Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Longeing: Safety first!

Okay, now I admit that I'm not an expert on longeing a horse (see me longeing Riley in my previous blog video to confirm this). Harv is a seasoned old codger and he's totally predictable on a longe line. The first time I longed my 2 year old, Riley, imagine my shock when he suddenly turned into the circle and bounded toward me. I instinctively stepped toward him and hit him on the head with the whip to back him off. It happened to work. Since then, my barn manager has given me a few tips on longeing babies.

Even before my Riley experience, I have seen other people longeing horses in ways that shock me: dangerous, ineffectual, and unfocused. One dear friend seemed to love seeing her arab cross buck, leap, and careen around the ring -- until he fell and got injured, that is. Longeing carries risks for the horse and the owner. Below is my own personal list of longeing tips, stemming mostly from my "pet peeves" with regard to longeing and safety. I'm talking about casual longeing for basic exercise, not the formal training situation with surcingle, sidereins, etc. For more thorough discussions of longeing, see the resource list at the end...

Always use a cotton longe line that "handles well" (falls easily into loops) and has a swivel trigger snap. Keep it looped in your hand. The halter, bridle, or cavesson can be used in many configurations depending on the situation -- read the resources at the bottom for more info. Always wear gloves. For young horses, always carry a whip long enough to actually reach the horse on a 20 meter circle (usually 6 feet long rod, 5-10 foot long tail). Use leg protection (on your horse). Longe in an enclosed space, in good footing. And lastly: wear a helmet. Yes, that's right. A helmet.

It ain't geldings gone wild...
Most people longe to get the edge off a fresh horse, but it should not be a free-for-all. Even if you really just want to exercise your horse, keep in mind that horses learn about their relationship to you when during a longeing session. Too many people adopt a passive demeanor -- a "human post" that does little more than hold one end of the line. When you longe, establish yourself as the leader and exert control over your horse's actions. His/her attention should be on you.

How do you do this? Set a tone with your longeing session. Keep the horse's mind occupied by changing gaits and speed within gaits. Keep the horse moving forward to minimize the chance that he'll think of stopping or turning. Keep your body and the whip "behind" the horse to move him forward. Move your body and point the whip "in front" of the horse to slow, stop, or reverse him. Occasional bucking or cavorting will happen, but use your voice and pressure on the line to bring the horse back on task. If the horse is out of control, be prepared for a kick or sudden turn, and try to eliminate slack in the longe so that tangling is less likely.

Body language/voice commands
While I didn't know this was a specific rule for longeing, I've recently read that you should never step backward when a horse comes into your space. Riley is fairly calm and I can use the whip to encourage him back out on the circle when he cuts in. The bottom line is, use body language and voice tones that assert your authority. The same way you direct his actions under saddle you direct him on the longe line. Unless the horse is tense for some reason, s/he will fall into a relaxed rhythm on the longe. Try to make your commands follow this natural rhythm so that the "spell is not broken."

Don't yak at your horse incessantly or they'll tune you out. Your commands are whoa, walk, trot, canter, quit, and easy. Upward transitions should have an upward inflection (second syllable higher pitched), downward transtions should be be spoken (or sung, if you prefer) in a descending pitch. BTW, whoa ALWAYS means halt. When you want a slower pace, say Easy. To correct naughtyness, say quit rather than no, which sounds like whoa. A horse halting on the longe should not face you. They should halt with their body still on the circle. If they face you, gently direct them back on the circle until they halt properly.

Like I said, I'm not an expert, and these tips are only scratching the surface of all there is to know. So here are some sources that I found useful...

How to lunge a horse (video)

Lungeing a horse from University of Kentucky

How to Lunge a horse from

Longeing Safety from Equisearch

Longeing and long lining a horse in safety from (good discussion of equipment safety)

Art of longeing from

Longeing head to tail from

Lungeing: The basics

The USPC Guide to Longeing and Ground Training by Susan Harris

101 Longeing and Long Lining Exercises: English and Western
by Cherry Hill

Training Mythunderstandings: Teaching your horse to lunge from Meridith Manor


  1. This is a very important topic. I can't even count the number of horses I've met that were downright dangerous to longe. It is not cute when Spots or Fluffy goes blasting around you squealing and kicking! While some people might not understand the "wear a helmet" thing while you're longeing, I can say that I almost got my head kicked in once by a yearling. Fortunately, I got my arm in front of my face, so I got kicked in the arm instead. Especially when working with young horses, there's no such thing as too many safety precautions.

  2. Great post! Also, just because a horse has always been a great longer doesn't mean they will STAY that way! I'd had my OTTB gelding for YEARS and he would free longe in a 20m circle just fine on voice. Then one day I had him on a line on the sand next to the barn to get the jiggers out. Needless to say I failed the "closed in area" rule. He spooked at something behind me and bolted out of the circle (he'd never done that before, or did it again after come to think of it). When he yanked the line out of my hand the loose end somehow got wrapped around my ankle and dragged me. I was yelling "whoa!" and good boy that he is he stopped his panicked flight and halted after only a few strides. I ended up with a broken wrist from falling on it and a cast on my arm for 6 months during which I couldn't ride. (Although 2 years before I had ridden with a broken arm in a cast... yeah I was a teenager, how'd you guess? LOL)

    A 5 hour emergency room trip and one specialist visit later the horse was in the trailer and off we went on our 1000 mile trip with me riding shot-gun all looped up on pain drugs. Oh and I think that was the time the truck almost overheated too so we had the heat on in the cab in 90* weather. Memorable trip!

  3. I agree with all of this.

    Actually, it drives me *crazy* when horses don't longe well. Stay OUT on the circle away from me, go at the gait I tell you to, and stop when I say so. Is it really that hard?

    First thing I did when I got the project horse was teach her to longe correctly. She didn't understand staying out at the end of the line, wasn't all that great on her gaits, and would often walk a full circle (or two) before halting when you asked. Also she wouldn't halt to the right, at all -- she'd TURN AROUND and face left before halting!

    A few weeks later we've worked out all those kinks and she is a pleasure to longe ;)

    In my opinion, it's just a skill that horses need to have, no matter how frequently (or infrequently) they are longed.

  4. What a great article! It has always driven me nuts when trainers use longing as a place to "get the bucks out". When you allow bucking and other out of control behaviour on the longe, you're teaching the horse that it's ok to do things like that when you are holding the line! Once they learn that, it tends to escalate to big bucks, and bolting and pulling and more! In my world, turn out and only turn out should be used for "getting the bucks out"!
    Also thank you for the helmet tip! So true and so many people don't think about helmets for longing - then again too many people don't think about wearing a helmet, ever! I don't know about you, but I think my brain is worth saving....

  5. ALWAYS wear gloves - even when you're lunging/longeing the quietest, steadiest horse on the yard for five minutes so they physiotherapist can have a quick look. ROPE BURNS, people!


Hi Guys, Your comments are valued and appreciated -- until recently I never rejected a post. Please note that I reserve the right to reject an anonymous post.