November 9, 2010

How I taught Rose to longe.

Rose is the first horse that I've ever taught to longe from scratch. I didn't have access to a round pen, and I didn't have a clear idea where to start so I did some research and came up with a game plan. This is more or less what we did.

1. Longeing caveson. Halters do not provide you with the necessary leverage, so I knew that this would be a necessity for teaching her to longe. BTW, now that I own a caveson I'll never longe in a halter again.
2. 30' Longeline
3. Long longe whip
4. ASTM approved helmet
5. Boots. Some people like to use sport medicine boots. I used my open front jumping boots, because that is what I had on hand at the time. Basically, I just needed something to offer support and protection, as she didn't know what do do with her legs/hooves just yet.
6. Good leather work gloves. This was a necessity to protect my hands from rope burns.
7. Round pen (I used a small square paddock).
8. USDF Longeing Manual. If you haven't had classical training in how to properly longe a horse, I highly recommend this book. There are reasons for longeing correctly, and you can avoid a lot of problems down the road by teaching yourself and your horse to do right in the first place. The book covers everything from voice tone in your commands to posture, etc. It's often available at used book stores and on amazon for only a few dollars.

My Approach (Game Plan):
1. Leading:
First I taught Rose to lead properly. I worked with her for about a week in 15 minutes sessions on leading. I wanted her to walk next to me at my shoulder on a loose lead, paying attention to me. We practiced, walk, trot, and halt transitions on the lead rope. I made sure to use voice commands with each transition up and down, just like I would eventually be doing on the longe line. I wanted her to know what those words meant in a controlled situation. As she got good at this I slowly started walking farther to the side of her, putting 5-6 feet distance between the two of us so that I was walking parallel to Rose keeping her on the rail at all times.

2. Hulla Hoop:
During our leading exercises it became apparent that Rose did not respect "the bubble". Now that she would lead properly I wanted her to respect my space more and see me from a central point, with a longe whip type tool in hand. I used Clinton Anderson's hulla hoop technique to accomplish this. Using the stick I drew a large circle in the dirt around me and would make her "back" out of my circle/space and focus on me. If she turned her head a way or lost her focus on me I would wiggle the lead rope to get both ears focused on me. If she stepped in to my space I'd ask her to back out. When she did good she got a break and I would lead her about 20 feet and then begin again. Again, I kept these sessions to 15 minutes, always ending on a positive note.

3. Free Longeing:
Once I got her respecting my space and listening to my voice it was time to get her to move in the direction that I wanted. Keeping a keen awareness of my body language I let Rose loose in our smallest paddock. Using the longe whip in my right hand, I pointed to the left with my left arm extended, pointed the whip at her haunches and asked her to walk on. She trotted off, but that was fine. At this point I wanted her to just move in the direction of my choice. Trotting, walking or cantering were all fine, so long as she went in the direction I asked. She would often stop at a corner and try to change direction, but I stood my ground and got the message across with body language and whip which direction she should go. After a couple sessions of this she was complacently going around in the direction I asked, and changed directions when asked as well. To change direction, I'd ask her to halt, switch the whip hand, extend my other arm out pointing in the new direction and use my voice to ask her to change direction. Then off she would go.

4. Introducing the longeline:
This was definitely the most exciting part of longeing, as it is not natural for a horse to be attached to a long line. Just figuring out the longeline was a challenge for Rose, as she seemed to think that it was a fun new thing for her to chew on. To start off, I kept the longeline out of her mouth somewhat short and parallel led her around the paddock. Slowly I would make the distance between us larger, until she would test that distance and try to turn around or bolt or do some other silly baby thing. When that would happen, I'd get control of her first and then I would close the distance again and repeat. Eventually I ended up walking in a 9-ish foot diameter circle while she went around at the walk, trot, canter, etc. We would focus and work on one gate at a time. Once she would give me a nice constant walk we'd try trotting. If she cantered or got out of control we would go back to the walk, and then try the trot again. Once the trot was good and relaxed and she stretched down and exhaled we would move onto cantering. Eventually, with time she began nicely longeing at all three gates and the halt.

5. Tricks she tried to pull to get out of longeing (ie. working):

a) Bolting: At all costs, I would stop her from bolting. If she got away with it once, I knew that there would never be an end to attempted bolting. This is a good reason why I worked her in a small paddock rather than a big open field or arena. The caveson gives you a lot of leverage to stop them as well. If she'd had a halter on there would have been no way to stop her.

b) Coming in: A few times she tried pining her ears and coming toward me. To stop this I simply stepped sideways toward her rump and got after her with the whip making her move forward. I didn't care what gate she took off at so long as she went forward. The point is that she goes where I say, and does not come into the middle with a pissy threatening look on her face. That put an end to the turning in.

c) Changing directions: She would on occasion not want to go to the right (her weak side) and would try turning around and going to the left. I would halt her immediately and have her turn around again and then make her move and work harder. Once she complied she would get a break for going in the correct direction.

d) Rearing: She tried this once and I put an immediate end to it. The solution was the same as the Coming In issue. I just got her feet moving away and made her work harder. This is a good example of why you should always wear a helmet when teaching a young horse to longe. Rose isn't a rear-er, but you never know what new trick they might try out in order to get out of work.

e) Playing with my dog: He's a herding dog, so if she got bucking and galloping and crazy he would want to come in the paddock and protect me. He meant well, but smarty pants Rose turned it into a game to get him to come in. Simple solution...he went into the tack room while we worked. One less distraction for Rose.

f) Walking in after the halt: I like my horses to halt and stand in place on the circle. I do not like them to walk into me after they halt, unless asked to (this is another verbal command which I teach them, and she now knows). She tried to do this a few times when she was trying to figure out what to do with the halt command. To get the message across I would ask her to walk on immediately if she turned and started coming in. If she stood still I would praise her and let her have a little break. She was not allowed to move her feet though until asked.

g) Cutting in on one side of the circle: Most babies do not naturally go around in perfect circles. They have to develop muscle and learn to balance themselves. If she would cut in repeatedly in one spot I would prepare for it and ask her to move forward right before she got to that spot. This would help her go forward and not fall in. Also, I taught her the voice command "out". Every time she would fall in I would point the longewhip at her barrel and say "out". Eventually she became more balanced and now stays on a nice circle.

Final Notes & Things I learned:
As time has gone on I've learned that Rose thrives on praise, and had I praised her even more in the beginning things probably would have been even easier. Now, she gets praised like crazy when she figures out a new thing. Also, for a long time I would still walk in a circle while longeing her, as seeing my feet move seemed to help her to realize that she needed to move hers. Now, nine months later, I no longer walk in circles, but pivot in the center of our longeing circle as one should. However, when the babies are learning new things, I have learned that sometimes you have to operate differently to get the message across. Mostly though, it was fun and rewarding to teach her how to longe. After we accomplished this, her training really got going, and she was able to work and begin building muscle.

Happy trails and swooshing tails!

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1 comment:

  1. Great detailed post, very helpful to someone working on this important groundwork from scratch. The only thing that I do differently is I always keep moving, myself, walking in my own small circle as the horse works at the end of the longe. For me, that helps me keep in tune with the horse, feeling connected. It's just a preference.



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