Longeing the Dressage Horse--Part Two
Updated: Feb 18, 2021
I love longeing my horses... and probably not for the reasons you may think. I don't use longeing soley as a means to "work them down" when they're too fresh.
As a trainer, I strive to create a longeing session that is not only exercises the horse but also educates him.
As we mentioned in Part One, longeing provides a constructive way for the horse to establish or re-establish the work routine. The horse must listen to the handler's aids. Since there isn't a rider on their back, they also have a means to get out any excess energy without creating a dangerous situation for the rider or themselves, should they need it!
If you've never worked with your horse on the longe line, it's better to do your first session toward the middle or end of your work week. Your horse will already be in the groove of working. You don't want to try your first longe session when you're horse has been off for days and has a ton of excess energy. All of his excess energy will leave him unable to focus, learn, and retain information. In short, you're setting him up for failure. Help him out and teach him how to longe when his mind and body are ready to learn and work.
Each session needs to include a:
warm up phase
brief cool down
The Warm Up
I start by teaching all horses to start at the walk. They must walk calmly away from me and out onto the circle. At no point is the horse ever allowed to take off and bolt away from me. Insist that your horse remain in the walk until you're ready for him to trot. Like riding, I try to let the horse walk a few circles. Try to keep the walk forward-thinking, and the rhythm pure.
When you're ready, send your horse to trot. I use specific voice commands for each gait. I'll say to the horse "Aaaaannnnddd Trrrr--ot!" The long "and" let's the horse know something is coming. The two-syllable "trot" gives the horse a chance to process and react. Since I'm asking for an upward transition, I also try to make the tone or pitch of my voice go up (get higher) as I say "trot". The second syllable will sound higher than the first. The horse will cue into this and it will help him understand. If the horse doesn't go forward into trot immediately from my voice, I lightly move the whip toward his hind end and give it a little snap if necessary until I get the forward reaction.
Once the horse is in trot, I check and make sure he'll listen to my "come back" aids. I ask him to walk with voice, "Aaaaannnnddd Wa--lk", with the pitch of my voice getting lower on the second syllable of "walk". If the horse doesn't offer a transition to walk, I'll squeeze my hand on the longe line, putting pressure on the bit, until I get a reaction.
Repeat these walk-trot transitions until the horse moves off only your voice. Once your horse is listening to your basic "go" and "come back" aids, you're ready to move on.
This is where you and your horse can really have some fun. My horses' work sessions can include:
--Transitions between trot and canter--how many quality trot-canter transitions can my horse do on one circle?
--Spiral in and out on the circle--keep the horse flexed to the side, bent on the curve of the circle. Bring him into you on a slightly smaller circle, keeping the balance and quality of the gait. Then move them away from you back onto the larger circle, keeping rhythm and the correct bend of the circle.
--Rapid fire trot-walk-trot transitions--From a quality, forward trot, ask for walk. Allow the horse to walk just one or two steps and then send him right back to forward, yet rhythmic, trot. How quick can you make your horse off your aids? Can you make him quick, yet still relaxed and rhythmic?
Have some fun here!
The Cool Down
At the end of a longe session, I always bring the horse back to walk and allow them to walk a few circles. The walk should be relaxed, yet forward-thinking. Allow the horse a few minutes to lick and chew and process the work from the session. When I'm ready to finish, I ask the horse to halt and wait for me to walk up to them. I don't allow my horses to turn into me. They must wait for me.
A few things to remember:
Review the longeing equipment discussed in Part One. You'll need a soft cotton longe line, a longe whip, and side reins--you will get the most "bang for your buck" AND you and your horse will be much safer!
A Note About Side Reins: If your horse has never worked in side reins before, make sure your trainer is there to help you get him started. Side reins are a wonderful tool but they can be very dangerous if they are not adjusted correctly or if you and your horse have never worked with them before. Be sure to enlist the help of your trainer when learning to use side reins.
Because of the nature of working on a circle, working on the longe line is more taxing for the horse's body than normal work under saddle. Keep your sessions short. Measure your session by the quality of work accomplished rather than the quantity of time worked.
Keep the longe circle large. Aim for 15 to 20 meters, if possible. If you're working on a smaller circle (spiraling in and out), keep the work on the smaller circle brief. This work is very taxing on your horse's joints and muscles.
And finally, this information is meant to be used as guide only. This routine works well for the horses in my program but I can't say it will be a perfect routine for your horse. Use this information for ideas and work with your trainer to develop the perfect routine for you and your horse. If you don't have a trainer to help you, please reach out to me. I'm happy to help, either hands on or through my online coaching service!
Do you like to work with your horse on the ground?
What exercises or routines do you like?