How to Long Line Your Horse and Why You Should Try It

Long lining is not just for training big horses -- it's how Lancelot, the mini appaloosa struts his stuff (photo by Christiane Slawick).
Long lining is not just for training big horses -- it's how Lancelot, the mini appaloosa struts his stuff (photo by Christiane Slawik).

Long lining is a technique that many trainers use to start a horse or to introduce new steps in training. Unlike lungeing, when you use long lines it gives you the flexibility to ground drive, double lunge, or work in hand. That’s because with long lining you have a rein attached on either side of the bit or cavesson, which allows you to influence the inside/outside contact and bend; it also allows you to release the contact so you have a more elastic connection. Your horse gets to try new movements without also balancing the weight of a rider, so often you can make some real breakthroughs.

I learned to long line when I was pregnant with my son and just felt too unbalanced to ride. At the time my trainer was an amazing English woman named Joan Harris. She told me that they always started young horse by ground driving them and that her son would run behind them through the village and even take small jumps. I have always had this image of him (although I’ve never met him) in my mind and wondered what would happen should he misjudge a jump. Still, it was probably nothing compared to watching me and my belly waddle along behind my horse trying to keep those long lines from getting tangled in either my legs or my horse’s!

I start with the idea that the horse needs to go forward, in front of me. If you have an assistant, this process goes pretty quickly. You attach the reins on either side of the cavesson or the bit, then pass them through the rings of a surcingle (you can also put them through stirrups if they are tied down).

You should stand six to eight feet behind the horse and off to one side (if you’re planning to make a circle or turn, stand to the inside). This puts you out of range of flying hooves and also gives you more control if the horse decides to take off.

Let your horse get comfortable with the feeling of the long lines on its sides, including behind its butt. As you start to “double lunge” or work on a circle, the line attached to the outside of the bit or cavesson will be on your horse’s rear and can cause a horse unaccustomed to the pressure to panic. Never let the lines travel lower than the hocks or you risk having your horse getting tangled in them.

Next, ask your horse to walk on using both voice aids and a driving whip. Like when you’re mounted, you should maintain a light contact with the bit. Too much contact and your horse may stop; too little and he’ll wander. Start by practicing walk/halt transitions, working along the rail in a ring (it helps to have a barrier). Then progress to turns.

The video below shows a horse getting its initial lesson in long-lining.

The video below shows a horse that’s progressed to more advanced movements. You can see her how to double lunge (including changes of direction), half pass, passage, piaffe and a few tricks. Just ignore the video after about 5:45 as it moves onto some chick riding bareback.

After learning how to long line I rarely lunge anymore. When I want to do ground work, I either long line or work in hand.

Read more about Lancelot.

12 thoughts on “How to Long Line Your Horse and Why You Should Try It

  1. Yes, while long lining you can see what the horse is doing, it can move freely and your relationship develops more. Joan Harris is a truly amazing teacher – I had lessons with her about 15 years ago and would love to find her again, do you know where she has moved…maybe Oklahoma or mid-country?

  2. I don’t know why u lot from the states don’t start ur training with long lining, and even just use it for exercise. Its a great way to see movement u couldn’t even feel through ur seat. Thank you for such a great description and hoping many more from across the pond pick it up

    1. I suppose that it’s telling that the trainer who introduced me to long lining was British. And yes, she said they started all their horses that way.

  3. Thanks for this site. I am trying to get a 20 yr old Clydesdale of my father’s ready for the local fair for the Draft Under Saddle Class. He hasn’t been used in almost 10 yrs. I’ve lunged with the english saddle, but I wanted to try long liningg/reining before doing it on his back since he hasn’t been worked in so long and after putting my kids and almost full grown neice on he was a bit uncomfortable with the weight. He relaxed after a bit, but I saw my dad do something like this before with one of his favorite horses and read about it when I had a quarter horse several years ago.

  4. Yes, long lining is an essential training tool to introduce to young horses. It assists with setting their heads correctly without being in their mouth and builds strength without a rider on them. That introduces them to jogging/driving with a cart behind them which is an even better method of building muscle in young horses. I break up my workout routines with my horse, my riding one day, long lining the next and jogging the day after and depends on how he/she is performing long lining is also essential in correcting any issues that you maybe having that you can’t see when under saddle. I work with Saddlebreds.

  5. Great article!! Any recommendations for where to get long lines that have rope for the first couple feet and then are reins? I tore my acl a couple months ago and can’t ride, but I want my horse to be fit again by the time I can, and I heard the rope parts near the buckle help them slide through the loops on the surcingle better

  6. How young can/should you long line a horse? My trainer wants to start my 6 MONTH old foal long lining and other trainers firmly disagree and say not before 2 years old. Please help!

    1. I’ve never heard of long lining them that young. I do know people who pony their young horses when out riding, and some who let their foals just follow along loose. I think there’s plenty to do with simply leading him and getting him used to being handled. I consider long lining something you might do as you prepare them for being ridden.

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