Longeing and Long Lining the Horse in Safety
By Bonnie J. Hilton (Horse Training article copyrighted by Saddle & Bridle Magazine.)
Please don t assume that professionals never have accidents happen while training in hand. If anything, because we embrace more risk on a daily basis, the statistics catch up with us. I handle horses that have behavioral problems, as well as performance problems. I attempt to stay on my guard at all times, but I make bad judgment calls, just like everyone else and horses are unpredictable.
I had one of those heart stopping moments a few days ago. It happened because of a longe line that was being uncooperative. A loop of the longe got around my leg, while the end was attached to the horse. I was blessed, because I am still here to talk about it. This isn t the first time this has happened to me. I am not perfect and I have my awkward moments. I know that I have been called a safety fanatic at times, from my years of pushing the hard hat issue, but like my contemporaries, I have seen, heard and experienced too much not to be.
I just want to review some points, that I feel need to be stressed, before you pick up any type of line that will be attached to a horse. Since you are probably wondering how a longe line can be uncooperative, I ll start with this issue. What should a longe line be like? How long should a longe be? Do you just go and buy one of these things at a tack shop, catalog or Internet site and assume you are getting correctly made equipment?
When going through catalogs, the woven cotton lunge or the world s finest lunge line which I would call light and pliable, are on average, almost $15.00 to $20.00 more expensive than what is called the economy cotton line. Why? Economy, is just that, heap! The uncooperative line I was working with belonged to the owner of the horse and it was very stiff and would not fall easily into uniform loops. First off, I should not have used it. A bad judgment call on my part. It was all the owner had and I didn t have any of my lines with me. I could not play the line as I like to do, to easily shorten and lengthen it as needed, as I attempted to direct the horse, who was being a dancing equine ballerina. A deaf, equine, dancing ballerina I should add! It felt like this longe line had been starched to be stiff or the material used to produce the webbing had been processed with sizing and that was making it stiff. Maybe a steer roper could use this thing, but it was not how I wanted my longe line to handle, or for that matter, my long lines, or any line to be. They should be somewhat light and easy to manage in your hand.
The owner said to me, after my little incident with a loop around my leg, that she would try soaking the line in fabric softener to get it more pliable. Myself, I would soak it in hot water from 15 to 30 minutes, rinse it well, soak it again and rinse it and then soak it in fabric softener and rinse and line dry the line (not in direct sun light) and hope that this treatment would get rid of all the stuff that was making it stiff. Hopefully, this treatment would not destroy the actual fabric of the line. I have used this technique, most recently with a new set of cotton long lines, that I felt were too stiff and I am happy with the results.
If attempts to get the stiffness out do not work, I would get rid of the longe, because it is dangerous for the owner, who is just learning how to longe correctly, with a horse that is far from well behaved at present on the end of the line. What material is best? I have cotton, some sort of cotton mix fabric and nylon in my arsenal of line equipment. (I have not purchased the waterproof, machine washable longe line that has controlled elongation, so I can t comment on that, but the description is intriguing.) They all are called web, which simply means woven, which means that they consist of threads that are woven together into a flat web of material, usually about an inch wide for straight longe and with a rolled portion for long lines to slide through the dees. I don t really care what they are made of as long as the lines are strong enough for the horse I am handling, they don t stretch too much, they are easy to handle and are not too light or heavy.
I want my lines to attach to the horse with a single old fashioned swivel trigger snap or slip snap. I don t use buckle ends anymore. I don t like anything that is too heavy at the attaching end because I normally use a cavesson or bridle. Even if you use a halter, how can you run some of these lines over the head or over the nose when you can t get the snap through the halter rings? (Just for some extra information, don t be deceived by longe gimmicks which attach to halters and bridles. They are usually all right for the well trained equine, but not for the initial training of a horse that does not know how to longe and is deaf to the command whoa.)
I would like to mention one aspect of safety with lines that we don t like to think about. What if the horse gets away from you or somehow, in a split second, gets tangled in the line or lines? I know of one freak accident that happened during a breeding handling, where a longe line was being used, and the mare was killed. When I tie little youngsters up to learn manners, I don t want my leads to break.
When I am working with older equines and something I could not predict happens and the horse responds in fright and gets away from me, I don t want my lines to do more damage than they have to. They can be repaired or replaced, the horse is another matter. I have had my share of hair raising experiences, both out in the open and within the safe confines of ring and wall. I have had horses get tangled up, get rope/web burns and cuts and they survived and got used to lines and grew up. I tend to stay clear of nylon except for short leads, but that is personal preference. Knowing where a cutting tool is, in case of emergency, both at home and on the road is a must. You can t cut a horse free unless you have something to cut with. I think it is very unwise to use any type of chain longe, unless you are really confident in what you are doing. As I have written before, they are not true longe lines and should not be used as such. The chain shank portion of the longe is their for a reason. When used properly, a chain longe can usually control the unruly equine. The risk level for injury is raised if the equine should get away from you, with a chain longe over its nose. I know this is why many people are afraid of handling with just a simple chain lead shank and I respect them for it. They could be dangerous pieces of equipment, if not respected for their possible force. Do I have a chain longe? Yes, and I do use it as a last resort when attempts at cavesson training fail.
I prefer my longe line to end in a hand loop. Do I like the rubber disk model of longe? No! I have had that thing come up and hit me in the hand, arm, body and even head while I was trying to get an obnoxious equine to behave. I may use the end of the longe line as a defensive weapon at times. I don t always carry a whip, because I can t with some horses. Anything heavy on the end of the line may be more of a hindrance than a help to me. If you have a wonderfully trained equine, that longes like a dream, then I would say the rubber disk end is safe for you to use.
I like my long lines to end in loops as well and I don t like the buckle end long lines. I have never driven with my lines attached at the end and like the rubber disk, I find these buckle ends to be dangerous for me. My late grandfather and father worked teams and I know from hearing my dad tell of his early childhood spent in the fields, that when they plowed, they had both hands on the plow and instead of holding the ends of the lines as well, the lines got draped over shoulders or even around necks. There were no synthetics or natural fiber materials, just leather strap and buckle. I have never worked a horse behind a plow and I leave drag training prior to actual vehicle hitch up, to experts. If they want long lines to buckle, fine.
Think about what you are going to do with equipment before you buy it. If you are comfortable with what you are going to do, then go ahead and buy it, but if it doesn t work out and you re not comfortable handling with it, then don t risk your safety by making do with it! Now some readers are going to say that loop ends in lines are dangerous if you wrap your hands up in them. You are not supposed to wrap your hand up in the loop. I know it can happen if you are not taking your time to reorganize your line when things go sour.
I think the biggest problem we have with longe and long lines is that the lines are too long for our expertise level. It is just assumed that the consumer knows how to use a 35 longe or a set of 30 long reins. I started customizing lines years ago and I am now doing it as a business. As I have stated before, I prefer to start horses out on a short line, almost an oversized lead. Once the initial training seems to be going along at walk I switch to the little longe, then a longer longe and finally the true longe which I can work to a 20 meter circle. I do the same with long lines. You don t need to be working at cantering length, or for that matter trot length, if all you are accomplishing at the time is walk.
Now critics are going to say that you are defining too small a circle when you use a short line. Please, get realistic. If you are working with an assistant all the time, then the longer lines will be safe for you. If you are working alone, then work at lengths you can handle as you train. If the equine is a bundle of energy, then follow the guidelines of the masters and give the horse some free time, somehow, to get the energy out of its system. Learn how to work outside of the circle into elongated ovals.
Why do I have to even write it? Wear gloves if you wear rings. Even just a plain wedding band will cut off your finger if it somehow gets caught up on something. I had a line get caught under a finger nail once and I didn t have long nails. I don t know how it happened, it just happened and the nail was ripped partially off the nail bed. It was a stupid accident but I started wearing gloves, which I had always said I hated because I couldn t feel anything or do anything in them. You just need good gloves. I shudder when I see some of the nails that are being worn around the barns. Yes, they are very pretty, but please cover them with gloves when you handle a line.
Last but not least, I would like to make a plea to instructors to hone up your longe and long line skills, train a demo horse and make some extra money by teaching the two art forms at your facility. Give demonstrations, teach! When I was free to travel and teach, line work was something that I was often asked to demonstrate at clinics and became a whole teaching series for me, just as some clinicians are doing now. When done at the level of Sylvia Stanier or Philippe Karl, two authors worth finding, the lines do become art.
Over the years I have seen horses from all breeds trained to longe and many go into long lines as well. It does take time, patience and consistency. You may be surprised to find that many people really want to learn, but are just too embarrassed to ask. If more people would learn the correct and safe way to work with lines, there would be less accidents and better trained equines.
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