Tack n' Talk

Online Equestrian Resource

The Magic of Freelongeing

I love watching those Youtube videos of gorgeous horses passaging around an open sand ring with a cheery looking trainer smiling from the middle.It would be wonderful to be able to tell you that I will teach you to do that in twenty minutes or less by reading my blog. Sorry to disappoint:(

I have , however hit on something pretty amazing:) that may help you in your everyday work toward being “Part of the Art” of Dressage.

Fortunate to have been trained by the late Col. Michael Gutowski , founder of the Canadian Equestrian Team, I received excellent basic skills in the practice of longeing or “riding from the ground” as Walter Zetl often referred to it.

This article will apply to those with a sound knowledge of basic longeing.

As you know, in longe work the line hand represents the rein and the whip your leg. It is as essential to keep the horse between the line “hand “and ‘leg” “hand”as it is in riding. I have seen countless pitiful episodes where the uneducated blamed the horse for things going badly awry when , in fact,the horse was merely allowed to get behind the ground peron thereby assuming control.

When we see a person longeing the horse from the centre of the circle it is assumed that this is a positon the horse has earned by demonstrating honesty and willingness to be longed.If we picture longeing as a slice of pizza, in the beginning it is a very narrow slice with the handler/”rider” forming a narrow , long triangle from the horses mouth to the longe line to the inside hock of the horse which the whip hand “leg” gives driving aids to.

Once this is understood the angle can be enlarged ( a very large slice of pizza ) to appear as though the person is standing in the middle of a circle.However, it must always be dynamic with the person ready to close the angle taking excess line into the whip hand and moving back and in much closer to the hock at any time the horse begins to evade the driving aids. Very basic longeing 101 🙂 still with me ?? good.

Now for the fun part 🙂

One day I was going  to longe a horse prior to a student mounting for a lesson. I like to do this as it gives me a chance to assess the horse’s mood , make sure he/she is sound and get them somewhat loosened up and on the aids and voice commands before the student is on.

This particular day I forgot the longe line in the barn. Running short on time I decided to improvise and just pretend I had the longe (over the poll , snapped to the outside ring of the snaffle ,for outside rein effect) , as per usual.I held my hand as though holding the line with a light feel on the horse’s mouth and with a very slight flick of the whip toward the belly asked the horse to move out on the longe circle.

Out he went without the slightest hesitation, with my rein hand I half halted and then snaking the whip slightly toward the inside hind fetlock ( never bringing the whip handle past my hip), and we were off. We went through walk , trot , canter  and halt transitions up and down , with me bringing my voice upward and slightly turning my upper body toward the horse for upward transitions and the reverse , voice included , for downward transitons.

Other than hardly being able to believe the zone we were in it seemed a fairly regular longeing session. I played lightly on the “imaginary rein line ” and subtly drove or held back with the whip “leg”.The student was waiting and I had to end the session but decided to proceed with this again the next day when I had time and could process this amazing development. I began to encourage some extending saying ” BIG WALK ” , then “steadyyy” voice lowering during the word , then “BIG TROT” etc. I found that by flexing my wrist with arm outstretched toward the mouth I could bring the horse into a lovely frame, drive it up from behind and actually achieve” Ramener”by voice variations and various light “imaginary aids in the air , the horse came up into the bridle and moved forward incredibly on my slightest signal.

I have since used this approach with almost every horse in the barn. When very fresh , it will sometimes take a horse about 10 minutes to fool around and get the playful edge off before being able to focus on me and settling onto the circle and going to work.

One day last summer I was getting ready to longe a horse in this way and decided it was just too hot to close the arena doors.This was  truly a leap of faith but I determined not to advise the horse that anything had changed in our routine. Very shortly we were on the twenty meter circle in a lovely frame , doors wide open and tempting paddocks of grass completely accessible!

Now I seldom use the longe line , unless of course at shows or with a very green horse. I find I can relate my  intentions better without it.

What have I learned? That horses follow our every move whether we realize it or not.That subtlety in the aids result in unbeleivable subtlety in response. That we can encourage better movement from our horses with our voice and by demonstrating our point with our own bodies (modelling) and voices, BIG STRIDE taking BIG STRIDES .I have had a lot of luck correcting wrong lead departs in canter by half halts and stronnnggg ( imaginary flexing to the inside in the depart ). This correction has carried over to less wrong lead departs when mounted, which by the way , has made training the counter canter much easier.

All of this is a work in progress but I hope you get the idea and try it out for yourself. At first you may feel a bit silly with exaggerated voice and fingers flexing away on a rein that is not there. Balancing an unrestrained  horse between a hand and leg  from many metres away! Fear not , the bottom line I’ve learned is that without a doubt…. If you BELIEVE it your horse will as well. Cheers and happy experimenting with your horse. Libby Keenan



  Kristi Link wrote @

Great article! Truly a lesson in how perceptive to our body language horses are! I love to free longe, and will do that almost as often as working on the line, but not to this level, will have to expand my expectations of our work!

  matt wrote @

Thanks I found this blog really useful, I’ll recommend it to friends.

  emma wrote @

Great Blog Thanks 🙂

  alexo wrote @

nice post

  Jody wrote @

great article!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: