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The Art of Longeing, by Lynn Palm




I call longeing an “art” because learning how to do it properly takes  time, but mastering longeing is well worth the effort.  Equip the horse for longeing with halter with longe line attached  either over the nose or under the chin, longe whip, leg protection, and  bell boots.   Carry a longe whip with the tip pointed  downward and behind you until ready to use it.

Ask the horse to walk at least one full circle on  the longe, adding some variety like using straight  lines to keep his interest.  After a few circles of walking, warm him up  at the trot.   If you are longeing to the left, extend  your left arm and give the command to “trot.”  Reinforce the voice command by raising the whip  behind the horse, if needed.   If he becomes a little  exuberant or speeds up as he starts longeing at  the trot, he is telling you that he has some inner  energy to get out.

Make Him Responsive  Before letting him play on the longe  line.   He needs to show some manners and be  responsive.   Do not let him trot uncontrollably  around in circles.   If you need a more controlled  gait, slow him down by gradually shortening the  amount of longe line that is played out in your  left hand.   Decreasing the size of the longe circle  will decrease his speed. Use your voice and say  “easy” to ask him to slow.

The key to controlling the horse and getting  mannerly responses is keeping control of his  head at all times.   For example, when longeing  to the left, it is extremely important to control the  head and neck so they are slightly positioned to  the left””even when the horse is playing on the  longe line.   Gently position his head and neck by  bringing your lower left arm, from hand to the  elbow, forward and away from your body.   This  encourages the horse to keep his head and  neck long and his head stretching inward.   Avoid  grasping the longe line with one or both hands  and pulling his head toward the middle of your  body because this only gives him something to  lean or brace against.

Handlers must be able to recognize and  correct the two biggest longeing problems that  will cause them to lose control of their horse.

Problem #1:   Falling Out – This problem is caused when the horse,  instead of following the longe circle’s arc with  his body, moves his shoulders outward off the  circle. The rest of his body soon moves out, too.   He begins an outward spiral off the circle.   Excess  tension in the longe line is a clue that the horse is  falling out.   The shape of the longe circle bulges  outward wherever the horse falls out.   When this happens, the handler, instead of crossing her right leg over  her left and staying in position, typically steps (or is pulled) towards her  horse allowing him to move outward even more.   Tension increases in the  longe line.   The more the handler responds by stepping away from her spot  in the center of the longe circle, the more her horse will only move off the  circle’s arc more pulling the her further away from the center.

To correct falling out do not leave the center point of the longe circle  even if the horse feels like he is pulling you outward.  Pull on the longe line  firmly enough to move his shoulder inward to reposition him on the circle,  then release the pressure immediately and send him forward with a cluck  and/or the whip.

Be careful not to exert steady pressure on the longe line.   This makes you lock your arm and lose flexibility.   The horse will lean against  the pressure making the falling out all the worse.   Whenever you feel the  pressure on the line lighten, release.   After the correction, make sure the  horse stays forward and guide him around the circle by extending your arm  and drawing his nose inward.

Problem #2: Falling In – This is just the opposite problem.   The horse moves his shoulders off  the circle towards the center. He starts making his turns shorter and cuts  in toward the circle’s center.   The horse is not  properly bending his body to follow the circle’s  arc.   Excessive slack in the longe line is a telltale  clue that the horse is falling in.   Typically the  handler responds by backing up to keep the  tension.   This only makes the problem worse as  the horse continues his inward spiral.

To correct falling in, toss or flick the slack in  a wave-like action towards the horse’s head and  neck.   Do not move more than one step forward  from the proper handler position while tossing  the line to keep him away.   Repeat this gesture  until he moves out.   Make sure not to release too  much longe line and make the circle so big that  you lose control.   If the horse speeds up after  tossing the line at him, use your voice and/or a  smaller circle to slow him.  As soon as the horse has corrected his  position, guide him around the circle by extending  your left arm and bringing his nose inward.   A light  tension on the longe line between you and the  horse is okay.

Let Him Play  – Ask him for several circles at the trot until  you have established a responsive mannerly  rapport.   Only then is it time to let him play and  release his “inner energy.”   Longe your horse at  a trot, and use your voice to encourage him to  play.   I like to rapidly repeat the word “shoo” as I  slap the longe coils against my leg to encourage  a horse to move.   Clapping the hands also can be  an effective stimulus to get the horse to react.  If he does react, he may buck, toss his  head, squeal, and speed up to a fast trot or a  canter so be prepared!   Put both hands on the  longe line, and keep your position.   Use a give  and take tension to position his head inward  while letting him play.  The horse will start to slow down once he  has burned off some energy.   When he does, it  is time to re-establish disciplined longeing.

Put  the longe line back in your left hand and resume  proper handler position with left arm out to your  side and the whip in the extended right arm.   Use  your voice to slow him and keep his attention on  you.   Use the words “easy” or a long, low “slow  down” to ask him to slow down.   Use your peripheral vision to detect if the  horse is falling in, as evidenced by slack in  the longe line, or falling out that is most easily  noticed by increases tension in the line.   Be ready  to correct these issues. Strive to keep a nice,  relaxed longe line.   Watch the horse’s reactions.  If you see him licking his lips, he is telling you that  he is relaxing, too. He has burned off some of that inner fire and is ready to  concentrate.

Troubleshooting This Lesson – Some handlers use longeing only as a means to tire out a horse. While  longeing can help take the edge off a horse and get his inner energy out,  its primary purpose is as an effective conditioning and training tool for his  future under saddle.

Avoid two common longe line management problems.

1.             Some handlers  let out too much line.   The excess drags on the ground.   The result is the  horse steps on the line and becomes startled or the handler backs up and  moves out of proper position to take up the slack.

2.        Other handlers do not keep the longe line neatly coiled in their hand,  but let it lie on the ground at their feet.   This is one of the most dangerous  situations in longeing because the handler can become tangled in the line.   It  is easily corrected by keeping the line in a neat organized coil in your hand!

Author’s note: For more step-by-step instruction on these  important lessons, check out my training manuals and dvds available at along  with other fine training products and information  about our courses.

[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 4, Issue 12.]

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