Longeing Do's and Don'ts

Seven tips to make sure longeing your horse is the safe and helpful exercise it was meant to be.
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Seven tips to make sure longeing your horse is the safe and helpful exercise it was meant to be.

You toss your 2-year-old on the end of the longe line for a quick spin to give him some exercise. He gleefully bucks, leaps out to the end of the line and around the circle, then slams on the brakes, jerks on the rope (just about ripping your arm out of the socket) and trots off--dead lame.

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Your quick spin just turned into a disaster--one that could've been avoided. Follow these seven do's and don'ts to make sure you and your horse stay safe during future longeing sessions.

  • Do: Maintain control. Teach your horse to stand quietly on the circle, then walk off quietly when you ask. If you can't control him in a halter, use a stud chain, longeing cavesson, or bridle to help keep his feet on the ground. If he flies crazily around the circle, leaping and bucking as he goes, he's likely to strain tendons and ligaments or injure himself some other way. His uncontrolled behavior can be dangerous for you, too. If he kicks as he charges out to the circle, he puts you at risk for serious injury.
  • Don't: Longe your horse without leg protection. Traveling on a longeing circle increases your horse's risk of interfering (contact between his front and hind legs), which can cause injury. Outfit him in splint boots or wraps before every longeing session.
  • Do: Mind the footing. Longe in an area with soft, even footing where your horse won't be at risk for injury. Avoid heavy, deep, or uneven footing. All it takes is one bad step to cause a serious tendon or ligament injury, and on a longeing circle it's hard to avoid holes or other footing hazards.
  • Don't: Longe on too small a circle. A small circle makes it hard for your horse to stay balanced, making him much more likely to stress his lower legs or become injured. And never longe on on a circle that's small enough to put you in kicking range.
  • Do: Suit the circle to your horse's age and training level. For a youngster just learning to balance himself, this might be a circle as large as 60 feet in diameter; an older, well-balanced horse might manage a circle half that size. To gauge the right size circle for your horse, work him under saddle. If he can't balance on a circle of a given size under saddle, the circle is too small. (If you're not yet working your young horse under saddle, longe him on a 60-foot-diameter circle, to be safe.)
  • Don't: Longe your youngster too long. Avoid sessions longer than 15 minutes, if your horse is 2 years old or younger. He's still unbalanced and not fully developed, so he's more at risk for damaging joints, tendons, and ligaments than an older, full-grown horse.
  • Do: Make the most of short longeing sessions. Focus primarily on the process. Spend 10 to 15 minutes teaching your 2-year-old to walk quietly, halt, and perhaps trot a circle or two. This focus on the basics will go a long way toward helping you maintain control as he grows older.

Dr. Crabbe is an Oregon-based equine practitioner specializing in performance horses.

This article first appeared in the August 2000 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.