Learn How To Longe Your Horse

Many horse owners use longeing as a way to let their horse burn off energy before riding. But a horse wildly bucking and racing around at the end of a line is not successful longeing.

“Some people think longeing is just to ‘get the edge off’ so they can ride more safely, but it’s important to know that poor longeing will get you a poor response from the horse when you get on,” says long-time clinician and Quarter Horse competitor Lynn Salvatori Palm.

With three dozen world and reserve world championships and a record four AQHA Superhorse wins to her credit, Palm was 2007 AQHA Horsewoman of the Year. She is an AQHA judge, USEF “R” judge and competes in traditional and western dressage.

Purposes Behind Longeing

Done properly, longeing can have multiple benefits:

  • exercise and conditioning
  • teaches concentration and obedience
  • teaches horse to respond to your commands
  • develops self-carriage and balance

“You’re building response to your commands with your voice, your position on the ground and your whip. Longeing allows you to read your horse’s response,” notes Palm, who has used longeing as part of her training routine for decades.

Longeing can be a valuable part of ground work and putting a foundation on a young horse.

“It lets you see the horse’s carriage and what needs more developing,” says Palm. “What a horse is doing on the longe line, he’ll do under saddle.”

Equipment for Longeing

  • Well-fitted conventional nylon or leather halter (not rope)
  • Flat cotton (not nylon!) longe line (30 ft. is a good length)
  • Longe whip

A cotton longe line is much safer than nylon for several reasons. Cotton won’t tighten as easily if it accidentally gets wrapped around your hand or the horse’s leg. It doesn’t abrade skin like nylon can, and in an emergency situation cotton will break; nylon won’t.

Palm likes to use a conventional nylon halter that fits snugly so it doesn’t slid around on the horse’s head.

Snap the longe line to the side ring on the halter. If you need more control, you can run the line under the chin or over the nose (more response) and attach it to the ring on the other side. A longe line with a chain shank gives even more control.

Longeing Technique

“If you and your horse are both green at longeing, let someone who’s experienced help you the first time or watch a DVD to understand the basics,” suggests Palm, whose expert tips are found in her instructional DVD, “The Art of Longeing” (lynnpalm.com).

To control your horse by directing him forward, to slow down, to speed up, and to stop, you’ll use:

  • Your position on the ground
  • Your voice
  • Movement of the longe whip

Your position should remain parallel to your horse facing his barrel. Think of this as “home base.” If you could look down at the scene from above, you’d see a “triangle.” Your horse is the long side of the triangle, the longe line and the whip create the sides, while you are the “top” (peak) of the triangle. Maintaining this position gives you the most control.

Basically, you’re walking parallel to the horse in a smaller circle as he goes around you in a larger circle. To stay parallel, you’ll either go left by crossing your right leg in front of your left, or go right, by crossing your left leg in front of your right.

Be patient! It takes practice to get proficient at controlling the size of the circle.

To get your horse to slow down or stop, move so that your point of the triangle is more towards his front end. To encourage him to move forward or increase speed, move so that your point of the triangle is more towards his hips. Stay parallel to the horse at all times rather than walking towards or backing away from him.

“If the horse starts coming in towards you, don’t back up, just drive him outward and on. The higher your hand comes with whip, the more the horse can see it. The consistency of voice cues and using your whip are essential to success,” says Palm.

“Soften and lengthen a word to slow the horse (like ‘Whoaaaa’). Use the word louder and shorter to get more energy from him (like ‘Trot on!!’),” she explains.

The whip serves to encourage forward motion and help the horse better understand your voice cues. The whip should always be positioned behind the horse and shouldn’t touch him at any time.

You will raise and lower your hand holding the whip as needed so the horse sees it, but any whip motion should be sideways, not up and down. If you need more response, you can swing or snap the whip, so practice this before you start longeing.

The mildest action with the whip is just raising it. Swinging it towards the horse is a stronger action. Snapping the whip is the strongest whip cue.

First Lessons

Eventually, you’ll be able to longe your horse in the open, but an enclosed area like a round pen is the best place for your first longeing lessons. If you don’t have a round pen, use the corner of a fenced area such as an arena. Avoid slick surfaces and very deep or firm footing.

If your horse is too energetic, you’ll have better luck if you turn him out at liberty and let him buck and play before undertaking your first longeing lesson.

When starting, begin on the horse’s left side and send him in a counter-clockwise circle. You should be standing opposite his shoulder, holding the lunge line looped in your left hand with the longe whip in your right hand pointed towards his hindquarters.

Encourage forward movement by using your chosen voice command, such as “walk.” Move your whip hand slightly so he sees it. Gradually let out line as he moves forward. If your horse stops or turns towards you, encourage him to keep moving by showing him the whip and using your voice cues.

“Your voice and whip work together, while you maintain light contact on the longe line, just as you do the reins when riding,” explains Palm.

If you pull too firmly on the line, the horse will stop or come towards you. If you allow too much slack, the horse’s head can angle outward.

You’ll change hands with the line and whip depending on whether your horse is going left or right. And of course, you have to attach the snap to the other side of the halter.

You don’t have to ask for anything faster than a walk in the first lesson. It’s more important to maintain control and for your horse to respond calmly to what you’re asking him to do.

When you ask the horse for a halt, he should stop and stay at the end of the line waiting for your next command.

To end the session, you can either walk up to the horse or call him in to you, but either way, be sure to keep your longe line picked up and off the ground.

Keep initial sessions short and productive. Ten to 15 minutes is plenty, especially with a young horse.

“End your longeing when the horse is showing that he is relaxed by licking his lips, lowering his head and paying attention with his ears on you,” says Palm. “When your horse does something well, don’t overdo it. The reward for him is ending on a positive note.”

Stay Safe

These pointers will help keep you and your horse safe:

  • Never wrap the longe line around your hand or allow it to wrap around any part of your body
  • Keep the longe line organized in your hand in loops
  • Don’t let the longe line drag on the ground

“A dragging longe line is so dangerous; you can trip on it or get tangled up,” cautions Palm, who emphasizes the importance of keeping the line off the ground at all times.

Organizing and holding the line takes practice. Hold the longe line in large loops, not small ones.

Holding and using the longe whip also takes skill that comes with practice. Palm recommends first learning how to handle and organize the longe line and use the whip without the horse so you can gain confidence.

Common Mistakes

If you allow your horse to make either of these two common longeing mistakes, the circle will become “egg-shaped” because the horse has lost his balance.

Falling In: the horse’s head is angled to the outside of the circle and looking outward so he’s putting more weight on his “inside” legs. As he loses his balance, he’ll often speed up and may buck or sling his head.

Falling Out: the horse’s head is angled inward with too much weight on his front legs, causing his body to angle outward and the circle to get larger. As he loses his balance, he’ll often slow down.

“If you allow the horse to get away with either of these, it’s encouraging him to develop poor balance,” says Palm.

To correct falling in, you should encourage the horse with your cues to move away from you in a bigger circle.

To correct falling out, you should use your whip to encourage the horse to speed up and get back on the circle.

Longeing Tip

Some people use splint boots or polo wraps and/or bell boots in case the horse bumps himself while longeing. These can be helpful, but if your horse is not accustomed to wearing such leg protection, don’t introduce them at the same time you’re teaching him to longe. Let him get used to wearing any new equipment in his stall or when turned out to avoid distraction during your first longeing lesson.

Did You Know?

A small longeing circle puts unnecessary pressure on the horse’s joints, tendons and ligaments, which may cause injury, especially with young horses. Greater speed and smaller circles put more stress on the horse’s body. For safety’s sake keep the circle about 60 feet in diameter. If the horse’s body is tilted to the inside as he goes around you, the circle is too small and/or he’s going too fast.

Courtesy of Farnam’s Stable Talk