Horse training through the halter: Longeing is not just going in circles.

Horse training through the halter: Longeing is not just going in circles.

Joe Wolter
Longeing is more than just running in circles, it’s a training opportunity. Journal photo.

By Joe Wolter in America’s Horse

Lots of times, when I first saddle a young horse, I’ll want to see how he reacts to the saddle before I get on him. If I have a small corral, I’ll turn him loose and get him to go from a walk to a trot to a lope and then back down. That will tell me whether he is tight or not. I recommend that most people do this. Even if you are pretty sure of the horse, just to be safe, it wouldn’t hurt to limber him up before you get on. But if you don’t have the facility, you can do the same thing by longeing.

When I longe a horse, I don’t just chase him around in a circle. I want him to follow the feel of the longe line or lead rope. If I was on him, going around in a circle, I would want him to follow his nose. I want the very same thing when I’m longeing him.

What I definitely don’t want is for the horse to be going around to the right, for instance, and have his nose tipped to the left. You see lots of horses doing that, and what they are doing is building a brace for their bodies. I don’t want it artificial. I want it to be the way they would travel if it was their idea.

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Sometimes, on some horses that are being longed, you can see just a little white in the corner of their inside eye. That might tell me that horse is looking the other way. That’s what we’ve got to do away with. You want his nose tipped to the inside so that he’s watching where he’s going.

When I longe a horse, I’m going to both direct and drive him, but not necessarily at the same time. Say he’s going around to the right, I’m going to be directing with my right hand and driving with my left. I’m directing with the hand that has the longe line, and driving by standing just a little behind him – allowing him to have somewhere to go – and using a little motion with my left hand.

Of course, you could eventually teach the horse to just go around you while you stand still in the middle of the circle. But I’m not trying to teach him an act. I’m trying to get him loosened up, feeling the longe line or lead.

When my horse feels right, or perhaps when he starts anticipating, I’ll make him change directions by taking the slack out of the longe line and stepping just a little in front of him. The hindquarters should come around to the outside, and he’ll reach with his front quarters, going the other way. Then I’ll continue directing and driving, letting him go someplace.

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Soon, I’ll quit driving him and let him stop for a moment. Then I’ll direct him again, and if necessary, drive him again. Pretty soon, I won’t have to drive him. I’ll just direct him, and he’ll leave.

When that happens, I have control of the whole horse. When I get ready for him to move, I make contact with the longe line, and then drop the slack. I don’t gather it up and pull on him. If he doesn’t move, then I’ll drive again. Before long, he’ll start responding to that longe line, and it will feel as though he doesn’t weigh anything. In other words, there is no resistance.

What we’re doing is getting hold of his feet through the halter, and controlling the life in his body. Soon he is ready to get on.

Joe Wolter trained and showed horses for the Four Sixes Ranch in Guthrie, Texas. Today, he has his own ranch in Aspermont, Texas. When he’s some place that doesn’t have a round pen, he often longes his horses.

5 thoughts on “Longeing”

  1. Thank you , for the info. That’s what I do when and before I ride. I also teach my horses to drive, it helps
    with teaching them to turn when they feel the lines on their
    sides. I have a 5 yr. I’ve been teaching, training, and working with since he was a baby. He’s doing quite well. Such a smart guy. Also I find if the horse and trainer are in tuned with each other, the horse will do well. My horse and I are very much connected. He has great influentual QH lineage. So thank you for the info, it’s always good to have extra info.

  2. I knew Joe when he was working in California. I have always appreciated his “thinking out of the box” perspective. He does things because it makes sense to the horse and it will provide a foundation for training that must be learned down the road. His method in this article is a perfect example. Well done.

  3. Good work. Love the focus on getting control of the FEET. It is what is missing in so many trainers communication. Horses are runners not thinker. Control their feet/legs, control the horse. Same goes for that head turned the wrong way – the horse has to be stepping OUT of the circle if its nose is tipped to the outside, not stepping ON the circle – and therefore not flexing correctly. The nose is the indication of where the feet are.

  4. How old can you start longeing a horse? We have a five month old filly that we’re training and I’m not sure when we start longeing her to get her ready for a saddle and a harness.

  5. How do I get my gelding to quit pulling and fighting me when I longe him? I can usually get him to go great one direction on the longe line at a trot but going the other direction turns into a battle and he starts pulling back and has on occasion but not very often reared. I usually have to let him back into something, fence, barn, tree, etc., to get him to go the other direction but I don’t like doing that because its like it scares him into it and I really don’t want to scare my horse into anything if I can help it. I want him to learn that its ok to do what’s asked of him. I have tried to keep him at a walk but he gets bored and loping on the longe line, no matter which direction, turns into that battle of pulling and occasionally rearing and/or just flat running. When I try to slow him its like he only has two speeds…run or stop, or he just runs through me and sometimes tries to kick. I have tried working him in the round pen but have much the same result. I try to always stop working him on a good note but I’m guilty of stopping him on a bad note too, especially when I’m frustrated or we are both frustrated and just need to cool off and try later.

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