You can longe with just a halter, line and whip, but you won’t be getting the full benefit of the exercise and you may be compromising safety as well.
Using halter rings avoids trauma to the mouth, but the halter can be pulled out of position and up into the horse’s eye on the far side. Longeing cavessons with rings are designed to fit snugly and stay in place and thus give the handler both more control and more safety than with just a bridle or halter.
Using a surcingle is preferable to bareback because it sends the horse the message of “yes, this is work time, not play time.” Surcingles with multiple Ds and rings offer many options for the use of sidereins, breastplate, martingale, crupper and overchecks. A saddle with the addition of girth loops or a grab strap can accomplish some of the same things if the handler wants to ride after longeing. However, a surcingle over the saddle can secure the stirrups and offers even more attachment possibilities.
You may wonder what all those rings are for. Rings on the top, sides or bottom of the cavesson are for attaching the longeline, sidereins, martingale or overcheck. Attaching the longeline is a matter of preference: The top ring of the cavesson keeps the line up and away from the horse’s legs, while some feel the bottom ring gives added control. Rings on the surcingle are for the same equipment. They can double as turrets for securing lines when driving from the ground or for longeing with double lines.
Longeing cavessons should fit exactly the same as the cavesson on your bridle, making sure it’s snug so that it doesn’t rotate around. Surcingles sit just behind the withers. A snug fit is essential to prevent slipping around the belly. Padding rolls on either side of the withers form a bridge across the top of the surcingle and prevent rotation.
Some brands of surcingles give a range of fits (for example, 65” to 85”), while others just say “fits most horses.” Make sure your horse’s barrel fits the size range when ordering from a catalog or visit a tack shop where you can put a tape measure on the surcingle yourself.
Wide belly bands distribute girth pressure over a wider area but, depending on the horse’s conformation, may interfere with foreleg movement by coming too close to the elbow crease. Be especially careful fitting thin horses, horses with low withers and horses with more upright shoulders.
All the materials used in the surcingles and cavessons in this trial were of sufficient strength and durability. Your choice then boils down to personal preference. Leather, of course, is traditional and will last a lifetime if it’s of heavy harness quality, if it has tight stitching, and it’s properly maintained. The downside is the time required for that care.
Neoprene and heavyweight nylon are also suitable and durable, with ease of cleaning being a big plus. Expect them to last about as long as a synthetic saddle.
Densely woven canvas is a remarkably resilient material for surcingles. It resists fraying, is lightweight and has the unique advantage of being breathable. The only precaution is to prevent mildew by using a pad so the surcingle doesn’t get wet from sweat or else to be sure to dry the canvas thoroughly before putting it away. Nylon web has excellent strength, can be soaked to clean (although it can be tough to get embedded matter out of the weave), and will last as long as a well-made nylon halter.
Tight, even stitching is a must, with no loose ends, just as it is with any tack. Inspect the cut edges of synthetic materials for threads or fraying. Buckles should have rollers for easy cinching and quick release. Stainless steel hardware is better than plated rings and buckles, which can tarnish rapidly if scratched.
Snap ends on all accessories are more convenient than buckles and also safer because they can be released more quickly, especially in the event of a fall. Make sure ring thickness on both surcingle and cavesson is compatible with your other equipment (side reins, overcheck, longeline, etc.)
White fleece on a surcingle is a nice touch but won’t last as long as the other materials it’s sewn to. It will be difficult to keep clean because you may not be able to just throw it in the washer.
Our favorite surcingle was Dover’s Suffolk International Training Surcingle. It’s attractive, well-made and reasonably priced at $39.90, making it also our Best Buy. The ring options and fit are excellent, with three sizes available to make fit work, too. The combination of webbing and leather may make some folks think twice, but the webbing cleans up beautifully.
In cavessons, we preferred the simplicity and fit of the Billy Royal Draw Tite leather longeing cavesson at $33.95. It’s secure, attractive, and a good fit on a variety of full-size horses. If you prefer your line attach to the top of the noseband, go with Dover’s Leather Lunge Cavesson at $34.90.
See also: “Side Reins Bring Freedom” April 2005, “Lunge Line Logic” February 2003, “Going in Circles: The Way You Lunge Can Cause Harm” February 2003, “Plain and Fancy Lunge Whips” January 2003.