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.