I didn’t start learning how to ride on the end of a longe line. I wish I had because I would have had a more solid development and understanding of the independent seat and the nuances, the subtleties needed for the correct application of the aids, especially later in life when I started the sometimes arduous task of retraining.
As Alois Podhajsky stated in The Complete Training of the Horse and Rider, “Even when presenting a fully trained horse, a rider must have considerable knowledge and experience. How much more he will require to train an untrained horse and still more to retrain a badly trained one.” (Please note that I will be quoting from this same classic work by Podhajsky in other areas of this article.)
If I had started my riding career on the longe I would not have spent years struggling, as so many riders continue to do, to learn how to produce, allow and actually ride forward, instead of trying to make forward happen by force. I lacked as a rider the training as, “the physical and mental proficiency to be able to follow them with skill and power, and be able to resist them if necessary.” As a youngster I developed the seat of the pants style of riding, a strong foundation in part but far from complete in the skill aspect. It was a foundation that had to be broken down in order to build anew in 1970 and it started when I was first put on the longe in Vermont prior to going to England and then a decade later in Massachusetts on the longe when I started studying body awareness.
Some years ago I sat auditing one of our Olympic riders during a clinic and remember nodding my head in agreement when they explained their own seat of the pants beginning and how it took years for them to embrace the elusive “seat,” the “feel” that is so necessary to acquire upon which to build a true independent (skillful) riding foundation. That which they noted and I totally agreed with is that their awareness was eventually formed on the longe.
Why are we not marketing longe lessons in all disciplines? Do you feel that it is only an application for dressage or some archaic method developed by the classicalists that you couldn’t possibly introduce into your program? Camaraderie and cost seem to be the driving force behind the marketing of semi-private (2) and group (3 or more) lessons. For young students, especially parents, will not understand the value of more expensive private lessons on the longe unless they are educated as to what private can produce. We need to emphasize that the fundamentals of riding need to be learned on the longe prior to actual independent progression. Too often parents only see cost and feel that if their child doesn’t want to continue, why waste the money. My answer to that is simple, are you teaching horsemanship or just ridership at your facility? Ridership is transitory. Horsemanship is lasting. Don’t waste your time and effort trying to manufacture the passion for the horse. Unlike piano lessons with an inanimate object, where time spent (often forced) will pay off in the end (even though learning scales was a total bore) the horse is truly interactive. Don’t we expound as instructors on the value of developing a partnership with the horses we ride? In that interaction either a bond will be formed that will last a lifetime or it won’t. Transitory riders come and go into and out of the sport and often your barn like a whim. I have had on and off again ridership students for years and they will never embrace the longe, no matter how I attempt to present it. These students (most often adults) feel it is too much effort and have all sorts of excuses for not accepting my offer to put them on the longe. They own their own horse and are happy to be riding along as they are, so I can’t really pressure the point as I can with leased and school equines that I use. If however what you teach is horsemanship, the students who embrace your approach, your philosophy, will be with you forever if they can be. The passion is formed and will continue even when they are forced to take a hiatus away from it. I have just marked 17 years with one of my students, through several leased and owned horses and still taking focused lessons on the longe at regular intervals to “fine tune” their feel, their ability to adjust their body and communicate with skill to the horse.
I also totally understand the dynamics of a working camp program since I did my own stint of being the resident riding instructor for several years and taught small groups at my own facility. Students were happy working together most of the time, but some, who were developing the passion, were being held back in their progress. They wanted more and it should have been available but I didn’t use the longe. I can see where you still can apply the longe where it would be advantageous for those students who you can recognize possess the passion to really continue to learn. If you are savvy, you market the longe as a way to progress and improve. On the business side, the reality also has to be does that passion come with the ability to pay for that private time on the longe either through actual monetary compensation or as some of my own students have done by bartering?
During my education with the British Horse Society all of my lessons were in large groups. Several of my fellow students wanted more intense training and these lessons were arranged for us, they came at an extra price or extra work and were often on the longe. Does the style of saddle, the discipline being pursued, make any difference on whether to start a person on the longe or not? From western, to saddle seat to hunter to dressage can they all be started on the longe? Just to make you laugh a bit, I was started on the longe while riding sidesaddle during my time in England when I pursued some understanding of this style of riding. The horse that I rode graciously put up with me as I struggled with my body to address the postural demands of the elegant Victorian lady. I would say that I “missed the mark” by miles, but I at least got a rudimentary education and can appreciate the expertise of today’s aside riders.
Personally, I believe that the main objectives to starting the first rides on the longe and to continue working on the longe, even when you are supposedly an advanced rider, are to develop and continue the rider’s straddling confidence away from the reins. To develop the ability, the core ability as some exercise specialists will agree, to balance and rebalance the body away from hands. “Absolute self-control is the basic requirement for every rider.” Self-control away from the hands (reins) and legs (stirrups) is the ultimate goal if you can push an individual student to embrace the physical exertion that is necessary to quit the stirrups. I’ll totally agree that it is sometimes a lost cause with some riding students especially if they have had in the past some really bad longe lessons. A longe lesson is supposed to be productive for the student to develop feel, produced on a horse that is safe, compliant and easy gaited. To some extent, it can be fun. If you don’t have a really good longe horse, my advice, train one. It takes time but the outcome of producing viable longe lessons will produce students, as I myself have, who would prefer to work on the longe and embrace the work since they now realize how better they are able to work with their horse afterwards, having gained far better control of their body and therefore not interfering with the movement and balance of their horse. I often teach ½ of a lesson on the longe and ½ of the lesson off the longe. All horses have been trained to wear and comply with a full caveson or the leather longe strap and the English style saddles carry a grab strap. The proficiency learned on the longe will allow a student to practice even when riding on their own off the longe, since they will take the time to incorporate many exercises into their warm-up program.
How many of our students or do you take the time to really buy a book or read instructions anymore? Seeing something presented is much more lasting, I will agree, and I am constantly told about some YouTube.com video to watch and to give my opinion on. So for this article I did an Internet search using key words like longe or lunge lesson exercises for the rider. I did find some interesting videos and yes a few were informative but I have decided to go back to Podhajsky and would suggest no matter what style of riding you are teaching or pursuing as a rider, purchase a copy of The Complete Training of the Horse and Rider, In the Principles of Classical Horsemanship and read it. You can have it in hard cover or for your Nook or your Kindle or whatever – since I don’t have any of these devices as yet! Take the time to look over what he gives for exercises under chapter IV for the training of the rider on the longe and you will note, as I have over the years, how much this work can be applied to other disciplines. You may also note that what is being shown in some of the aforementioned video, was first taught by Podhajsky.
*** Ms. Hilton would like to answer questions and receive ideas for future columns from our readers. You may submit your questions or ideas to: Bonnie Hilton at email@example.com.