Training a Horse to Longe
One of the first steps in training a horse is to teach him to longe. The longe line is the best place to train a horse many of the basics, from learning its transitions to accepting tack, and even accepting a rider for the first time.
To begin with, you need a horse that knows how to lead without difficulty. Ideally, you should have worked on leading your horse from both sides before beginning longe line training. You horse should also be at least two years old before learning to longe as the constant circle work is hard on the joints.
The first step is to teach your horse to go forward from the whip. Start off with a longe line attached to the side ring of your horse’s halter. With your line in your left hand and your whip in your right hand, face your horse’s shoulder. Now ask your horse to walk on as though you were leading him. Say “walk on”, and walk beside him, facing his shoulder. If he does not walk forward right away, give him a gentle tap with the whip on the quarters.
Continue this until he is walking forward from your verbal command, and halting when you say “Whoa”. Don’t worry about the direction you go. Going in a circle will come later. It is more important that your horse understand that a combination of whip and voice means to go forward. Be sure to practice in both directions.
Now that he understands “walk on”, try stepping back a bit from your horse. Give him around 10’ of line, but continue to walk along with him. At this point you should still be able to touch his quarters with your whip, but should no longer be right up against him. Keep facing towards his shoulder as you work. Practice your walk/halt transitions until he is comfortable with the new distance.
As he gets the hang of things, start giving your horse more line. You will want to keep the line relatively short, around 20-25’ in length, until he is experienced on the line. Do not progress to the trot until he is 100% confident at the walk. It is important that he understand both the upward and downward transitions at the slower gaits before you move on to faster gaits.
When you and your horse are ready, you may ask him to trot. It helps if you have introduced him to trotting on the lead line before trying on the longe, but as long as he understands that the whip means to go forward, it should not be hard to get him to move on.
By using a combination of your voice and the whip, ask him to go forward into the trot. If he does not understand right away, ask again, using a bit more whip. If he still does not get it, try shortening your line enough that you can actually tap him with the longe whip when you ask him to trot.
Any forward transition should be praised, even if it isn’t what you asked for. If your horse should break into a canter, let him go around the circle once or twice before bringing him back to a walk and trying again. Be sure to give lots of praise when he gets it right. Like all animals, horses love to please, so they need to know when they have done something well.
It takes time to teach a horse to longe. Keep your sessions short and don’t push too far at a time. Young horses have very short attention spans, and should not be worked for more than 15-20 minutes at a time. It is better to do several short sessions over a week than to push him for a long session, and then leave him for several days.