Working your horse ‘long and low’ refers to a technique that is used by dressage riders to develop their horse’s relaxation, suppleness and willingness to work through his back to seek the rider’s contact.
This should not be confused with ‘Rollkur’, an undesirable and incorrect method of training which entails over-flexing the horse so that he is working with his head forcibly pulled into his chest.
What’s the point of working your horse ‘long and low’?
In order for your horse to bring his hocks underneath him and develop more engagement, he must first be supple and free from any tension over his topline.
Relaxation is key if this suppleness is to be achieved, and working your horse ‘long and low’ is a good way of helping him to relax.
Warm muscles are also essential if the horse is to perform to his optimum without sustaining injury.
Working ‘long and low’ allows the long, weight-carrying muscles of the horse’s back to warm up and stretch prior to him being asked to bear his rider’s weight during sitting trot, canter, and more collected work.
When the horse is working in a long, low frame, his steps become more elastic, looser and more elevated, he covers more ground, and his shoulders become freer.
Your aim is to try to keep this wonderful freedom and expression as you gather your horse into a more compact, working frame.
You should also work your horse ‘long and low’ at the end of a schooling session to allow his muscles to cool down, thus avoiding the risk of residual stiffness after exercise.
How to teach your horse to work ‘long and low’
If your horse isn’t used to working in a long and low frame, it might take a bit of practice until he understands what you expect of him.
The first thing to note is that all ‘long and low’ work should be carried out in rising trot or light-seat canter to allow the horse’s back complete freedom.
Take up an active working trot with the horse attentive to your aids and working confidently forward into a soft, elastic rein contact.
Contact is extremely important; your horse won’t work over his back or stretch if you are holding him into a forced frame.
He must be actively seeking the contact himself, not the other way around!
Pick up a large circle.
Maintain your outside rein contact to keep the horse straight and balanced so that he doesn’t fall out.
Gently release a small amount of pressure through your inside rein; the horse should politely stretch forward and down to follow the contact.
If the horse doesn’t start to stretch, re-organize him and make the circle a little bit smaller.
Try again, but this time open up your inside rein towards the center of the circle and ask for more bend. At the same time, encourage your horse to keep working forward.
As the horse begins to stretch down towards the bit, allow the rein to come longer.
Keep yourself upright; don’t tip forwards or you’ll push your horse onto his forehand.
It’s crucial that you maintain an elastic contact with the horse’s mouth whilst riding him in a ‘long and low’ frame.
You should begin to feel the horse’s steps becoming bigger and freer, with more spring and elevation.
His back should swing beneath you as his hocks come more underneath him and he pushes himself along from behind.
Working your horse ‘long and low’ is a great way of improving his suppleness, developing his engagement, and getting the most out of his paces.
This strategy can also help horses that are inclined to become tense and tight, and you may find the technique useful when warming-up a tense horse in a competition situation.