The Art of Long-lining

The inspiration for the writing of this blog post came from my recent attendance to a long-lining class held by Moorcroft Racehorse Welfare Centre. Having previously studied and witnessed long-lining (alongside disagreeing with the practice of lunging), I thought it best to learn the art of long-lining from some of the most educated people in the field of rehabilitation.


Long-lining involves working the horse from the ground with two lines, or reins, attached to either side of the horse. Whilst its use is diminished in modern horsemanship, advocates of classical equitation value the practice of long-lining greatly. This can be appreciated through the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, who has been training and breeding horses for over 450 years.

LINK: Appreciating and Evaluating the Performances of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna.



Benefits of Long-lining

  • Allows for the influence of inside and outside contact. This has a therapeutic benefit, as influencing both sides equally develops symmetry.
  • Allows for the praising release of contact, providing an elastic connection.
  • Flexible – long-lining can be done whilst walking at a safe distance behind your horse or also on a circle for faster gaits; with the outside line wrapped behind the quarters of the horse, whilst you are positioned in the middle of the circle.
  • Long-lining enables the contact to be influenced by a person, without the presence of a rider on the horses back. This is beneficial as it allows for an insight into how the horse moves and behaves without the weight of a rider. Additionally, the visual perspective of long-lining allows for the analysis of specific attributes of movement. For example, the amount of over-track, individual joint range of motion, pelvic movement and rotation, weaker rein…
  • A simple and clear way to introduce lateral movements to your horse before asking for them under saddle.
  • Allows for easier engagement and thus development of epaxial (back) muscles such as longissimus dorsi.
  • A clear perspective to test efficacy of energy and voice communication aids.
  • Identify weaknesses that could be causing trouble under saddle.
  • A gentle, accurate rehabilitation method

Debates over the Position of the Outside Lunge Line

When long-lining a horse on a circle, there are two positions in which the outside lunge line can be placed, see Figure 1 and 2 below.


Figure 1: The position of the outside long-line is across the shoulder of the horse.



Figure 2: The position of the outside long-line is behind the hindquarters of the horse and above the tarsal joint (hock).


The position of the outside long-line in Figure 1 is deemed ineffective and counter productive by Andy Marcoux.

  • The theory behind this position is that the handler can contain the horse between the lines, improving the degree of control.
  • However, the outside rein lacks a steady contact in this configuration as when the hindlimbs are protracted and retracted in movement, the outside line is activated and released. With an ever changing outside line pressure, it becomes a difficult task for the horse to maintain a steady contact and balance.

Andy Marcoux has a preference for the outside line to cross over the shoulder of the horse, as shown in Figure 2.

  • This accurately simulates the rein position that occurs during ridden exercise. This is beneficial as lessons learnt during long-lining sessions are more easily transferred to ridden exercise.
  • The rein contact is less affected by the movement of the horse.


Long-lining Exercises

TIP: Work your horse on one rein for 3-5 laps, and then switch. This routine ensures that you exercise your horse on both sides equally, avoiding dependency on one rein (Andy Marcoux).

Transitions; Figures of Eight; Serpentines; Lateral work…


My Experience at Moorcroft Racehorse Welfare Centre

My morning at MRWC brought a number of concepts to light. Mary Frances, the centre manager, provided a conscientious insight into what is required to rehabilitate racing thoroughbreds. I had the pleasure of long-reining a variety of horses, starting with a horse that had commenced his re-training approximately six months ago and finishing with a horse that had been re-trained over the period of three years. It was fascinating to see and feel the differences in the two horses, and appreciate the amount of correct training, nutrition and compassionate care required to build these horses back up.

The negative implications of racing was a poignant thought that could not be dismissed. In my conversations with Mary, I was provided with a first-hand experience of what detrimental musculoskeletal effects racing can have. Damage to the suspensory ligaments and the development of overriding dorsal spinous processes (kissing spines) were a few of the conditions that have been rehabilitated. With this in mind, as I watched the beautifully supple and relaxed ex-racing thoroughbreds walk around the arena… their noses nearly brushing the ground as they walked… I reflected upon the journey that these horses had been through to arrive at this point. When discussing this with Mary, she wisely remarked, “there is no rush”. When the horses come fresh off the track, the only thing they know is to hollow their backs, raise their heads and run as fast as they can. Everything they have ever learnt has to then be reversed during the re-training process. Mary continued on to explain how when the horses first arrive, they have their heads in the air like a giraffe, and they slowly learn to relax and stretch over their backs to lower their heads. For this reason, all of the ex-racers start their time at Moorcroft with long-lining. For some horses, the transition from racer to riding horse comes naturally whilst others find the process more challenging. Therefore, it is important to remember that time is plentiful; gradually building upon your horses basic foundations and developing them over time is far more beneficial than skipping steps or rushing through training. The principles around Moorcroft’s training approach evidently orientates around focusing on the process, and not the outcome.

“The Ever Decreasing Circle”

One of the most poignant lessons I learnt during my time at MRWC was how Mary warned of the ever-decreasing 20 meter circle. This highlights how movement on a 20 meter circle is subject to gradually spiralling inwards, making the circle smaller and smaller and increasing the torsion on joints. This can be musculoskeletally destructive, so Mary recommended keeping the circle as large as possible to avoid this.

The Importance of Long-lining in Re-training

Long-lining holds a vital role in the retraining of racehorses. Mary emphasised that prior to their arrival at the rehabilitation centre, racehorses have not felt the riders legs or stirrups irons wrap around the sides of their trunk and onto their skin. During racing, the jockey is perched on the top of the horse in comparison to the elongated leg position in dressage disciplines. Mary explained how the use of the longlines help to accustom the horse to the movement of stirrup irons along their flanks and new riding aids.


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