Stop Lunging....Start Long Lining


3 Common Problems Long Lining Can Help Solve!....and Why It Is Better Than Lunging!

What is an amazing technique all riders in all disciplines can do from the ground to improve their horse’s performance, biomechanics, self-carriage, rehab a horse from injuries, as well as improve rider communication (seat, hands, release cues) when riding?  Long lining!  Yes, long lining… which is not the same as traditional lunging! (also spelled longing)

We are very fortunate to have guest blogger, Andrea Quale, owner of Andrea’s Horse Training, with us today.  Andrea is a highly experienced dressage and western trainer. In this blog post, Andrea will discuss and demonstrate what long lining is, the 3 most common issues long lining can help solve, and why long lining is much more effective than lunging with or without side reins and much more effective than a pessoa lunging rig.
Drum roll…..  Take it away Andrea!!

What is long lining?  Why is it Far More Advantageous than Traditional Lunging or Using a Pessoa?

Long lining is the lost art of working your horse from the ground with two reins.  It very closely simulates riding.  Here is a short video to give you an overview of long lining basics at the walk, trot and canter.

When long lining, you can:
  • Halt;
  • Half-halt;
  • Do lateral work (move your horse sideways);
  • Steer and balance your horse to improve their biomechanics;
  • See the direct effect your communication cues, posture and energy are having on your horse and make corrections more easily than riding;
  • See where the root cause of a challenging or “stickie area” is coming from, such as not stepping under in the hind end or the inability to bend in the rib cage or the neck; and
  • Easily move your horse all around the arena, and use poles, caveletti, and even small jumps. 
Most importantly, when long lining, you can give a precise RELEASE of your cues very closely mimicking the riding release.  This is critical because horses learn from the release of pressure.

When lunging in a traditional manner or using a pessoa, you do not have the benefit of two reins.  The communication and effectiveness of your cues is greatly diminished.  In many cases, you simply cannot give effective cues at all as you only have a connection to one side of your horse’s body.  You also cannot easily do all of the movements mentioned above.  It is also much more difficult to get a fully accurate and clear picture of where you and your horse might be having communication issues, or places where you or your horse might “cheat” when doing transitions or movements.  For example, a horse who may have a “stickie area” when it comes to bending in their ribs is easier to communicate with and help via long lining because your connection with both inside and outside reins enables you to influence the shape of the horse’s body.

A Quick Story About Ilene and Rex
It’s Ilene again.  When Andrea taught me how to long line my horse, Rex, she explained all of the above.  I could immediately see all the benefits versus traditional lunging or using a pessoa. However, I have to admit, I was skeptical about how this could improve my riding ability.  Andrea is an amazingly skilled trainer for horses and riders, and extremely ethical.  She would not make unsubstantiated claims.  Still, when she said long lining would improve my riding, I nodded and smiled and thought to myself, “Yeah right…. I am not so sure about that.” 

I had a leg injury and could not ride for several months.  Rex and I long lined a lot during this time.  When I resumed riding, well……. it was time for me to eat my words.  One big fat GULP!!  I immediately felt the difference in my hands, posture and communication with Rex.  When I am wrong, I am wrong… but what a great way to find out I was wrong!  I now use and recommend long lining as part of the tools riders can use to improve and maintain their horse’s health….just like stretching!

Ok… Back to Andrea….

A Quick Biomechanics and Self-Carriage Primer
In a nutshell, in any riding discipline, your horse’s hind end must properly engage so there is seamless transference of weight throughout their body.  For example, you can usually see your horse’s haunch drop when you ask them to back up.  This movement transfers much of the horse’s weight off of their shoulders and onto their hindquarters. 

You also want the horse’s neck to be in a very gentle arc, with the throatlatch area open, and the nose either at or slightly in front of vertical.  Under no circumstances should your horse’s neck be in hyperflexion (aka rollkur) which can occur in both English and Western riding disciplines.  When these things are happening properly, your horse will be able to engage their abdominal muscles and lift their back.  As a result, their movement will improve!
Andrea on Norbert demonstrating a good, proper shape of the
horse’s topline and neck in dressage.
By long lining, you can help your horse improve all of the above-mentioned items from the ground.  Then, when you are riding, it will be easier for you to help your horse move with proper biomechanics and self-carriage.  Self-carriage means the horse is balancing themselves.  The rider's hand are soft and relaxed and do not have a vice grip on the reins to hold the horse in a frame.  Self-carriage helps prevent injury caused by improper biomechanics.

Two excellent sources of information that provide a detailed explanation of proper equine biomechanics applicable to ALL disciplines are:  Tug of War: Classical Versus Modern Dressage, by Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, and Dr. Deb Bennett’s article on the Ring of Muscles.  It doesn’t matter what goals you have with your horse or what discipline you ride, this information is essential to keep your horse’s body strong and healthy.
One of Andrea’s students on her mare, Stella, demonstrating a
good example of a proper western horse topline.

Long Lining Basics: The “Rider” aka You on the Ground!
As you long line, your body and posture effects what is happening with your horse, just like when you ride. Stand up straight, engage your core, and bring your shoulders back. This will bring your horse in better balance and will allow your cues to be clear.  If your body position is lacking, your horse can: 1) Tend to fall in on their circle or straight line with their body; 2) Lose energy; and 3) Lose the contact on your reins (the long lines.)
This short video demonstrates what happens with your horse as your body position changes when long lining.

Three Common Issues Long Lining Can Help Solve….
1. Working on a Weakness in Your Horse
Have you ever seen or ridden a horse that was so weak it was challenging for them to canter on the correct lead or change directions correctly in any gait in a balanced, fluid manner? Have you ever ridden or seen a horse that is weaker on one side when being ridden?  Long lining can help solve these common problems!

Long lining enables you to teach your horse how to engage and strengthen their back and abdominal muscles so they can balance more easily and properly without having to worry about learning this while balancing you, the rider, at the same time.  Once your horse has improved on the long lines, it will be much easier for them (and you!) to apply these learnings under saddle.  Many training issues can be solved faster and more holistically by fixing them on the long lines first.  

A Short Story About Athena….
I had a small thoroughbred mare in training named Athena who could not stretch her neck and lift her back when someone was riding her.  Athena was so inconsistent in her contact, speed, and balance that riding for her and her mount was uncomfortable.  After only three long lining sessions, Athena enjoyed stretching into the reins and quickly learned proper balance in walk, trot, and canter on a circle. The long lines helped support her entire body.  Because she learned comfortable contact and good biomechanics without having to balance a rider at the same time, this increased her confidence immensely.  Finally, Athena was comfortable!

After two months of long lining 3 times per week, Athena was strong enough to move with proper biomechanics, balance and connection all over the arena in both directions, both on the long lines and under saddle!
2.  Working on a Stickie Area
The most common “stickie” problem I come across in my daily horse training is difficulty with lateral movement such as bending in the ribs on a circle and doing a proper leg yield.  A horse will not completely release and relax their back and topline and step under themselves laterally (to the side) in a relaxed manner if their ribs and intercostal muscles (muscles in between the ribs) are not moving.
Horses receive communication through your body language and energy. If you are on the ground with long lines, and using your body language as well as the proper rein cues, you can teach your horse very specifically and clearly how to bend their body around your body position.  For example, if you step toward your horse right behind their shoulder, that will teach them to move sideways away from your body. This is the beginning of teaching your horse to leg yield.  Here is a short video containing an overview of bending and leg yielding on the long lines.
3. Rehabbing Injured Horses or Releasing Pent Up Energy
Ever had to hand walk your horse for 30-40 minutes because they were coming back from an injury? Have you ever experienced that sketchy time where you are riding at the walk when your horse has pent-up energy?  It’s much easier and more beneficial for your horse to long line during these times, and you can strengthen your horse’s topline and your communication cues while doing it!  Long lining will also keep you safe in case your horse wants to rear or buck.  It is easier and safer to teach your horse not to blow up from the ground.  Plus, you do not risk falling off your horse.
Ready to Long Line?  Here is the Tack Set Up!
Long lining requires several pieces of equipment. These include:
  1. A surcingle
  2. Long lines
  3. Carabiners
  4. Gloves:  Why gloves? I HIGHLY recommend using gloves while long lining. It is easier to get rope burn while lunging or long lining than it is when you are riding
  5. Lunge whip
  6. Bridle and bit
    • Long line with your snaffle bridle. I do not long line with any sort of shank bit. It’s too much LEVERAGE on your horse’s mouth (too severe when you make even a small mistake).
    • It is best to have a cavesson (noseband) on your bridle to aid in your horse’s contact with the reins, but is not a requirement. Either take your riding reins off of your snaffle bridle or tie them up like you do when you lunge.
Check out this short video explaining how the equipment and setup works.
Long lining very closely simulates riding and has the added benefit of the “rider” being able to see and feel how the horse responds to various cues. The entire body of the horse is engaged in the process and cues can be given with the support and aid of the long lines. 

Long lining also enables the rider to teach their horse many exercises from the ground that can then be done under saddle. The learning process under saddle will then be much easier and quicker (assuming your saddle fits properly!)

Just like anything else, in order to achieve full effectiveness, you must use proper form while working with your horse on the long lines.  I strongly advise seeking a professional’s assistance in order to ensure you are practicing properly and correctly and for the safety of you and your horse.

Are you excited to learn more about long lining? Contact a professional in your areas who knows how to long line to work with you or contact me if you live in the Portland, Oregon metro area.

Join the conversation about long lining on our Stretch Your Horse Facebook page.

About Andrea
Andrea Quale, owner of AndreasHorseTraining, is a very experienced dressage and Western trainer.  She started riding as a kid in 4-H and Oregon High School Equestrian Team in all performance events such as obstacle trail, western pleasure, hunt seat, and dressage.  As a kid, she also had a strong passion for dressage and showing at local dressage shows.  She now specializes in training dressage. Andrea has helped many horses and owners with restarting and retraining their problem horses, rehabilitating horses from injuries, as well as moving horses of all breeds and disciplines up the levels in dressage.  She uses holistic, positive training methods combining riding and groundwork so both rider and horse can achieve their goals and have a close partnership.  She is located in North Plains, Oregon.

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