One of the smartest things you can do for your training is spending a lot of time on the groundwork and riding aids.
When we don’t establish these aids well, we get to a “reactive” kind of riding, where we push a little here and pull a little there, but the horse doesn’t really find self-carriage and everything is a little tense or stiff. Then we also have to use our aids more than we would like.
Especially in the longing, I often see people just asking their horse to go out on a circle and asking for walk, trot and canter without really having any aids. The horses struggle with balance and are stiff, which often leads to the use of auxiliary reins or inventive constraptions. Also in the longing, we first have to create our aids before we longe the horse, or maybe even especially here, because we have more distance to the horse and cannot help by physical contact.
Through our aids, we help the horse to balance himself on the circle, which is absolutely necessary for their soundness. Longing in a bad balance, with the horse leaning on the inside front leg or loosing the support of one hind leg, does more harm than good.
That’s why I like to spend a lot of time on creating aids in my longing and before I don’t have these aids, I will not longe the horse in trot and canter, because it is simply too much stress for their joints and ligaments. Sure, there are horses who have a super balance by nature and would probably take little or no damage, and some horses survive a life of longing in bad balance, but personally, I find the risk too big.
Many people are surprised when I explain to them that in the academic way of longing, we also have all the aids from the longing position which we have in riding (except for the seat, of course). We have hand, inside and outside (indirect) rein, the leg aids (inside, outside, direct, framing, preventing, collecting), and we have our body language and energy. For the communication about most of these, we will use our whip, which is a normal, short dressage whip and is really used for communication, not for making the horse run. The ultimate goal is to have the horse responding to our body language and energy.
In my opinion, this kind of longing can give so much to our training, both for the horse and the human. It’s so much fun to see your horse respond to a tiny raise of the whip or answer to an increase or decrease of your energy. It doesn’t feel like work at all, more like dancing together. Yes it takes longer to learn than just letting the horse out on a circle and make him run, but I promise you it’s worth it!
If you would like to learn more about longing, feel free to contact me via my Facebook page. I teach online as well and longing can absolutely be learned through online lessons.
Wishing you a great time with your horses!