Unbroken young horses should have sensitive mouths and a fair degree of natural coordination and balance when first ridden, which can be effectively taught from the ground through long-reining. However, long-reining has lots of benefits for every horse, whatever his stage of training, and this form of groundwork can be used as part of any horse’s regular training regimen.
In this article, we take a look at what’s so good about long-reining, and we provide you with a detailed guide on how to do it.
What is long-reining?
Long-reining is conducted from the ground. The handler is positioned behind the horse, holding a lunge line in each hand just like a set of reins.
In theory, long-reining can be likened to riding from the ground.
You need a degree of feel, a correct contact, and the correct body position for the exercise to work as it should. However, we do recommend that you practice your technique on an experienced horse before trying your new skills on a youngster.
Long-reining is generally used as the next step up from lunging the horse before ridden work begins. So, by the time someone gets on the horse’s back, he has a good understanding of the basic aids, including the voice. Long-reining can also be used to iron out problems that may present themselves when an older horse is ridden.
You can begin long-reining your horse when he’s confident and obedient on the lunge, as he will be comfortable with wearing a bridle, roller, or saddle, and he will be familiar with your voice commands.
What are the benefits of long-reining?
Long-reining has lots of benefits for both the horse and for you.
The plus points of long-reining horses are:
- Introduces young horses to the feel of a bit and a rein contact
- Teaches the aids for starting, stopping, and changing direction
- Teaches the horse school figures, such as circles, loops, and serpentines
- Provides variety in the horse’s work routine
- Improves rhythm, balance, and straightness
- Can be used for exercise during recovery from injury or illness
- Builds muscle along the horse’s top-line
- Can be used to desensitize spooky horses to unfamiliar sights and sounds
Long-reining also has plenty of pluses for riders:
- Helps to build a bond between the horse and rider
- Can increase rider confidence
- Improves rider body coordination and awareness
- Improves vocal commands
- Enables you to observe your horse’s movement and way of going
When you first begin long-reining your horse, always recruit someone experienced and confident to help you from the ground. At all times, when working with your horse from the ground, make sure that you don’t stand too close to him, especially if the horse appears confused or upset about the work.
What equipment do you need?
You need to assemble the following equipment before you begin:
- Snaffle bridle (remove the reins)
- A roller or a saddle with the stirrups let down and secured with a strap underneath the horse’s girth area
- Two lunge or long-reining lines of equal length
- Brushing boots and overreach boots
- Hard hat, sturdy footwear, gloves (worn by both the handler and the helper)
Some people like to use a long schooling whip or lunge whip when long-reining, but we recommend that you don’t when you first begin. It’s likely that you will have your hands full enough when you first begin long-reining your horse without the added burden of a whip. Also, a whip might upset your horse if you accidentally flick him with it or drop it.
First, you’ll need to get your horse organized and accepting two lunge reins. Have your assistant hold your horse with the lunge line attached to the nearside bit ring. Attach the other lunge line to the offside bit ring and threaded through the offside stirrup or through a loop in the roller.
Pass the second lunge line onto the horse’s side so that it runs behind the saddle or roller and alongside the offside hind leg. Some horses become upset when they feel the lunge rein on their side. If your horse is worried by that, lift the lunge rein away from the horse right away, while your helper reassures the horse. Repeat the process until the horse accepts the lunge line and relaxes.
Now, position yourself on the horse’s left side, and rest the second lunge line over the horse’s croup. Ask the horse to walk forward, allowing the rein to drop over the croup and behind the horse.
Keep the initial sessions to around ten minutes, gradually increasing them to half an hour or so.
Where to stand
If long-reining is to be effective and successful, you must learn to stand in the correct position.
Stand behind the horse far enough away that he can’t kick you. Hold the lunge lines in the same way as you would your reins in the saddle with your elbows relaxed and slightly bent. Coil the spare length of each lunge line so that the lines aren’t trailing around your feet where you could trip over them. Keep your shoulders back and stand upright as if you were in the saddle.
Walking-on and halt
To ask the horse to walk forward, gently tap his sides with the reins, and use your voice to say, “walk on.”
To halt, ask the horse to “stand” or “whoa.” At the same time, incline your upper body back slightly and apply a small amount of pressure with the reins until the horse stops. Immediately release the pressure, and wait a few seconds before asking the horse to walk on again.
If your horse tends to wander off a straight line, try setting two parallel ground poles as “tramlines” and drive your horse between them.
Practice halting between the poles, too, as a great way of teaching the horse to halt straight.
Changing the rein
Now, you can teach your horse to change the rein across the school.
Step across slightly to the horse’s outside. Bring the inside rein across the horse’s hindquarter to ask for the change of direction, as though it were your leg when you’re riding.
Keep a steady contact with the outside rein to maintain the straightness, tempo, and rhythm as your horse makes the turn.
As the horse changes the rein, step across again so that you are behind him, moving to the outside of the horse as he makes the new turn.
Circles, serpentines, and loops
Once you and your horse have got the general gist of turning, you can start moving him around the arena, asking for circles, loops, and serpentines.
The principle of turning remains the same, but you’ll need to be very aware of where you’re standing and reposition yourself accordingly.
You can also challenge your horse by setting up lines of cones and weaving in and out of them.
Long-reining can be used to help desensitize young horses to unfamiliar sights and sounds in preparation for hacking out or competing at shows away from home.
Set out a selection of “hazards” in the arena, such as dressage letters, buckets of flowers, umbrellas in cones, balloons tied to the fence, tarps on the ground, etc. Now, practice long-reining your horse around the hazards.
You may want to ask your assistant to walk alongside the horse at his shoulder at first to give the horse more confidence and remember to introduce one new “hazard” at a time.
Trot and canter
On a circle, you can work the horse in trot and canter. Effectively, you’re simply lunging with two lunge lines. Keeping the outside line around the horse’s body prevents him from falling out and helps you to engage his hindquarters by keeping him straighter on the circle.
Take up a position where you are standing parallel to your horse, facing his girth. Lunge the horse on a circle around you, keeping the outside line loose to avoid frightening or upsetting your horse. Walk around on a small circle and keep the contact the same as you did when you were walking behind the horse.
Now you can use your lunge whip and encourage the horse to trot and canter by using your usual lunging aids.
Polework and cavaletti
You can use poles and cavaletti too while longreining your horse.
Drive the horse over a sequence of poles on the ground at the walk while you walk behind him, and then graduate to introducing raised poles or cavaletti from trot and canter on a circle.
Finishing the session
When you’ve finished your long-reining session, gently and slowly bring the right rein over the horse’s back and approach his left side. Stand by the horse’s head. You can then unclip the lunge lines from the bit and draw them through the stirrups or roller.
Long-reining your horse outside of the arena is a very good way of acclimatizing him to hacking out and building his confidence.
You can long-rein your horse around the yard, along quiet stretches of road, on trails, or through your fields, all of which is excellent experience for him.
Begin by asking your assistant to walk alongside your horse during your “hacks” to give the horse more confidence.
There are a few problems that can crop up when long-reining. Here’s how to deal with them:
Not moving forward
If your horse ambles forward with a lack of activity, flick the lunge lines against his sides to mimic your leg aids.
Encourage the horse to move forward by using your voice, and make lots of transitions to keep his attention.
If the horse is still dawdling, try using a long whip, and tap it against your boot to back up your other aids.
Too much energy!
If you have the opposite problem and your horse is running away with you, regulate your own pace, and walk slowly.
Make plenty of transitions back to halt, and include plenty of changes of rein, softening the rein through each turn as you would if you were in the saddle.
Don’t pull back constantly on the reins or you’ll end up in a tug-of-war that you can’t win! Instead, squeeze the inside rein to soften the horse’s jaw, and use your weight to “ride” a half-halt with the outside rein.
Be prepared to bring the horse onto a small circle if he tries to trot or take off with you! If necessary, use the corners of the arena as a brake.
Long-reining is often overlooked as a training aid for older horses and is regarded as an activity that’s confined to newly backed youngsters or horses that are being retrained after their racing career has ended. However, long-reining is an excellent way of providing variety to your horse’s work routine, and it doesn’t have to be boring!
Do you use long-reining as part of your horse’s regular schooling schedule? If you do, we’d love to hear about it. Share with us in the comments box below.