As a young horseman growing up, I wasn’t exposed a great deal to the outside Horse World and because of this was put in a position where I had to figure things out on my own, with always the horses best interests at the core of my training. The little bit of training I had seen was fairly traditional and included hobbling and line driving before the first ride and I was drawn away from that direction by the need to find ways that suited my horses a little better. In saying all of this, I want to make it very clear that ‘Any Method Done Well’ will receive good results and any method that is not done well will receive the opposite and I have always done my very best to offer any information that I had to share with a horse, in the very best way I possibly could and if for some reason I couldn’t find success in a method or way of training, I was quick to replace it with something that I could.
Up until a couple of years ago, I had chosen not to incorporate line driving or ‘Long Lining’ into my pre work before the first ride and I will now give you the reasons why. I can remember one of my brothers (when I was just a teenager) ‘Land Skiing’ behind a young mare in the driving lines and I felt that this was not something I wanted to emulate, that along with the old saying ‘He rides like a cart horse’, meaning that they had no true bend or softness in the ribcage, which is always important to me in my ridden work. I have also seen the other negatives for this training, where (incorrectly) long lined horses, would bend too much in the neck and actually learn to run out through the shoulder, as well as evading the bit by over flexing and placing their chin on their chest and then going wherever they wanted to. The latter action is extremely dangerous under saddle, as the horse has now learnt that the bridle has no connection to their feet and there is now a real ‘Disconnect’ that could end up in them running sideways until they fall over, or run into an unseen object before you both new it.
I have started many horses under saddle without ever long lining them first (for the same results I am known for worldwide) and have only (over the last couple of years) started to make it a major part of the process, and I will now tell you ‘Why’ about that as well. A good friend and client of mine who I have started many young Hunter Jumpers and Show Jumpers for, had just started to try her hand in the carriage driving world and was having some trouble and asked for my help. Until then, I had only started four horses in harness before but as ‘Good Horsemanship is Good Horsemanship’ I was going to help her in the best way I could. The first thing I did (like I do with all horses I work with) was to gain complete control on the ground through all of my groundwork exercises, so that by the time I went to the long lines and carriage, we would have a good foundation to rely on. Within the coming days and weeks (because I had to) I soon found a way to not only prepare her horses for good driving sessions in harness but to also see great value in this work, that would ultimately help my ridden horses in the future. I was able to create ‘True Bend’ through their rib cage, whilst maintaining the kind of circles and straight lines I wished for, without the over bending and running through the shoulder I had witnessed in the past. In the coming photos, I will explain the process I use to start them in the long lines and give you some tips of how I begin.
Figure 1 shows my young performance gelding ‘Lightning’ out on the circle with the surcingle on. Before I ever connect a rein through the surcingle to my bridle, I make absolutely sure that my horses can execute soft and supple circles each way at all gaits and stop and disengage to face me whenever I stop moving my feet.
The next thing I teach Figure 2 (by clipping one long rein to the outside D ring on my surcingle) is for my horse to accept the long rein around his legs (above his hocks) at all gaits before connecting it to the bit (to avoid confusion in the early stages). Although ‘Long Lining’ is used in basic training to introduce the bit and the idea of driving forward to the contact of the rein, I have found it be an exercise that takes extreme dexterity from the trainer and is indeed one of the hardest aspects of horsemanship to master and therefore, extreme diligence should be adhered to in the preparation before connecting both lines to the bridle. In short ‘The more preparation before, the less heartache during’. Once I have both reins connected for the first time, I would ask my horse into the circle (same as figure I) and cue him to walk, trot and canter on the circle as before (with all of my focus on the inside rein only).
Once he is proficient at that, I would ask him back to a trot or walk and then calmly and quietly pick up on the outside rein as in Figure 3 (outside turn to the right, from left circle to right circle) and have him execute the turn before traveling off in the new direction. I would then have him do the same thing on the other side, before asking for a turn in the opposite direction and I would continue to do this until I was able to have him execute these 180 degree turns whenever I asked. The first time we do this, it is common for them to raise their heads and run through the bridle for a step or two but by remaining calm and waiting for them to follow their nose and commit to the turn, we can soon have them start to allow us to control their feet through the reins on the bridle. The very first time we pick up on both reins to ask for the stop (always from a walk or slow trot in the beginning) we will close both reins and hold them between the aids until they come to a complete stop.
If they choose to throw their head up and run through the bridle, I would calmly release the inside rein and have them turn to the outside and back onto the circle and continue to regain control (through the 180 degree turns) before asking again. Once I was able to have them stop, calm and relaxed, a couple of times (out on the circle) I would then remove the reins and surcingle and from here I would saddle up and commence my first ride (only after executing all of my other groundwork exercises first). By teaching them these moves in the long lines, I have now shown them some understanding of following their nose from left to right and giving to both reins for a straight line stop (however, I would only pick up on two reins at this point, when my horse was already committing to the stop when I cease asking for forward movement and until then, I would always transition down through my one rein stops, like I used to before). In the coming days, I would continue to use the long lines to develop a connection through the bridle and I would be looking for movements such as Figure 4, where Lightning allows me to ‘Drive him to the bit’ whilst maintaining the same bend we would like under saddle and the biggest thing here is to have them step deep underneath themselves with their inside hind foot, so that they will be encouraged to raise their ribcage and create the elusive ‘Self Carriage’ we are all after.
Figure 5 shows, the outside rein behind his hips, and from this position we can encourage them to become more ‘Round’ in their movements. Within a few sessions of doing this, your horse may start to go a little deeper in the bridle then you’d like and from here, I would spend most of my time in the saddle to ensure a true connection between my leg and seat aids and my reins. Another thing that can occur in those following sessions, is that they may start to drift out of the circle with their outside shoulder but by the time this starts to happen, I will already have taught a ‘Rein Back’ and this is the best time to use it. Any time he starts to drift out of the circle, I would calmly stop him and ask him to back up for several metres or so (as in Figure 6) and if done properly, this will teach them to stay between the reins as they learn to give to the outside rein pressure by
keeping their shoulders stood up and between the lines at all times. Once they have learnt to push to the bridle properly, I would only use the long lining (on a ridden horse) to refresh his memory and soften him up once more if he needs it but if I was going to Drive one in harness, the journey continues on.
Figure 7 shows me long lining a beautiful Friesian mare from the back of ‘Aussie’ and from this position I am able to ask for correct and supple circles like she’s doing here, and then by straightening her out, I was able to close the aids on her and have her go into the bridle in straight lines and arcs around the arena. Figure 8 shows me long lining a four year old Gypsy Cob Stallion (in preparation for Driving) and this wonderful young man has now gone on to winning ‘Overall Champion Amateur Horse’ at his first driving and ridden show, all under the guidance of his amateur owner (with a handful of primary education sessions from me to get him started). So just remember, that there are so many great methods and ways of working with horses, out there, but the very best ways of them all, are the ones which you and your beloved horses can understand and click with the most.
For me however, the old age art of ‘Long Lining’ is now a valuable tool that I will always take with me, on my lifelong journey to develop highly valuable and carefully educated equine partners.
Story: Guy Mclean www.guy-mclean.com/
First appeared in APH June July 2017