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A Guide to Long Reining Your Horse
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A Guide to Long Reining Your Horse

If you want to long-rein your horse but are not sure how to get started, then follow our simple guide!

Long-reining is where the handler places themselves behind the horse, with a lunge line in each hand attached to the bit for control. If you know how to ride, then you can quickly learn how to long-rein as well. It is like riding from the ground as you need feel, contact and the correct body position to do it correctly. However, if possible, practising the techniques on a quiet, experienced horse is recommended.

Long-reining is seen as an intermediate step from leading a horse to riding one and is an excellent way of ensuring a young horse understands the basic aids before a rider is put on board. Much can also be gained from long-reining an established horse, allowing the handler to work on specific areas and address any problems that may arise when ridden under saddle.

If your horse can be lunged, then he is ready to start long reining as he will be used to the voice commands and accustomed to wearing a bridle, saddle or a roller. One of the advantages of long reining, as opposed to lunging, is that you can work on straightness, a fundamental part of your horse’s training and one that is difficult to achieve.

Benefits of Long-reining Your Horse

Long-reining has numerous benefits for both horse and rider:

Horse

  • Helps with starting a young horse under saddle
  • Allows a young horse to become used to the feel of a bit in his mouth
  • Can teach the commands for starting, stopping and turning in both directions
  • Teach horse school figures such as serpentines
  • Good way to introduce the foundations when retraining an ex-racehorse as a riding horse
  • Adds variety to a horse’s work
  • Improves balance and rhythm
  • Ideal for horses in rehabilitation
  • Can exercise geriatric horse
  • Helps build top-line muscles
  • Long reining outside increases a horse’s confidence, becoming used to different sights and sounds

Rider

  • Increases the communication, trust and bond with horse
  • Builds confidence
  • More aware of body language and positioning
  • Can observe the horse’s way of going from the ground
  • Helps to use clearer voice commands

Getting Started

When long reining for the first few times, make sure you have someone to assist you who is competent in handling horses.

Equipment

  • Snaffle bridle with the reins removed – allows more room on the bit rings
  • Saddle – helps a young horse become used to wearing a saddle with the stirrups pulled down
  • Roller – worn with a pad underneath, the rings should be big enough for the long rein clips to go through
  • Two lunge lines - both of equal length
  • Boots – on all four legs for protection
  • Hard hat, gloves and sensible footwear – worn by both handler and assistant for safety

How to Begin

Start slowly at first, treating your horse as though he has never long-reined before. Sessions can last for around ten minutes, to begin with, building up gradually to about half-an-hour.

  • Make sure you have a safe, enclosed area to work in
  • Have your assistant stand at your horse’s head with a lead rope clipped onto the bit ring
  • Allow your horse to become used to the feel of the lines against his body before attaching them. Talk to him all the time and watch his reactions
  • Once he looks confident and happy, clip each lunge line to the bit and thread slowly through either the stirrups, if your horse is wearing a saddle, or through the rings on your roller

Position of Handler

The key to good long-reining is your position.

  • Stand behind your horse with a distance where he is unable to kick you
  • Hold the lines the same as you would your reins
  • Keep your elbows bent and your arms relaxed
  • Keep your lines in loops small enough, so you don’t trip over them
  • Your posture should be upright with your shoulders back as if you were riding

Asking for walk and halt

Have your assistant by your horse’s head the whole time to provide reassurance and to reinforce your commands. The lead rope can be unclipped, once your horse is confident.

  • To walk, tap the reins gently against your horse’s side and ask with your voice for him to “walk on.”
  • When halting, ask your horse with your voice to “whoa” or “stand.”
  • Lean back a little with your body and add a small amount of pressure on the reins until he stops
  • Once he halts, release the pressure
  • After three or four seconds, ask your horse to move forwards again

How to change rein

Once your horse is moving around the school, start to ask for changes of rein:

To change direction:

  • Move a little to your horse’s outside
  • Allow the inside rein to make contact with your horse’s flank and hindquarter without pulling – the pressure of the rein asks for the change of direction, acting as your inside leg as if you were riding
  • The outside rein maintains straightness and the speed throughout the turn
  • As your horse changes direction, position yourself directly behind him again
  • Move to your horse’s outside as you make the new turn

Ending the Session

As you wind down your long-reining session ask your horse to halt. Gently bring the right rein over the top of your horse's back and walk to his left side, standing by the head. The lines are then unclipped and removed from the bit and the saddle or roller.

Problems

Here we look at some of the problems you may encounter while long reining and how to correct them.

Lacking impulsion

By being behind your horse, you are in a position to drive him forwards. If your horse lacks impulsion, use your voice along with little flicks of the lunge lines against his sides. If this doesn’t work, carry a lunge whip to reinforce your aids. Do lots of transitions and use your voice to praise him when he responds. A lazy horse will also benefit from going outside to liven him up a little before working in the arena.

Too Forward Going

Although you want your horse to be forward going, you don’t want to be hanging on for dear life either! Make sure you are walking at a pace that allows you to keep up with him but as with riding, don’t let him pull. Make lots of transitions from walk to halt, changing the rein often as well as performing school figures to help him soften into the contact.

Hollow

If your horse goes above the bit in a hollow outline, try fitting a pair of side reins loosely, so he has a stable contact to work into along with the long lines.

Stiffness

A stiff horse benefits enormously from doing suppling exercises without the added weight of a rider. Do lots of school figures including serpentines with 6 to 8 loops, maintaining impulsion for effective results.

Making Progress

Add variety to your long reining sessions by steering in and out of cones, stopping in between poles and going over poles.

Once your horse is confident in the arena and you have control of his brakes and steering, you can think about taking him outside but not on the road. Venturing out is hugely beneficial to a young or spooky horse as they must face situations on their own, thus gaining confidence.

Make sure you have your assistant with you, starting off the same as you did in the arena with a lead rope clipped to the bit to give both you and your horse reassurance. When your horse appears confident, the lead rope can be unclipped, and your helper can walk by his side.

By long-reining your horse regularly, you can help improve his way of going, teaching him to engage and strengthen the back and become more balanced. Many exercises taught from the ground aids the learning process when riding.

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