Many riders underestimate working horses on a longe as a training method. This method is a great way of training the same principles that we use while riding with the advantage of doing it without the extra difficulties that are our weight, balance, seat etc. while working on the longe we can teach the horse to stretch, to collect, activate the hind legs, raise the back, work in different bendings and straighten up crooked horses. Here are some examples of these exercises that are so important to be able to have a straight, strong and elastic horse.
Longe with or without cavesson
Longing girth or light saddle
Working with cavesson is good in the beginning to give the horses the confidence to stretch the topline, trying to find a light contact with the side reins without interference of the longe directly in the horse’s mouth. Work with the longe on the bit is indicated for the horses that are already confident and secure, that accept small corrections from the longe without shortening the topline, particularly the neck. Different methods of attaching the longe to the bit will be described in a separate article.
To be able to have a strong and relaxed topline, we need to stretch it as often as possible. Therefore, while working on the longe, it is a perfect opportunity to do it in an easier way for the horse since it doesn’t have to deal with the change of balance and extra weight on the back that the presence of our body implies. For this purpose we can use the help of the side reins that allow us to teach the horse to seek for a pleasant contact in his mouth. To do so the side reins must have a length of around 20cm more than the length of the horse’s neck (this length varies from horse to horse depending on conformation, concentration while working, past experiences…). By positioning them like this we teach the horse that when we encourage him to move forward he has the possibility to do it by stretching his body seeking for the contact with the long side reins resulting in long and elastic steps, instead of shortening the body and moving forward with short and fast steps resultant from a contracted topline due to the use of short side reins as commonly seen.
Good stretching of the topline...
..with active hind legs and elastic steps.
Very clear raising of the back during voluntary collection.
It is also very common to see horses working with the side reins positioned very high. Usually the goal to do so is to stabilize the horse in the desired position with a closed head-neck angle at all times. The problem is that this “desired position” depends on a very delicate group of conditions that must be put together in order for the horse to be able to do it correctly (rhythm, balance, strength, action of the hind legs, lowering of the hips). By forcing the horse into this position you are doing nothing more that making him uncomfortable and, consequently, teaching him to search for ways how to avoid that position. By positioning the side reins as shown in the photos, we achieve a voluntary collection from the horse (coming from a relaxed topline) that will encourage the lowering of the hips and natural rising of the forehand by a simple impulse forward with very little change in the head-neck angle. Because the horse is used to working with a free forehand, this action-reaction moments will be natural and pleasant: impulse forward by the “rider”- lowering of the hips and raising of the front to move forward from the horse.
Raising of the forehand by lowering the hips.
During extentions the horse slightly stretches his profile...
...but keeps almost the same head-neck angle.
When well performed, the horse will feel comfortable in this position and it will become natural for him to work in this way. Even after removing the side reins he will assume this position by his own initiative.