Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Long Lining - - Beginning the Young Horse - - What to Ask

Once the horse has learned to "listen" to messages from the long lines, it is time to begin working on building impulsion from the horse. As I've said before, we do not expect the young horse to go forward in a frame. The important thing is going forward, the frame will come in time.

For now, what Richard and I both want from the horse is true forward effective movement at each gait or what I referred to before as "function." That means the horse is stepping deep underneath itself, lifting its back and ribcage, followed by its shoulder as it follows through each stride. We want the horse to learn that going forward means using itself correctly as well as forward movement.

To do this we use that outside rein to tap the horse on the hock to literally drive it forward underneath itself. As we are asking for this forward movement we are looking for any abnormalities of gait that indicate a horse is not traveling square or using itself effectively. These inadequate movements can be seen in shortened steps, a crooked body, a turned head, or an irregular gait (not true to it's natural rhythm.) to name a few. If there are no physical issues that could be causing such things, the horse is pushed through this movement into the correct function.

To be able to identify any inadequacies of gait it is important to understand what is considered to be true function in each gait. It is my understanding that some breeds of horses may characteristically have slight differences in what is perceived as correct gait. Because of that, I'll be describing the gaits typical for an Arabian horse which tend to be "deeper" in stride than many other breeds.

The walk is a four beat gait where the hind foot steps into/if not beyond the footfall of the corresponding front foot. (Reading the descriptions by the Bedouins of old of their horses sometimes indicated as much as four inches beyond!) It is also expected for a true walk to include a balanced, fluid swinging of the head in rhythm with the footfalls.

The trot is a two beat gait where the diagonal pairs travel in unison. It is expected to have elevation or suspension equivalent to "a spring in the step" giving the floating effect that Arabian horses are known for. The hind foot should nearly step onto the footprint of the front and the head and topline should remain relatively quiet.

The canter is a true three beat gait that is smooth, easy and straight on both leads. It begins with the horse pushing off with the outside hind foot. The second beat consists of the inside hind foot striking the ground at the same time as the outside front foot. The third beat is the inside front. Again, the head and topline should remain relatively quiet with the gait looking effortless. Due to the nature of this gait, the depth of the horse's reach with the hind legs is not at the footfall of the front feet as in the other two gaits, however, to be correct those hind legs must reach up deep underneath the horse.

I would say a good measure of a correct depth of stride for an uncollected Arabian horse at the canter would be about the mid point between the front and hind footfall. However, each horse will have its own "correct" point for this gait with the best way to determine this being pushing the horse for "more" until it has reached its maximum.

It's important to note it's pretty normal for young horses to start off on this journey of being trained to long line (or ride for that matter) not really moving correctly underneath themselves. There are many reasons this might occur that have nothing to do with how talented a horse might be. The important thing is to know the young horse is probably going to need to be encouraged to use itself correctly.

I'm going to name just a few possible reasons a horse might start off moving in less that optimum fashion if only to reinforce when starting off it's important to be watching closely for correct gaits since that is our goal. A young horse can get caught up in concerns about the process and move hesitantly. It can have learned inefficient movement just hanging out, growing up. Or it can have muscle memory from old, not necessarily traumatic injury, that has influenced its movement (this is what we believe to be the case with Vee's issues cantering only to a greater extent that what is normally expected) . The horse can have "learned" ineffective movement from a number of environmental influences..........dealing with lots of mud for extended periods, a rocky terrain.........etc anything that might have affected how they moved to get around. As I said before there can be many many reasons behind why this happens, what's important is that it does.

Regardless of "why" a young horse might not be moving correctly, the whole point of working the horse in the long lines is to "teach" the horse to move to its truest function on cue. Working in the long lines is an effective way to teach the horse this skill before it has to deal with the weight of a rider. Since horses learn more effectively with strong building blocks in place, you can't get a better platform to start from than good forward movement from the horse.

So as we work the horse in the long lines our goal is getting that horse to give us it's optimum performance at each gait. That performance doesn't necessarily mean getting a correct footfall by itself. It's important to remember that we are looking for the horse to be square and a lift in the ribcage and shoulder as well. Often time that difference between a correct depth of footfall and true "function" is the added push it takes to get that lift of the ribcage and shoulder. Once we have reached this function, we want the horse to learn that our cue means that optimum function is what we want.

We are going to accomplish this by tapping that horse with the outside line on the hock. We will cease tapping as we detect any improvement in stride asking for improvement in increments thus communicating to the horse that stepping more deeply is the "correct answer." Over time we will end up with a horse that knows a request forward means that true gait. Then and only then will we be ready to work on form. Lots of times that form will come by itself as the horse gets comfortable with going forward into the weight of the lines.

This process works best when it is done slowly. While a session may include getting a horse to optimum performance of each gait, it may take the entire session to accomplish this or it may take an entire session to accomplish it for one gait. It really doesn't matter which way it goes, what matters is that the horse reaches a point that is comfortable for the horse. Learning is dependant upon a quiet, comfortable approach with goals attainable by each horse as an individual.

To be continued...........

The horse in the picture is showing that spring in her trot described above. See how she is suspended off the ground at the midpoint of the beat.

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  1. I like it when you simplify things. When delivering a cue, you are essentially "knocking" until you get the right answer. Once you get the right answer, you stop cuing or knocking.

  2. Well, I sure wish you could come and teach me to longe. I've read a bazillion things about it, but I'm not positioning my body correctly. Both times I've tried it I only succeeded in confusing my horse. I need to be shown. Ever get to Texas?

  3. another great training post!

    i've never really gotten the hang of using the lines over the back - i love having that outside one over the hock for just that reason - it's great for giving that cue and reminding them to step up!

    my horses spend a lot of time on the longe and in the long reins at the walk, and i've gotten in the habit of gauging their relaxation and engagement by watching just how far they track up with their hind legs - i've got one horse (nate) who oversteps by a whole foot when he's loose in his back and engaged in walk - i actually measured one day!

    it's so cool to watch, and i get the feeling he wouldn't be able to do it with me sitting on him, which is more proof that, as you said, the long lines/longe is a great place for horses to sort of 'find' themselves and come into their gaits without interference. that's reason enough for me to use them often :-)