Thoughts on longeing

I’ve never been a big longeing person. I know how. My horses know how. But it’s an exercise I don’t practice much. I’ll throw a horse on a longe line to assess soundness and will very occasionally longe instead of ride.  When Johnny was beginning to ride last year, he stayed on the line for a few weeks; that was the most Moe has been longed in his life.

I longe so infrequently I don't even have photos of it, so enjoy this majestic creature in the snow. (Book does not advise longeing in snow.) (Photo from Flickr creative commons)
I longe so infrequently I don’t even have photos of it, so enjoy this majestic creature in the snow. (Book does not advise longeing in snow.) (Photo from Flickr creative commons)

However, I’ve been reading an intriguing book that advocates longe work, Training The Young Horse: The First Two Years by Anthony Crossley. It’s a practical, well-written schedule for training young horses. I agree with Mr. Crossley’s basic philosophy of treating the horse as a willing partner, and the methods and practices he describes seem sensible and rooted in patience and kindness. While the book is geared specifically toward young horses at the beginning of their work careers, he mentions that this is a good method to use on green horses or older horses who have some under saddle issues.

In laying out his preferred schedule for young horses, Crossley advises starting them on the longe line and keeping them there for three (or so) months. He’s a fan of this type of work because it allows the trainer to really see what the horse is doing and it allows the horse to learn to carry himself, accept the contact, and build appropriate strength to carry a rider. He also posits that it makes it easier for the horse to learn the rider’s aids and builds a better relationship between horse and human. Crossley’s schedule is very gradual; there’s definitely no plan to throw them on the longe line with cranked down side reins and trot them around for an hour. After the horse is started under saddle, Crossley suggests longeing once a week or so.

My curiosity about the effectiveness of the method laid out in this book is piqued. I’d love to know your thoughts and your own experiences with longeing. Is it something you do frequently? Regularly? Why do you do it?

Author: Stephanie

Equestrian, amateur cook, people person.

36 thoughts on “Thoughts on longeing”

  1. I rarely longe, too, primarily because my horse, I can only assume, thinks of it as torture and I am trying to undo that. I would definitely be interested to read this book!

    1. It’s an excellent book- I’m about three-quarters of the way through it and have really enjoyed it. My horses seem confused about longeing, which makes sense, given that we so rarely do it!

  2. I haven’t really used longeing as a training tool, other than to assess soundness. I’ll usually pop Roger on the longe for about 10 mins (sometimes less) when we arrive at a show so he can see where he is and get a look around. Roger knows how to longe, which is an important skill to have, but like you, I don’t really use it that often…especially not in place of a saddle time. I know longeing in a chambon (or similar) is used as a training tool, but I think it’s something that has to be done thoughtfully and not “just because.”

    However, I feel VERY strongly about those that feel the need to ‘longe their horse down’ before getting on, or those that longe their horses for (cumulative) hours over the course of a show weekend. I just don’t think there is a need for that kind of excessive abuse on the joints, and you’re really only making your horse sore and more fit spinning them endlessly in circles. IMO, if you need to ‘longe the horse down’ for a while before you get on, is that really an animal you want to sit on anyway?

    /rant.

    1. I agree! I have never liked the idea of longeing a horse down; as you point out, that’s not really an animal you want to sit on anyway. I had an employer who was very much in the “always longe before riding” camp. It always seemed unnecessary to me.

  3. I adore lunging and think it has its place when used correctly. B has spent many days under lunge rather than saddle and it truly has worked miracles for him, in the ways of respect and learning. Typically though, I never (save for one incident) lunge more than 20 minutes at a time, as it is hard work. I also try to not use it “to get the bucks out”, and use it as a training tool instead. If they play on the line I won’t make a scene, but I def lunge for training. There are so.many.cool exercises you can play with and I think it has its place! It was especially helpful when I couldn’t ride. Lunge 3x week, kept him from completely going slack.

      1. It just takes some training to make sure they know lunging is for training and not play…I think some people just don’t want to put the work in to get there!

  4. I always forget how much I love lunging. I use it for muscle building on my cold backed TB – if I only have 15 – 20 minutes of daylight. I usually use a “rig” to encourage him to be long and low, but he will be much better with his back on the lunge than under saddle in that short of time.

    I also use it for my young horse. He tends to be very fussy with his mouth and running his reins behind his stirrups and trotting for 5 minutes each way really “settles” him in the mouth.

    I also use the lunge for “free jumping” both horses. For my older TB these are cavaletti grids meant to help strengthen his compromised hind end. For the young horse this is often trot poles and single fences to let him figure out new jump “types” coups, oxers, ditches without the hindrance of my craziness up top.

    1. I am very interested to use cavaletti on the longe! I can see how it would be very useful for a young horse to learn (and I know it would benefit my older horses).

  5. I longe as a tool. Mainly for young horses. But it has its place. I absolutely abhor sloppy uneducated longeing. Seriously. Is dangerous. But many people haven’t been taught or even realize there is an art to it. I know that sounds snobby, but people should really look at everything they are doing and saying whilst longeing. Or watch others as an educational experience.

    1. You are absolutely correct- sloppy, careless longeing is dangerous for everyone involved. I don’t know why it’s one of those things that often gets neglected in a horse person’s education. I am grateful that I learned from good instructors and someone taught my horses well long before I acquired them.

  6. I am lunging my green horse right now before I ride, to get his focus before I get on. He is very distracted, and I find that lunging before I get on gets him listening and paying attention. We do transitions, walk, halt, walk, trot, some poles, a little canter. I find not only does it get him focused and listening, he is warmed up and looser under saddle too.

    I have been worried about doing too much lunging with a young horse, but I figure it is better to lunge a little before I ride and for both of us to have a good experience, then get on a tight, distracted horse and try to wrestle with his concentration.

    It also helps him understand what I am asking for under saddle, when physical aids are backed up with familiar verbal cues.

    1. It sounds like you are longeing for the right reasons! This is exactly what the book touts as benefits of longeing- focus, suppleness, increased understanding of the aids. (And you didn’t even need a book to tell you! 😛 )

  7. My trainer lunges ALL the time. At first I was skeptical, but with Roman it’s really allowed him to find his own balance and strength in the canter. We don’t use fancy ropes or tools, just old fashioned patience and voice training. It works wonders.

    1. That’s basically how I longe on the approximately one-a-year occasion I do it- I have a line and a whip and just go. I think it could be useful for helping Moe develop better muscling and balance. (An ancient horse can learn new tricks…right??)

  8. I lunge more than you for sure. We definitely prescribe to the “older horses who have some under saddle issues” bit. I mainly lunge to get Copper paying attention to me before I get on, and if any springey moments happen when I’m riding, I bail off and we lunge fairly assertively to regain said attention. I’m just not comfortable working through bucking in the saddle really. Paige never gets lunged and Copper doesn’t when in work consistently and being well behaved regularly. He’s been lunged a lot in his life though and is pretty dang good at it. I think it helped him learn how to carry himself a lot when he was young.

    1. I can see it being a useful tool for regaining attention when the horse is being naughty under saddle; these are issues I haven’t been presented with, so I’ve never used it that way!

  9. I definitely think lunging has its purpose. I like to lunge Ries to get him focused and exercise him when I physically can’t. Monty definitely needed it for some strength training, but on that note I don’t just lunge in aimless circles. I walk the circle out so he is mostly going along the rail.

    1. When I’ve longed in the past, it’s usually been for exercise when I can’t ride. I was always taught to walk the circle out, too, though this particular book is very against doing that. (Its theory is that the horse will be more balanced if the circle is not wobbly or uneven, as can happen with a human trying to make a circle too.)

  10. I longe my young horse more than I ever longed Rico. I don’t “longe him down,” but doing ten or fifteen minutes on a day where he might be a nut allows me to focus his brain to work without having to ride through any bullshit. I never longe him without side reins and his chambon (too lazy to buy sliding side reins or a de gogue) and longeing always means working, never playing. It’s been a useful tool in building strength in the upward and downward transitions, putting lateral work on him, and yes, making him safer for me to ride. It’s not about running the crazy out of him, it’s about having a conversation about whether we’re working or not (sometimes he’s fairly convinced that we’re not) before I have to climb on and potentially risk my or someone else’s good time.

    1. I’m so glad you added your thoughts, since you are a person who has a young horse you’re training!

      I think you make an excellent point about the longe line being a place for a conversation, not for playing or running the crazy out.

  11. I feel about the same way you do on lunging in general. Seems like a waste of time while straining fragile joints, BUT (sigh), it really, really helps Courage to work things out on his own.

    So we lunge. Sometimes a lot if we’re working through a specific issue. Sometimes not much if I just want him to limber up before I get on.

    I wouldn’t say I’m a lunging convert–when I have my next horse, I’d prefer to lunge as little as possible. For the present, it does what I need it to do so I’ve learned to be flexible about it.

    1. I’m glad you’re here, too, as I know you and Courage do some longe work!

      How helpful do you find it in terms of limbering up? I’ve wondered if it would help Gina- she is very stiff when she starts out, but loosens up pretty quickly. I’ve tried walking a few laps around the arena before I get on, but perhaps dedicated longe work would be more helpful.

  12. I think lunging has it’s place in a few scenarios. Because I lunge for certain reasons I will go through some months with no lunging and some months with fairly regular lunging, depending on our needs. The reasons that I have lunged Kachina for in the last year are:

    – seeing whether she was sore or if the saddle was sitting right when she started balking when I mounted up
    – allowing her to figure out the canter without the added imbalance of a rider (until she went into the pasture, she would never canter on her own, and she was so unbalanced at it – this has improved so much now, partially thanks to the lunging)
    – getting her to give to the contact with stretchy side-reins. Usually I work on connection while riding, but occasionally my position and aids are getting in the way and it helps to do a reset without introducing my problems into it.
    – giving her some exercise in the winter when it is icy out and I don’t have time to tack up and ride
    – as a tool to get her comfortable in a new arena – I now just do this under saddle but before I learned some riding exercises, lunging was more effective than leading her around
    – getting her listening to me when she was being crappy at ground manners, e.g. lunging while pushing her shoulders around and moving the circle around the arena

    Other than the third one, I usually lunge with just a line and a halter. I also almost always keep lunging to less than 20min, and sometimes it’s literally just 2 or 3 minutes.

    1. I am very glad you can comment again! 😀

      All the reasons you list for longeing are good ones- I think I’ll do some canter work on the longe this winter with Moe. His canter is easily his worst gait, and I know there are times I’m not helping him from his back.

  13. I have lunged for so many reasons — at first because Murray needed to learn how to think before we could approach putting a saddle on, then because cantering under saddle is hard, and these days to work on his gaits and transitions without dealing with all the complications that come with being under saddle.

    If I was following (one of my) dressage trainers’ prescribed methods, I’d lunge for up to 20 minutes before each ride until I could be very sure that as soon as I got into the saddle I’d get correct, forward work. And I’ve been told that would get me some pretty good muscle development. But I’m selfish – I want to ride, so I don’t lunge, and maybe that’s impeding my progress. Though I will say that when I lunged fairly often this summer and worked specifically on forward/bouncy gaits and transitions, both his gaits and transitions got A LOT better.

  14. In my showing days my horses lived on 24/7 turn out. So at shows if they were stalled overnight we’d find a quiet spot in the AM and lunge in just a halter so they could move as they wanted (mostly). That set-up was a cue for them that playing a bit, bucking, choosing their own forward speed (anything short of a full gallop) was a bit ok.

    In regular days (at home or at shows) I’d lunge in a bridle at minimum, frequently fully tacked with side or draw reins, to help encourage stretching, work on transitions, do some ground poles, or a slew of other reasons. Seemed to help make progress.

  15. I never lunged much until it was suggested to me as a tool for helping Stampede with his back issues. His combo of arthritis and kissing spines right under the saddle can make it hard to work him comfortably while being on his back. He actually did several months of just lunging long and low, usually for about 10-15 minutes a few times a week, as part of his rehab plan. Now I throw in a day of lunging here and there whenever I think he needs a break from under saddle work or he seems back sore. I can honestly say he enjoys it and takes the opportunity to really stretch long and low each time.
    An added benefit of the whole thing is that my horse is now great on the lunge. He knows various commands (including stretch to put his head down and reach) and is very polite and responsive.
    I wouldn’t hesitate to use lunging as a tool with my next horse, but it’s a tool not a way to get rid of energy.

  16. I lunge as a training tool, like many others, and generally in a chambon (my favorite!!) or sometimes side reins. When I first started working with Dino I would lunge him at least once a week to get him working with me instead of against me, and it helped immensely in installing voice commands and getting him in tune with me. I love working horses on the lunge when they just need to figure themselves out without me doing something weird up on their back! I don’t, however, “get the bucks out” on the lunge or lunge a horse down. Lunging time = working time. When we boarded at a barn with a round pen, Dino would get “pony playtime” in there and could be silly and run and buck, but as long as I’m attached to him with the line he’s working.

  17. I only lunge a few times per year, in specific instances:
    – To gauge soundness
    – In the spring, to practice for show season
    – At shows

    For me, lungeing is more about gauging my horse’s current mood/mental status and to get him listening to me. That’s why I use it as a tool at horse shows — when we don’t get the turnout we’re used to.

  18. I started Tristan in exactly the way the book describes – three months at least on the longe line, and then regularly afterwards. It was a good way to get him used to people being in charge and also coping with life in general. It was honestly safer for us. Even when he went under saddle he was longed regularly for a long time – especially whenever we made any changes. The first time he wore boots, the first time he wore a bigger bit, the first time he wore a half pad, etc. Longeing had become a place where he could sort of zone out and find ways to cope so that he did not have to deal with the monkey on his back at the same time.

    I still longe him every two weeks or so. I often use a chambon to encourage him to drop his head and lift his back. It’s a specifically applied technique, not something I do just because.

  19. Since I don’t ride in the winter, I usually start mine back on the lunge line in the spring. It helps them get a little strength back before having to tote my out of shape butt around and if they are a little frisky, I don’t mind them getting it out on the line. I do NOT think it’s ok to have your horse run around flat out on that little lunge circle. That’s dangerous and counterproductive. But if they want to kick up their heels a little, I have no problem with that. BUT they have to be respectful of the circle, not dragging their human around the ring.
    All that said, Romey doesn’t know how to lunge, and I have absolutely no idea how to teach him. I’m hoping to get him some time with a pro this winter, and I am definitely going to request he learn this skill!

  20. I’ve never really lunges regularly, mostly bc I don’t feel very good at it compared to as effective I feel in the saddle (which is itself sometimes arguable lol).

    That said, I am working on teaching the new guy to lunge, but we are coming at it from a very groundwork driven focus. In not sure if that’s a meaningful distinction or not but it doesn’t really look an awful lot like traditional “horse trots around stationary person endlessly” so much as it just looks like, idk. Kinda ridiculous. Lol. We are working on it tho! Still doubt that traditional lunging will be a big part of our routine going forward tho.

  21. I wrote a post on my thoughts on this exact question not too long ago.

    Basically, it was disconcerting that in my breed (Arabians), there is a mentality to always lunge a horse down before getting on, which I feel is counterproductive. At some point and time, just ride the horse.

    I do occasionally lunge if I don’t have time to ride or I want to see how the horse is moving. I also will lunge for a couple minutes as a mental assessment if the horse has had a period of time of just to see if the brain is still there or if it’s a “OMG, I’m dying” kind of day.

    I prefer long lining at this point and time as I feel I can do some more adjusting, but will just straight up lunge over cavaletti or something just to get the horse moving, especially in winter.

    So I guess the answer is…it depends.

    However, I am not especially fond of people over-lunging show horses instead of riding/training them or young horses spending too much time in tight circles.

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