Posted By Iris on May 11, 2010
When you start a horse, it is a very good idea to longe a horse first for a while until the back is stronger and more capable of carrying a person. When you start longeing your horse, the horse is still very untrained (obviously) and we tend to forget sometimes that going in circles is pretty hard work for a horse that has not done anything a lot. Even when you have a horse that already has been ridden in straight lines (trails) it is very hard for him or her to start doing circles. So when you start longeing it is very important to start a horse slowly and for short periods. But what is ‘slowly’? What is more easy for one horse is still hard for another, and most of that has to do with the way the horse is build, his or her conformation.
Though conformation does not determine a horses’ suitability on the long run (this is mostly dependable on the horses’ attitude as well). The training regime when starting a horse does depend on its conformation.
Like you might know (if you have read my ‘about’ page) I have a Spanish horse. I have started him and I have trained him towards ‘being ridden’. He has a short back and his neck is set high. For him it is fairly easy to collect and fairly easy to go on the circle. With him I could start training on the longe pretty much straight away. The one time he was a bit sore, he was sore in the knees. His back however was fine.
When a horse is sore, it is important you give a few days rest, especially in this stage of training. Muscles that are sore have been worked harder and the soreness means tiny little rips in the muscles (from the acid). This is not bad but the muscles do need a bit of proper rest. Walking the horse is very good when he is sore, because that will keep the blood flow and heal faster, but not to much work for a day or two.
Also, with a young horse, I think it is a lot better to train every other day and give the muscles and the young horses mind a day to recuperate. Sometimes I even give two days rest in between, after a week every other day longework often. (But I do have to say, my horses are not confined in a stall. I think it is very unhealthy for a horse to be in a stall without the ability to walk whenever they want. My horses are in a large paddock all day, have 24/7 hay and 3 hours of grass field every morning. This is another story though.)
Anyway, when I started my Spanish horse I started with some work without the longe, but soon enough I started on the longe in wide circles. On the contrary of what I said about the ‘every other day’, because my Spanish horse was already a bit older (4.5) and because he was a young stallion that needed to get out more, I worked him every day for 5 days and two days a week I would just let him run without the longeline or I would take him on a walk. Like I said he only was a bit sore in the knees ones.
Now with my Thoroughbred mare however it is different. Here you really see the difference in conformation and how this can lead to problems if you don’t take it in consideration. TB’s often have a longer back; it is a bit to long for their body. As with my mare; her back is just a tad bit on the long side, not extreme, but still. When I just got her (hadn’t done anything with her yet) she had serious pain/ soreness in her back. Since I started trimming her (she has been trimmed the regular way before I got her, I trim according to the ‘natural’ way now, I trim professional as well), her back has gotten a lot better. But I still have to take in consideration her conformation with training in order for it to stay painless, ones she will get more trained this will get even better, as long as I start her correct for her conformation in this period of her life.
Because I am only human, half April, I started her as I was used to with my Spanish horse, longeing circles. But soon enough she got pretty sore in her back, even though I did not longe her every day, only every other day. That is when I realized I had to put her on a different training ‘program’.
Like I said, I already trained her only every other day, but now I changed another very important thing… Because her sensitive back, I found out it is very important she gets a good warm up without any collection whatsoever. This means not on the longe (and long reins if you would be riding).
I start out working her in hand for a few steps (let her go shoulder in, I will write more about this in another article) then I start her loose in the pen and just let her gallop both ways.
In my case I use a square pen. I like the square pen better than the round one because when you work with longe they are more inclined to bend in the corners and go straight on the walls, this gives more working stretch for the horse.
Because I do want her to use her back I let her gallop in the pen. I let her stretch out this way, give her a good gallop. She likes that as well, since she is a horse with a bit more nerves (TB’s are bred to run) this is also good for her psyche. Depending on how active she is I do this 5 to 10 min. If she wants to buck or really take off, good, that is her way to let go of tension. Slowly she will come closer to me. When she is warm I work her in hand again for a few steps (don’t ask to much when you just start doing shoulders in, this will go better every time)
After this little routine she is warm for work on the longe. I now put on one siderein on the inside (read about sidereins and why I use just one on the inside) obviously I did not use sidereins when I just started her; I started using it after a good month of training.
I start longeing with a wider circle both side and I do a lot of transitions from walk to trot and to walk again. Goal of longeing obviously is relaxation, bringing the hind leg under the belly and good usage of the back, the head is on the low side when the horse is relaxed (read more about longeing).
After I let her go both ways, I do a cool down in walk on a shorter circle just for a few circles per side. This last part I do for stretching and to practice for future more intense longe work and collection.
I have been training her like this for 2 months and now after each training session I will climb on her (I have worked her in the saddle since the last month or so, just to let her get used to a girth) and I go around the pen for a bit, steering, stopping etc until she lets me know she is tired. For now this is only 5 minutes but this will eventually build up.
She is not sore anymore and she does very well with this regime. Of course, like I said being a bit sore for a horse is not a bad thing, but when a horse is very sore the next day, you might want to think about taking it a step back like I did with this new regime. Like I said, it all depends on the conformation of your horse. Look at your horse and listen to what he or she tells you, though this is very important at every stage of training!
(If you have never longed before I advice taking lessons, especially when you want to use sidereins!)