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You may have seen that I have recently been doing a lot of long reining with Scottie. Not only is it giving him something to think about, but it is also helping to keep him straight and strong before I think about getting back on and going hacking over the summer. Since I started long reining him a bit more, I have really noticed the benefits of long reining. Everyone knows what long reining is, but hardly anyone actually long reins their horse. Lot’s of horse owners have either never long reined, or aren’t sure how to start long reining their horse.
Why is long reining good for horses?
There are lots of benefits to long reining, but it is particularly good for young horses. Not only does long reining introduce them to the ridden aids for turning and stopping, it also teaches them to go forward. They build confidence going in front with you driving them from behind. When long reining in a saddle, you can use the lines through the stirrups to mimic leg aids too.
Long reining is also good for older horses too. Some people long rein to give there horse something different to think about, some people use it to work on improving the horses way of going. If horses are struggling with something under saddle, sometimes it can be really helpful to remove the rider and work on it from the ground, long reining is perfect for this. Long reining is often used by dressage riders when introducing movements such as piaffe.
Since long reining has all the same aids as riding, but without the weight of a rider, it can be really good for rehabbing horses too. This is a big part of why I have been doing it with Scottie. He reverts to being a banana shaped racehorse when he is out of work. But long reining him keeps him using himself properly without my weight putting any extra pressure on the tendon. It also helps take the edge off some of his excess energy without lunging him, which puts more strain on his legs.
What is the difference between long reining and lunging?
Lunging and long reining can and do overlap quite a bit. But the main difference is when lunging, a horse is always on a circle or an oval. You can lunge with one line, or two lines. Whereas long reining gives you more freedom of working on straight lines, circles or other movements. Long reining uses two lines attaching to both sides of the horses mouth. When describing long reining to non horsey friends, I describe it as carriage driving without the carriage or riding the horse from the ground.
What do you need for long reining?
Everyone has a slightly different preference for what to use for long reining. What you choose to use and how you use it, should be up to you and based on what you are hoping to achieve from long reining your horse. Typical long reining kit includes a mixture of the below:
- 2 long lines
- Saddle pad
- Side reins
- Brushing boots
- Over reach boots
- Long whip
What do you need to start long reining a young horse?
For starting long reining with a young horse, I would start with the long lines attached to a cavesson, with a bridle over the top with a simple snaffle bit. This allows the horse to get used to the feel of the bit before you start asking them to respond to pressure from the long lines. Once they are happy with the bit, I would attach some loose side reins to the bit. I love the doughnut side reins for this as it adds a bit of weight to the bit, a similar feel to a contact and should also encourage them to drop their frame.
I personally would stick to a roller unless they are already used to a saddle with dangling stirrups. This is purely so you don’t introduce too much in one go. Some horses can take a little while to get used to a saddle and stirrups. It might be too much of an ask to get them to accept that whilst also learning what long reining means. Boots wise, it is always sensible to put brushing boots on all their legs, purely because they can be a bit clumsy and unbalanced. If they have shoes on, I would add over reach boots too.
What do you need to start long reining an older horse?
When long reining an older horse what has been ridden, I would aim to stick to what they already know. Use their usual bit and bridle, or similar. If you don’t think they have ever long reined before, it’s a good idea to start off attaching the lines to a cavesson rather than the bit. But since they should understand rein aids, they should be fine starting off with them attached to the bit.
Since they have been ridden, they should be perfectly happy in a saddle, so the choice between saddle or roller is really down to personal choice. I prefer a roller for Scottie, but as we get closer to getting back on, I will use the saddle a bit more. If they usually wear boots for exercise, I would use them. But I don’t feel they are as important for an older horse than a young horse.
How to get started long reining?
If you have never long reined your horse before, it is best to assume they have never done it before. There are two methods to introducing long reining. The first is introducing two long lines while lunging, the other is just by giving it a go. Now if you are starting to long rein as part of a rehab program, introducing them while lunging isn’t possible. So I personally prefer to just have a go.
You will need a helper for this.
Much like when you introduce a horse to lunging, you start by having a helper lead the horse in a circle around you, until they unclip and slowly walk further away until the horse is by themselves. I like to approach long reining in a similar way. Depending how reactive the horse is, you might want to start by just walking a safe distance behind the horse while they are led around. Remember to stay slightly to one side so the horse can see you.
Once the horse is okay with this, you can start adding the long lines. Again, if they are reactive, you might want to add one line first, the one on the helpers side. Then once this is okay, adding the second line. As you walk behind, you can start adding voice commands to stand and walk on with the helper. Hopefully you have done some other ground work so they should have an idea on voice commands already.
Once they have accepted the lines and you walking behind them, you can start adding aids from the long lines with your voice aids. As you start introduce these aids, the helper should start stopping their aids, until they are just walking alongside, not asking the horse anything.
Next we need to start moving the helper away. While walking along the helper should unclip any lead they still have on the horse and just walk quietly along with them. After a while they should slowly start to move away from the horse, still walking with them but putting more and more space between them. You may need to steer the horse slightly to stop them following the helper, your helper may also need to move a bit closer every now and then if the horse worries. But the aim is for the horse to be able to carry on without the helper there at all.
Eventually you won’t need the helper at all and you will be able to start and finish all without them. But remember to be extra careful when moving lines over their backs and behind them. Stay away from their back legs while you do this just in case. But most horses should get use to it the more they do it.
Once you are long reining with a helper, when things go wrong, you should either put them on a circle and slowly lunge them to a stop or if you can, get them to stop without circling. You can then reset and set off again.
How can you progress long reining?
Once you have got to grips with the basics of long reining, there are so many things you can do it keep it interesting.
Get out the arena
Long reining is great as it can be used to build a horses confidence out and about. If you are lucky enough to have plenty of off road hacking or quiet lanes, it’s a great idea to take them on a long reining hack. I wouldn’t do this alone at the start, especially with a young horse. Have someone ride or lead a sensible horse for them to follow. Then over time as they get more confident you can choose a safe area to ask them to go in front.
If you don’t feel you have safe enough hacking to do this, do you have space to do this around the yard? I have long reined around the carpark and the turn out fields before, just to get him out and about.
You don’t have to get out the arena to make it more interesting. You can long rein over poles or create a handy pony type obstacle course to long rein them through. This will put your aids to the test and help build their confidence in a different way.
Why not work on your dressage? Run through some of your dressage tests and movements. How accurate are you? There are also online competitions for this now too! I recently entered Scottie in a long reining test online to give us something to focus on. These specially designed tests work the same way as a dressage test. See our entry video below.