Long-reining is a great way to introduce your horse to new aids, improve acceptance and submission, and introduce lateral work. But it needs to be done carefully, always bearing in mind that your horse may not understand what you’re asking of him.
Fred and Rowena are experts, so here, with ex-racehorse Oscar, they give you a step-by-step guide to long-reining, as well as advice on what you should expect.
1. Fred makes Oscar aware he's beside him
With the first long-rein clipped on, ask someone to hold your horse’s head while you make him aware that you’re on his off-side near his hindquarters. Do this slowly and never disappear directly behind him. Always stay a little to the side so that he can see you – if he can’t, he could panic.
2. Bring the line around
Bring the line around the off-side but don’t yet let it touch your horse. Let him stand and be aware that the line is there. He might want to have a look, which is good.
3. Quietly lift the line and touch his side - and then walk him on
Next, quietly lift the line up and bring it towards his side. He might step sideways, which is a good, natural response. “Most horses, if they’ve been broken correctly, will have done this before but it’s still important to be as gentle as possible so that the horse never feels as though he’s trapped,” explains Fred. If, at this stage, your horse isn’t agitated or upset, ask your partner to lead him on, keeping the rein off his side until he relaxes.
4. Change the rein
You can now walk him around the school to ensure he’s completely at ease with the line by his side. Be sure to incorporate a change of rein as this will enable youto bring the line further around the hindquarters. To do this, put gentle pressure of the rein on to the outside quarter and, as he changes the rein, apply the same gentle pressure on the other side.
5. Feed the line over the hind quarters
With the second rein attached, bring the offside rein around the quarters by placing the line just behind the saddle and gently feed it over the hindquarters. Always make sure that the lines are gathered up and not lying on the floor. Repeat the leading process on both reins, then it’s time to go it alone, your partner can unclip their lead and move away.
6. Give him time to relax
Allow your horse to walk with no contact and give him time to relax again now that he’s on his own. When you ask him to take the contact this may be where you see some tension creep in, as with Oscar.
“Racehorses aren’t taught about contact and any pressure put on the reins is a cue to speed up, so at this stage some horses will become confused. It’s now your job to help your horse learn a whole set of new rules and aids,” says Fred.
“It’s a case of taking up the rein for a couple of strides, then releasing, taking it up again and releasing. The horse must learn to round through his back and maintain it – he needs to learn to hold himself.”
Repeat the process until the number of strides where your horse takes a contact can be increased. When you move forward to trot you can repeat the process.
7. Like a duck to water
Despite his tension, Oscar is soon much more confident to take the rein contact.
“As his confidence grows over the coming weeks and as more suppling work is introduced, this tension will gradually lessen. His general lack of balance and suppleness means that he’s not actually going round corners or achieving much bend on the circle, but again this will improve over time,” explains Fred.
“We also like to introduce pole work, which is an important part of any horse’s training, whatever their discipline. It also provides variety and interest, which is great for Thoroughbreds who get bored, especially in the early stages of retraining when they’re struggling to understand.”
Despite not having seen poles before, Oscar tackles his first row without a problem.
“Working over poles keeps it interesting and makes them think. They have to think about what they’re doing with their legs. Oscar’s not been over poles before so I’m thrilled with him .”
Remember, if you're in any doubt about your horse's training seek professional advice to avoid confusion and frustration for you and your horse.