Long lining has many benefits, including increased communication, trust, confidence and training. Here’s a few tips to help you get started with this practice.
Long-lining is an extremely powerful tool. Often referred to as ground-driving or “riding from the ground”, it bridges the gap between foundational ground work and riding. It’s also invaluable for helping your horse reach his full potential in a safe and effective manner. By incorporating this practice into your horse’s training, you can gain a better feel and connection with her. It can also:
• Teach your horse (and probably yourself) the significance of proximity, positioning, and intricate movements
• Develop, strengthen and clarify the communication between you and your horse
• Bridge the gap between your non-verbal conversation (body language and physical cues) and your communication in the saddle
• Create a confident, well-rounded, balanced horse (both physically and mentally)
• Safely introduce your horse to cues from the halter or bit (if you choose to use one).
The combination of body language and lines allows your conversation to flow naturally, in a language your horse already knows, as you communicate non-verbally with her while simultaneously influencing both lines. And the best part is that long-lining is useful regardless of where your horse is in her life or career.
This is also your opportunity to be creative and add some fun and partnership into your horse’s training. You can create your course specifically for your circumstances, choreograph each lesson, and incorporate your horse’s needs, desires, learning style and more into it. The options are virtually limitless; ground-driving has something to offer everyone, regardless of weather, environment or time constraints!
Step 1: ground-driving in the round pen
The safest place to introduce double lines to your horse is in the round pen! Take the time to get to know her capabilities, understanding and knowledge of this exercise or, if she is new to long-lines, teach her the complete process – from accepting the lines through to understanding the communication of the line aids. With the correct use of the lines, you can both desensitize your horse to alarming motions, or sensitize her to listening and coming off the pressure.
The inside line acts as the inside leg and can both influence forward motion as well as a yield to the outside. The outside line will focus on creating stimulus from behind to engage the hindquarters. The outside line influences speed as it does when taken into work under saddle. Soft hands will either introduce or reinforce direction to the left and right as well as speed control for downward transitions, stops and backing up.
Working in the round pen will create an environment for your horse to understand all the cues that will later be taken into work under saddle. Creativity is key as you explore your horse’s capabilities with turns, circles, serpentines, transitions, and for the adventurous – flying changes!
Tools for ground driving
1. Halter (to prevent hard hands on the horse’s mouth)
2. Surcingle or saddle (preferably a light racing training saddle to start)
3. Set of long lines (preferably 30’ in length)
4. Leather strap (to tie stirrup irons together)
5. Gloves to protect your hands
Horses who would benefit from long-lining
• Young horses being started under saddle
• Those being trained for carriages, sleighs and buggies
• Performance horses in training and conditioning
• Equines in rehabilitation
• Those being brought back into work from an extended rest
• Geriatric horses who can no longer be under saddle, yet would benefit from the attention, connection and exercise
• Horses with issues such as biting, bolting, bucking, rearing and balking, and those lacking attention, motivation or a spark in the eye
• Those who enjoy and appreciate variety and connection!
Step 2: ground-driving in the arena
Out of the round pen and into the arena! As you remove the confining boundaries of the round pen, your horse will begin to seek and explore, and can be easily distracted. For safety’s sake, first teach her to circle on a 50’ circle without the walls of the round pen for support. This movement can easily be turned into the “one rein stop” if you need it. Once a round circle has been achieved in both directions, and preferably at both a walk and trot, its time to expand to the whole arena.
The arena is your classroom. Be creative and work from the ground just as you would in the saddle.
For example, you can incorporate:
• Forward motion
• Straight lines
• Half halts
• Pole work
• Anything else you think is needed!
In our Reach Out to Horses® classes, the obstacle courses are invaluable. From utilizing the courses at liberty, through in-hand leading, ground-driving, and right up into the saddle, they have become places of higher learning. In Step 2, you can teach your horse a whole array of movements to build confidence, creativity and condition.
Step 3: ground-driving in nature
A common training exercise in England and Europe involves long-lining young horses away from the confined spaces of the round pen and arena. Done on paths, tracks, roads, and through villages, it can be some of the best preparation for the horse before starting work under saddle.
Many horses will benefit from exploring the outdoors and being away from home. You will also challenge your skills and build on the trust between you and your horse as she leaves her herd and ventures into an unknown environment with you. This is the moment in which you must step up as leader of your herd of two.
If you are unsure, the safest way to ground-drive in the open is to have a companion walk alongside your horse, just as in the arena. Everything changes when exploring new territories so expect the unexpected. Remember to keep it easy for you and your horse. If you are both having fun, the learning happens naturally!
Ground-driving is an art that spans colt starting all the way to working with top performance horses. Unquestionably, it requires a lot of time to learn the intricacies. However, once you master this often misunderstood skill, you will never want to be without it because you’ll experience perfect feel, timing, and balance, and gain trust, respect, leadership, and focus from your horse. It will enhance your training, fill in many holes, and give you a safe and effective way to translate your foundational groundwork right into the saddle.
For a more in-depth look at the art of long-lining, check out Uncovering the Art of Long-Lining, Volume 4 of the six-volume Reach out to Natural Horsemanship DVD Series from Reach Out to Horses®.
If your horse begins to pull or ignore the line cues, circle her to regain your composure and influence her feet. If you feel like you are losing “control” or becoming too hard on your horse’s head, you can always ask a handler to support you.
Have the handler clip onto the halter with a 14’ rope and walk next to your horse to provide clarity. The additional person provides guidance at a slight distance and can be a calming influence on the situation.