Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Starting a Horse in the Long Lines.

Before I ever put a horse into the long lines, I make sure they thoroughly understand the concept of giving to pressure. I want the horse to give from side to side comfortably without feeling trapped or the least bit confused. I also like a pretty good "whoa!" You never know when that young horse might get confused in the lines and tangled up. If you have a good give to pressure from each side and a good "whoa!" you're less likely to have wrecks, not to mention the horse is less likely to be confused or stressed over the application of the lines.

Also, I'm going to make sure that the horse is comfortable wearing the surcingle. With most horses I will let him/her wear the surcingle and just lunge them the first time or two. That way the horse gets the chance to "feel" the piece of equipment grabbing them as they move and can work it out on the lunge line. How that horse responds will determine when I make the decision to apply the lines.

If you have access to a round pen being able to begin there really helps the horse figure out where it belongs in relationship to the handler in the long lines especially if the horse already has round pen experience. If the horse isn't familiar with working in the round pen, I'd probably introduce the horse to the basics of longeing in the round pen as a first step.

When starting a young horse in the long lines having an idea of what discipline you expect this horse to be is helpful in determining where to run the lines. If you don't have any idea , then I'd probably take the middle ground with the long lines.

If I had a surcingle with 3 or more rings on each side, I'd probably try the middle ring to give the horse as much room to "pick" where it's most comfortable. Since I don't, my surcingle has two rings on each side, I'd be starting on the lower ring.

For horses that want to carry themselves high, it would probably create a problem to use the lowest ring for the lines. Even though we're not going to start off asking that horse to bridle, the pressure (even for steering or stopping) from those lower rings can cause that high headed horse to feel claustrophobic. For this kind of horse, I would use the higher ring on the side (NOT the ring on the very top of the surcingle). The lines, of course, would run on the sides and not over the back of a young horse.

For the young horses Richard and I just started, we used the western saddle and ran the lines through the stirrups. Before running the lines, a short line (one of those five foot extensions off our custom lines) to tie the stirrups together.

As part of the desensitizing process, Richard and I both tend to do a lot of fussing around the horse as we apply the lines. Asking the horse to stand still while the lines are threaded and unthreaded from the appropriate rings can be a great way to get the horse used to the feel of the lines moving against his/her body in a controlled situation.

In the beginning of teaching a horse to long line, Richard and I begin working on the circle. That way we can use the horse's skills on the longe line as a starting point to teach the horse to walk, trot and canter on cue.

The inside line is used to keep the horse on the circle. As you might notice in most pictures of my horses long lining, the inside line is slack dragging on the ground most of the time. Sometimes that inside line might get "flicked" to move the horse out farther on the circle. It is the outside rein that is used to drive the horse.

Before we begin teaching the horse how to go forward from cues from the lines, we're going to make sure the horse is comfortable carrying the lines in the first place. Working off cues like I was longeing, I will ask the horse to move. I like to let the horse decide at what gait. Some horses will be ok to just walk around the circle. Others will want to trot using that gait to express some of their stress over this new situation. For me, either is fine, as long as the horse is calm.

If the horse is not calm, I'm going to stop the horse and go back to more desensitizing. I can hold the horse with the one rein while I coil the other rein. I can move that coiled rein over the horse's back. Then extend it to over the butt and down the hocks while still holding with the other line. Back and forth between both lines doing this things the horse will eventually figure out the lines are not going to eat him. Then I'll go back to the circle again to see if I have a calmer horse moving around the circle.

I won't even start on cuing the horse to move forward with the outside line until my horse is comfortable feeling of the lines dragging along. That what when I do tap that horse on the hock to move forward, it's less likely to jump out of its skin thinking some troll just grabbed him/her.

When I do reach that point I am cuing the horse with the outside line, my initial goal is a response from the horse. Any forward response will do. As soon as I get it, I will desist tapping with the line. I want the horse to learn that flick of the line means go forward. How far forward will be something we build over time.

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

What to Ask

In this picture is Scandalous Tag on one of his very first "trips" in the lines. You can see the line tying the stirrups together. Also, the horse is tentative about what is happening and just standing there processing.....so Richard let him stand until he felt comfortable enough to move.

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  1. Very interesting stuff. There is so much work that goes into training a horse. Thanks for explaining some of the process and including a great picture, too.

    Oh and by the way, I've got something I think you'll enjoy, over at my blog.........bring cotton swabs. (giggle)


  2. I like the patience Richard used letting the horse stand till he was comfortable enough to move.

    When I started my mare in the lines, I did it AFTER I had been riding her for a year or so. It was no big deal for her but I think if I were starting a horse out that had no experience, I'd want a walker near their head for the first few trips around.

  3. Thanks for the advice in your comment in the last post. One thing I'm really happy about is that Gabbrielle has no fear of the lines, and she'll stop the second I say whoa so that I can untangle them if there's a problem. I'm looking forward to the next post in this series.

  4. The Equus Ink blog has moved! I'd love to have you join us at our new location!

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  5. I love long lining when I am being lazy and don't feel like riding!

    Great Post. I know there are some out there who dont do it and SHOULD.

  6. Your explanation of how you take your time with every little thing making sure the horse is comfortable is so important. Too many people are in a hurry to get their horses trained and in the show ring. Thanks for the good example.