Longeing can help to build a connection with your horse, as well as be a wonderful tool for fitness, strength, and gymnasticizing. It’s a key skill for horses to learn and eventually, most horse lovers will teach a green horse (or two) how to longe.
Although you might not use it on a daily basis, longeing can really be a lifesaver when you do need it. If you’re longeing a green horse early on in their career, here’s how to set good habits for the rest of their lives.
Why Should You Longe?
If you’ve ever looked at a fresh horse and wondered whether it’s safe to get on, longeing can help to burn off some excess energy. Your horse doesn’t have to run the Kentucky Derby on the longe line, but it can help to let them canter or buck a little and ‘get it out’ before you mount.
While longeing a fresh horse still sparks some debate between riders, I think that keeping yourself safe should be the main priority.
Another reason to teach your green horse to longe is because they might need it for a vet at some point. If your horse needs a lameness examination or similar, vets will often ask to see them longed to assess whether they are sound.
Finally, longeing can be a useful exercise for training. It helps to develop balance and gymnastic ability in horses, especially when you incorporate poles and transitions. It’s also good to have a horse who longes well if you ever want to do longe lessons to work on your own seat and body control!
How to Longe a Green Horse
Of course, longeing a horse who already knows his job is quite an easy process. If you’re still learning, it’s always best to start with an experienced horse who will respond easily to your body language and verbal cues. Eventually though, the time will come when you get to teach a horse to longe properly and reliably!
Body Language When Longeing a Horse
Longeing is all about body language. When you get it right, it can feel like the horse can almost read your mind. When it’s wrong, the horse might turn in to you, refuse to go out onto the circle, start getting hot and running, or not move forward when asked. A lot of the time when owners say that their horses won’t longe, it’s actually a simple body language error.
Though longeing is an art that takes years to truly perfect, getting the basics right isn’t so tricky. Here’s what you absolutely need to know before you try to longe a green horse. Again, learning this on a horse who knows his job is the easiest way!
On the left rein:
- The centre of your body (think belly button) is aimed at the middle of the horse’s shoulder
- Your leading shoulder (left in this case) is slightly turned away from the horse so that he feels free to move forward into the open space
- Your driving hip and shoulder (right, in this example) are angled towards the horse’s hip bones as a driving aid to keep him moving forward
This way, you can control the different parts of the horse’s body. For example, to drive him more forward you would use your driving arm or a flick of the whip towards his hindquarters. To slow him down, you slightly close the open space created by your leading shoulder.
Steps to Teach a Horse to Longe
Make sure you have everything organised: your whip, gloves, longe line, and longeing cavesson or bridle. We suggest teaching your horse without longeing aids like side reins or similar. These can be used later, once the horse is familiar and comfortable with the process.
There are a few different methods to teach horses to lunge. Different horses might require tailored approaches, and some people prefer to have a helper in the initial stages to help the horse understand the need to stay away from the person longeing. That said, here are the basic steps towards teaching a green horse to longe.
- With the horse on the left rein, stand in the circle with the whip in your right hand and line in the left hand
- Lead the horse around you in a small circle. Use the command ‘walk!’ in a sharp and upbeat tone to ask the horse to walk on
- Ask the horse to halt with a verbal command, and back it up by ‘blocking’ the horse with your body language and moving slightly in front of the line of his shoulder.
- Once your horse is comfortable walking around you in a small circle, gently let the line out slightly and encourage the horse to walk on a bigger circle.
- To back this up, you can raise the whip slightly and point it at his flank – but do so gently and calmly. Don’t be abrupt or aggressive, or you’ll startle the horse.
- To encourage a trot, use a consistent verbal command (like ‘trrrot!’) backed up with a gentle flick of the whip. The same would go for canter.
- To ask the horse to slow down, lower your whip towards the floor and be ‘gentle’ with your body language, angling your driving hip/shoulder slightly away from him
Remember to keep checking and re-establishing the commands to halt and slow down! This can help to prevent any longeing accidents. The command to go slower or stop should be in place before you start asking your horse to trot or canter. As much as possible, you want longeing to be calm and controlled. Even if your horse is fresh, you want to be the one calling the shots!
If you do hit a stumbling block at some point in the process of teaching a horse to longe correctly, go back a stage and make sure that the horse understands what you are asking. Some horses will take longer than others.
And Finally, Be Patient!
The important thing when teaching a green horse to longe successfully is that you remain patient and don’t push the horse before he or she is ready. Going at their own pace and setting them up for success will pay dividends in the long run.
What are your best tips for teaching a green or inexperienced horse to longe? Let us know by leaving a comment.