Basic Concepts

Getting started

I start all horses with the same equipment; an open bridle, a (Sealtex wrapped for greenies) mullen snaffle (I’m currently using a home made Baucher with a little more arch in the mouthpiece – if you’re curious, ask me and I’ll tell you what I do or visit the Baucher Snaffle page which explains why I go to the extra effort), sixty-five feet of mountain tape (a flat nylon tube manufactured for rock climbing) with a snap sewn on each end, a lunging surcingle and gloves.

I use each of these things for a reason. The open bridle is so the horse can see me. The Sealtex wrapped mullen minimizes damage to the horse’s mouth should they do something stupid like wrap their limbs up in the longlines. The mountain tape is easy to hold and not prone to causing cuts (no sharp or stiff edges) or burns (smooth not rough) on hindquarters or fetlocks. It comes in a number of colors and can be purchased in a single length that eliminates a splice or buckle where it would run through my hands when I’m working. It is sixty feet long from snap to snap so I can do big circles, flying changes of lead and other dramatic stuff without running my short little legs off. The surcingle is self-explanatory and the gloves protect my hands.

I run my reins (the snap ends of the mountain tape) through the lowest rings of the surcingle. Look at the rein placement on the second photo of Shak. The rein height depends on the horse and its level of development. Generally, if the horse over-flexes (chin toward chest) or wants to drop the bit with light contact the rein is too low. If the horse doesn’t bring its head down and stretch its top line the rein is too high. If, when the horse is working, the horse is on the bit with the nose slightly in front of the vertical on light contact the rein height is correct. As the horse’s muscles and self-carriage develop, the rein will be moved higher. I let the horse tell me if and when the rein needs moved up or down. Over-flexion, even the smallest amount, when everything else is right is a sure sign the rein should be moved up.

When I start long lining, I work to establish a few basics.

Attention is the first. I correct any loss of attention. For a young horse, undivided attention can be very difficult to sustain. You have to judge what they can give and build from there.

The second basic I am looking for is consistency. Each of us has an ideal for self-carriage, transitions, bend, submission, etc. I work toward my ideal. In the beginning I praise every effort and every sign of relaxation. Every snort, every mouthing of the bit, every stretch into the bit, anything that signals to me that the horse is relaxing and accepting the work. I correct any loss of impulsion or increase in tempo. I want a marching walk, a forward, impulsive regular trot and an engaged canter. In the beginning I don’t expect perfection. Perfection comes with practice. Unschooled horses lack the muscle development and skill only practice will provide.

The third basic is logical progression. I ask for new skills one at a time. Each new skills has a logical time to be introduced. I don’t expect everything at once. It takes time to build muscle for engagement, self-carriage, consistent tempo and lateral flexion. It takes time for a horse’s brain to mature enough to be able to offer concentrated attention through a full lesson.

On to Shak

Shakara (Shak) came to us in January of ’95 as a coming five year old. While it was apparent then that she had a kind and generous disposition, it was also apparent that she had been poorly handled. She was reluctant to be caught and was jumpy and nervous when I worked around her. In the first photo of her you see her at liberty, with her head up in alert never taking her eye off me. These are all things that change with time. As we work with her she is realizing we will not hurt her and the rules we operate under never change.

The first photo of Shak is after gaining fifty pounds and losing most of her inch-and-a-half-long winter hair. She has a very flexible spine, hip and shoulder with excellent lateral balance. In liberty she is never disunited (different lead front to back) or on the wrong lead for her direction of travel. She changes leads correctly (rear to front) when she changes direction. Her trot is engaged from behind and has a very consistent tempo. She manages all this with less than perfect longitudinal balance. Part of this is due to her wariness which will improve with time and work.

In starting Shak I want a relaxed and forward walk, a consistent working trot (hind foot in front footprint) and acceptance of the bit. I want to provide the opportunity for her to relax and stretch her topline. By the time she has really started to relax and enjoy the work sessions, she should be staying on the bit fairly consistently. I will not ask for canter work until she has accepted the bit and adjusted to the work currently in hand and she can consistently maintain her balance at the trot.

The next photo is the beginning of Shak’s first lesson in long lines. She is resisting the bit with a decided lack of engagement. I am requesting only that she go forward in tempo and stay on the circle. The newness of the work makes her nervous and uncertain. I could use a whip and a gizmo and force her head down but that would increase her nervousness and ultimately make the problem worse. By being consistent and patient, with soft following hands, she begins to drop her head, engage and go forward in a more relaxed manner. Nearer the end of the lesson (last photo) she is beginning to accept the bit to the point where she is willing to briefly stretch into it.

As Shak’s work progresses she will spend more time in self-carriage. Her engagement and impulsion will increase and she will begin to spend more time on the bit than off.