotic mistakes.


Since then we've progressed to trotting and while I still make a ton of mistakes, he doesn't get upset about them. He's learning when things go wrong because his idiot owner tripped on a cavaletti he doesn't have to take off because lions (South Jersey must be FULL of lions, you guys). He just stops and waits. The more you practice the more you'll realize you're not as bad as you're afraid you were. You'll develop a feel for your horse and he for you, and that kind of bond is absolutely worth tangling your foot in a loop for.


Comments

  1. I love this intro to long lining! Also, I need my horse to understand that I am a clumsy idiot who is constantly doing silly things or otherwise the relationship is not going to work. Sounds like Spicy is really learning to trust you. I taught the turn around command with a rope halter and a long lead rope and it's a really cool way to teach them to yield to pressure. I'm excited to see how he progresses!

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    1. I'm sooo excited. That's how I started the turn around command as well, it seems like such a simple thing but it really clicks into their brain for whatever reason.

      And yeah, we need to not fly into a blind panic when I mess up or else his life is going to be spent in a blind panic. Sometimes I need him to be the adult lol.

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  2. Thanks for sharing! I feel like I'm generally not a total piece of shit regarding working with horses, but I never did learn to long line. And I feel like it's a REALLY useful tool to have in the box. I'll have to check out those books you mentioned.

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    1. It's TOTALLY worth learning. Now that I'm here I'm like good lord why didn't I do this instead of hand walking, or use this when I was rehabbing from injuries.

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  3. Thank you for taking the time to share!!
    I feel like I'm not talented enough to be in control of two lines at once lol. I think making mistakes is a good thing, too. We aren't professionals and our horses learn pretty quickly to take a joke at face value. Good job with him.

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    1. Hey, you are absolutely talented enough to be in control of both lines at once!!! His acceptance of my bumbling has actually really boosted my confidence that he's not a total fruit. He belongs to an amateur so he's going to have to get used to it.

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  4. I fully admit I've never long lined and really want lessons on it. Dante was long lined for about 3 weeks when he was backed and then has done a fair bit of pessoa. I on the otherhand need some tutoring - probably on a horse that has done it recently and then on my own in a round pen. Finding Trainers willing to take someone on for that is a completely other story though haha

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    1. Hey if Dante knows how to do it he might be able to suck it up while you learn. One of the books I have on in-hand work has you first do it with lines attached to the side rings on the cavesson. My BO even does it attached to a halter, if you're worried about his mouth.

      A round pen definitely would've been helpful but my farm right now doesn't even have a ring so I did it on my own in a field. I was a little worried if something went wrong there was nothing to stop him from disappearing to the next county. But he surprised me!

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  5. Long lining seems to be one of those lost arts, even more so than lunging. There's SO MUCH rope to keep track of, I'm not sure I'm coordinated enough to do it!!

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    1. It is a really hilarious amount of rope, and you also have to keep track of which hand is your 'outside' hand, and keeping the circle a normal shape. Our circles aren't so much circles right now above the walk.

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  6. I love this! I've always been curious about LL but never tried it. Maybe I should!

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  7. I have wanted to try this but have been nervous. I think it would be a really useful skill.

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    1. Now that I'm figuring it out I can think of so many applications for it. I think every horse that passes through my hands now will have some lunge line time!

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  8. This kind of stuff is so fun to learn! Really beneficial in so many ways, it really gets them thinking, plus the added benefits of desensitizing them to ropes and/or things around their hind end - an important life skill. And don't worry, I've seen many a very experienced long-liners still trip over their lines on occasion lol.

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    1. When I made the new plan for us and it didn't involve riding until end of March I was worried I'd be sooo bored but... I"m having SO much fun learning this stuff. It's really nice to be able to see my horse start to work too from the ground, sometimes I just get caught up in how much I enjoy his trot!

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  9. I love this post. (Lions in Jersey. Lol!) Totally worry about eating shit when I try this, because I def eat shit when I lunge. But it seems so amazing. I know 100 ways it would have helped Pig, so it's a skill I want Bast to know.

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