Longeing Your Young HorseBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · October 20, 2011
Longeing, if done correctly, can be a wonderful training tool, a way to get to know your horse better, and a method of providing controlled exercise. Done wrong, it can be harmful to your horse’s training, physical well-being, and trust.
Though it is pronounced like “lungeing,” the term “longeing” is derived from a French word that refers to the long tether attached to the horse’s cavesson.
Basic longeing is often used to teach voice commands, obedience, and cooperation to a young horse that is mature enough for some structured exercise. If a longed horse has learned to walk, trot, and halt in response to voice commands, he can follow these same commands in his early work under saddle, eliminating misunderstandings about what a rider is asking for with leg and bit pressure.
Before introducing the idea of longeing to a young horse, you must assemble the right equipment. A longe line should be made of sturdy material and be at least 30 feet long. A longe whip is longer than an ordinary riding whip (about four feet long with another three feet of flexible lash), though it doesn’t need to be long enough to touch the horse at any distance. The longe whip is used to cue the horse and serves as an extension of the trainer’s arm; it is not an instrument of punishment. The trainer should wear a helmet to guard against head injury as well as gloves to protect his hands, and the horse should wear protective leg wraps or boots to guard against injuries while he is learning balance and coordination.
A longeing cavesson looks somewhat like an ordinary halter, but it has a few significant differences. The longeing cavesson has a padded noseband, straps to keep the cheekpieces back from the horse’s eyes, and one or more rings on the front and sides of the noseband. A bit is not used with a longeing cavesson, and side reins and draw reins are not necessary or suggested as the horse is learning to longe. Don’t be tempted to longe a horse by attaching the longe line to a regular halter or to any part of a bridle or bit.
In the first longe lessons with a young horse, emphasis should be on getting the horse familiar and comfortable with the cavesson, line, and whip. Running the whip over the horse’s body and head, waving it up and down, and dragging the lash along the ground should be done until the horse realizes he is not going to be hurt by the equipment. This should be reinforced at the start of every lesson for the first few weeks.
An assistant is necessary for the beginning longe lessons. The trainer stands in one spot and the assistant leads the horse in a circle around the trainer in response to voice commands to walk and halt. The entire length of the longe line does not need to be used at this point. With the command “Walk,” the trainer raises the whip in the hand nearest the horse’s rump, pointing it at or slightly behind the rump. The longe line is held in the trainer’s other hand so that the line and the whip form a V shape with the horse in the open end of the V. The assistant moves the horse along the circle at a walk until the trainer says “Halt.” At this point, the trainer drops the tip of the whip toward the ground, though the whip is still pointed toward the rear of the horse. The assistant halts the horse until the trainer again says “Walk.” This sequence continues through the first lesson, which does not need to last longer than five or ten minutes.
Subsequent lessons continue to use the assistant until the trainer feels the horse understands what he is being asked to do. At this point the assistant can step away and the horse is asked to walk and halt in response to voice commands and whip cues. If the horse turns in on the circle, wave or snap the whip at his midsection to move him back out. Pointing the whip in front of the horse’s head and giving a small tug on the longe line are cues to reinforce halting.
Trotting and cantering can be introduced after walking and halting are solidly understood. Progressing too fast can easily undo what the horse has learned!
Things to remember:
- Use a different voice command for the halt and for each gait. The specific words used are less important than the sound, emphasis, and inflection with which the trainer speaks. Don’t chatter at the horse; this is work time, not a conversation.
- Keep longeing sessions fairly short, even after the horse knows what he is supposed to do. Moving in a small circle can be hard on muscles and joints, especially for young horses. If the horse begins to act up toward the end of an extended lesson, he may be uncomfortable. Quit before reaching this point.
- Don’t allow bucking and playing while the horse is longeing. Though some people commonly use a longe line to allow the horse to “get the kinks out” before they ride or show, this free play by the horse isn’t really what longeing is all about.
- Don’t allow the horse to drag you around. The trainer should stand in the center of the circle, or at most can move in a very tiny circle as the horse moves in a large circle. The horse will improve in his ability to stay on a circle as he gains balance and coordination.
- Keep it interesting for both the trainer and the horse. It’s tempting to work on things the horse does well and to avoid asking for things the horse does poorly, but if the horse already walks well, he doesn’t need long walks in every session. Mix in halts, standing still until told to move, and different gaits. Don’t hesitate to go back a few lessons, even bringing your assistant back, if the horse doesn’t understand what he is supposed to do.
- Longeing sounds relatively simple. It’s actually not all that easy to teach or do correctly, so if things aren’t going well, seek assistance from someone who has more experience. It’s easier to learn the right method than to try to fix injuries or behavior problems later.