Longeing vs Six Keys
Longeing may be the only ground exercise practiced by many horse owners however to have your horse on a lunge line or to stand in the center of the round pen with a lunge whip and send your horse round and round to get the "fresh" off is actually counter-productive. Rather than gaining your horse's attention in preparation for riding, you are actually loosing the horse's mind. Endless circles cause the horse to mentally check out rather than tune in.
If gaining your horse's attention and preparing him for riding is the intended purpose of your longeing time, you could be much more productive and stimulating for your horse by spending this same time practicing a few specific ground exercises as your "pre-ride safety checklist". The best ground exercises are those which ask your horse to use all parts of his body including his mind, move in specific ways (backward, forward, left and right from the hind and front and side-ways). Your ground exercises should also be used to review the same cues you will use in the saddle to ask for all the basic speed and direction control maneuvers.
If you took ten minutes and ran through a few different exercises on the ground prior to mounting up you would have spent quality time with your horse to gain his attention, reestablish your leadership position and determine how he is responding to you. The exercises will help your horse to be calm, focused and willing, and they will increase his coordination for precise and fluid movements as well as to increase his flexibility. Then you'll mount up with more confidence knowing that your horse is focused on you and on the job at hand. Your confidence will pass through to your horse and give you a greater chance for a safe and successful ride.
I disagree with the use of any restraint devices such as side reins. Restraint devices (side reins, draw reins, tie-downs, etc.) cause the horse to push against them, become heavy on the forehand and use his body in an unnatural and strained manner. These devices portray an image of the human forcing our will upon the horse by strapping him into a shape rather than using understanding and communication to gradually teach him how to carry himself in a state of relaxed balance and athletic coordination.
Also I disagree with longeing in circles due to the detrimental effects on the fetlock and hock joints. Longeing on a circle or even at liberty in a round pen causes the horse to lean to the inside. Due to the inclination of the horses body the outside hind leg impacts the ground tilted on the inside hoof wall and the inside front leg impacts the ground tilted on the outside hoof wall. Due to this edge hoof wall impact, the abnormal stress placed on the hock of the outside hind leg causes degenerative arthrosis. After the inside front leg impacts the ground the hoof turns flat on the ground causing compressive forces on the cartilage surfaces of the lower joints and severe strains on the ligaments of the fetlock.
The few times I use longeing for warm up I do so mostly at walk and trot in the horse’s normal cadence and rhythm. Rushing the horse during longeing causes them to stiffen their backs rather than being relaxed and using their backs correctly. I will lunge occasionally at a canter as long as the canter is relaxed with proper cadence and balance. While longeing I will move parallel to the horse to create a rectangle or long oval shape to diminish the harmful tilted hoof impact caused by the circle. Going over ground poles and low jumps is beneficial to include in this type of longeing in order to strengthen the horse and encourage rounding of the back.
I find for ground work warm-up, The Six Keys to Harmony exercises are so much more productive than longeing because in those exercises we are gaining the horse’s attention, re-establishing our relationship of leadership and gymnastically exercising each individual body part of the horse right and left, forward and backward.
After ground work or in hand warm up, I repeat the same flexions and exercises in the first part of the mounted warm up. In addition, lateral work at the walk, especially shoulder-in, is excellent for warm up as well as walk and trot 15 meter circles with the horse maintaining a relaxed state of balance and uprightness in true bend and in counter bend.
Ed Dabney is an internationally acclaimed clinician, presenting horsemanship and riding clinics all over the US and in Europe. In 2007, Ed was named Champion of the East Coast Trainer Challenge Series by Equine Extravaganza. Ed was honored to have been selected by the University of Georgia to teach their senior level Young Horse Training course.
His training articles have appeared in many major national magazines. Ed produces instructional videos and the “Gentle Horsemanship” TV program which has been seen on RFD-TV.
Ed's blending of natural horsemanship and classical equitation has made an indelible mark with students all across the United States and now also in Europe, drawing the attention of serious riders searching for the lightest touch and the deepest connection with their horses irrespective of breed or discipline.