The Long And Short Of It – Part 2a – Back

The rider sits on the horse’s back and is carried forward. But the horse’s back is not designed to carry weight, and that is why so many horses travel with their backs hollow and tense. This is where I tell you to read a certain one hundred page book on skeletal, ligamental and muscular anatomy, center of gravity, the ‘ring of muscles’, how the horse must be ridden to counter this physical weakness, why it so often goes wrong, blah, blah, blah. The truth is if everyone knew that we wouldn’t be ‘here’ talking about something as simple as back length. Someday we’ll tackle that topic, but not today.

For now it’s good enough to know that a long back in a horse is a fault.   It lacks longitudinal strength and often sags under the weight of a rider, creating a ‘leg mover’ that certainly can give a smoother ride, but only at the expense of the horse.  Prime examples of leg movers are gaited horses that tense and hollow their backs to be able to move their legs in any number of timed sequences, as opposed to your ‘back mover’, the Dressage horse, that swings freely through the loin and back.  This latter requires a rider to have a supple lower back that follows and absorbs this movement to prevent being launched out of the saddle.

Additionally on the subject of longitudinal strength; without it the horse cannot easily maintain engagement.

A long backed horse often presents the rider with the additional challenge of trying to keep the horse straight from dock to poll.  Don’t, however, confuse that with lateral flexibility.  Indeed, a shorter backed horse is often more laterally flexible than its long-backed counterpart.  I will address that in an additional article (2b) in this series.

An excessively short back is also a fault in a horse.  Such a configuration doesn’t allow for enough room for a saddle to be placed, as well, sets the rider’s weight on the loin rather than on the ribcage.  It’s never a good idea to ride a horse from its loin; the weakest portion of an already weak structure.

  • A long back: >50%
  • A medium back: 45-49% (Note: 45% is considered ‘ideal’ for a riding horse; the ‘perfect’ length to provide lateral flexibility and longitudinal strength)
  • A short back: < 45%

To determine back length we measure the horse’s body length and divide that number into the back length number to arrive at a percentage. 

  • Body length is measured from point of shoulder to point of buttock. 
  • Back length is measured from highest point of wither to lumbo-sacral joint.

Here is our trusty skeleton horse with the points marked in red.  The highest point of wither is usually thoracic vertebrae four (T4) and the lumbo-sacral (LS) joint is located between lumbar vertebrae six (L6) and sacral vertebrae one (S1).  I’ve added an extra dot marking the highest point of croup (sacral tuber – top point of the pelvic bone) to help establish the location of the LS joint since it can’t actually be ‘seen’ in a photo; residing 2-4 inches below the surface of the skin. 

The best way to locate the LS joint on a horse is to palpate the horse’s back.  As you move along the length of the back you can feel the individual spines of the vertebrae, then you’ll hit a ‘mushy’ spot and finally vertebrae spines again.  Below that ‘mushy’ spot is the LS joint.  For article purposes, we’ll use the highest point of croup (which is located behind the LS joint) to help us find the LS joint in photographs.

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The LS joint is the most important trait to discuss in horses in terms of athletic potential and movement.  The entire hindquarter of the horse pivots on this joint and its location relative to the horse’s point of hip is instrumental to a horse’s ability to engage and collect.

I’ve added more dots to our six candidates and it’s time to measure back lengths.  The LS joint is marked in a different color and though I’ve placed that mark at the skin level of the horse for measuring sake, remember that it resides 2-4 inches below the skin surface.

Horse #1 – 10yr old QH Stallion

Take a look at him unmarked.  Where do you see the points and how does his back length look to your eye?  Imagining a saddle on the horse and seeing how much space between the back of it and the start of the hip is sometimes helpful.  If there’s a lot of room, chances are the back is long.  If no room, then the back is likely short.

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This horse has a back length of approximately 41.5%.  That falls clearly in the short back range, giving this horse a high degree of longitudinal strength.  Did you imagine a Western saddle on him and where the skirt might come to?

Horse #2 – QH Gelding

How does this horse’s back length compare?  Does it look longer or shorter?

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This one measures almost 42.5%, so a full percentile longer but still falling in the short range and possessing a high degree of longitudinal strength. 

Start to take notice of the relationship of the highest point of croup, point of hip and LS joint, and how they differ for every horse.

Horse #3 – 4yr old QH

Like the first time around, when it was difficult to spot his point of shoulder, it’s equally as difficult to spot this horse’s highest point of wither.  He has lower withers in general, which is not a fault and different than ‘mutton’ withers, which is a serious fault in the horse. 

How does his back length look?

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If you thought this one looked longer than the first two, then you get a gold star.  This horse is approximately 48% falling in the medium back length category.

Horse #4 – Arabian Stallion

Here we see a set of prominent withers.  In this case they are also ‘camel withers’.  Though difficult to detect because of the mane and photo background, look closely.  Follow the top line of the mane and you’ll see a significant dip in front of the wither and then the wither drops off abruptly.   A dip in front of the withers can indicate a few different things, so not all horses with a dip there (and an abrupt ending) have camel withers.  Let’s compare horse #2, our roan QH.  The dip in front of his withers is easily gotten rid of with good riding and training, which would significantly change his neck musculature and fill in that dip.  Our Arabian stallion, though, already has way better neck musculature (mostly because it’s a stallion’s way to arch and telescope their neck to get the chicks) and still a big dip.  There is no amount of correct riding or training that will get rid of it.  Camel withers do not function as well as better constructed withers; that as a ‘fulcrum’.

Scroll back to the skeleton horse for a moment and look at the ‘spines of the wither vertebrae’ that make up the withers.  Those spines vary in length for every horse.  Thoroughbreds generally have very long spines compared to Quarter Horses.

Back to our Arabian stallion; how does his back look?

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He too falls into the short back category at almost 43.5%.

Horse #5 – TB Gelding

Now that you’ve seen three short backs and one medium, has your eye gotten good enough to guess where this horse’s back length falls?  The mane and the background of this photo make it hard to see that highest point of wither.

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If you guessed the longest back of all so far, but still falling in the medium range at 49%, then you were right.  What is most significant, though, is the placement of the LS joint.  Remember this horse had the shortest pelvic length of the group, representing the least power potential by falling in the poor category.  But I also said the horse had two ‘saving graces’, one of them being exceptional location of the LS joint, and earlier in this article I stated that the LS joint was the most important trait to discuss when talking about athletic potential and movement . 

Here we clearly see that the LS joint is located the furthest in front of the point of hip of any horse thus far.  That is most advantageous for ANY horse, ‘adding’ length to the hip and thus power potential.  In this case that poor length of hip is moved into the adequate/average category.  Is it then possible that the LS joint placed ‘behind’ the point of hip (such as seen with our roan QH) might ‘subtract’ length and thus power potential from the hip? (Rhetorical question)  Additionally and even more importantly, an LS joint placed in front of the point of hip makes engagement, as a whole, easier to achieve.

Horse #6 – Paint Mare

Last chance to test your eye on the horse with the hardest point of wither to identify.  I’m not entirely convinced I’ve got it right.

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As it’s marked this horse falls long with a back of 50%.  If I’m off at all, it’s a touch to the long side, but either way we’re looking at a back as long as we ever want to see on a horse, and we’d really prefer it to be shorter.

There is one more thing I’d like to point out concerning back strength.  The further withers carry into the back, and the gentler they taper off into the back, the more strength they add to a back.  Of this group, our TB has the nicest set of withers that gently taper off the greatest distance into the back, adding strength.

It’s time now to go out into your barn and palpate your horses’ backs and find the LS joint and its relationship to the point of hip.  Look at their backs and guess their lengths, then measure to see how close you were with your estimations.  Look at their withers, are they prominent and drop off abruptly, or are they lower and flow smoothly into the back, or some combination.

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The Annoyed by trailrider20

Just the other day I received the following via e-mail and thought it brought up a few topics that need commenting:

From trailrider20:

Now THIS is annoying.

I took my horse to the vet last week, and found myself in a conversation about a supplement I should put my horse on.  Normal horse forage should take care of every horse nutritional need, and I know all about depletion of our topsoil and even human food not providing what we need, but the horse supplement industry is full of a dizzying array of claims about what to feed our horses.  In my lifetime I have seen the quality of hay deteriorate drastically.  But I make a point of getting the best I can.  

I have friends who swear by a certain supplement, and when I look at their hay, the hay is crap.  No wonder the horse does better with the supplement.

I still get sucked into driving long distances to get “the best quality hay”, only to find the same stuff I get in my own area.  

I am aware of all the pressures on hay dealers right now, but I do get annoyed with feed store personnel who insist that the hay they have is “great”!  I now do business with a small feed store that fesses up about the quality of their hay.  

With only one horse, I’m not too concerned about the price of hay.  $35 for a bale of timothy I can handle, but when I have to throw about half of the bale out, I am annoyed.  

Am I going to get this supplement?  Of course!  I get sucked in again and again.  But it is annoying.

  1.  Hay testing is an underutilized resource that doesn’t break the bank and yet can save gobs of money down the road.  How simple it is to know exactly what is lacking in your horse’s forage, therefore only needing to supplement that which is deficient.  And in most cases you don’t even need an overinflated priced ‘equine’ supplement.  There are no statistics on how much it costs an owner in healthcare for a horse that doesn’t have a balanced diet, but I think most of us know of several examples of horses that have suffered because of a poor diet.  Junk in equals junk out and no horse can perform and remain healthy and sound on junk.   At some point it catches up to all. 
  2. Farming isn’t easy and it’s not for the stupid.  Unfortunately, like any industry, farming isn’t immune to individuals who suck at what they do.  To be able to produce healthy, nutritious crops year after year takes knowledge, hard work, AND some weather luck.   The first two we are at the mercy of others so must do due diligence, but the last… Raise your hand if your region has been bombarded by unusual weather patterns over the last decade or so that have affected forage crops and increased the costs that you’ve had to endure. 
  3. The premium price gouging by the ‘Equine Supplement Industry’ – do they really deserve the capitalization, Mercedes? –  is a crime on par with the government taxing me up the wazoo and then cutting funding to the social programs that money was intended for (and that they told me it was for) so they can indiscriminately spend it on useless…deep breath…  Okay, it’s not the same, but I still want to hurt somebody.
  4. I hope that’s one big ass bale of hay for $35.
  5. Do I understand correctly that your vet talked you into the supplement?  Before or after the blood results?  And what’s the vet’s margin on that supplement?
  6. I’m annoyed too, and frankly I’ve never been able to forgive Rick for riding that horse into the city and getting it eaten by zombies.  What the hell was he thinking?!

Thanks to pallas broy for sending her thoughts on this recent experience and allowing me to put them up on Hooves for others to comment.  Remember:  thehoovesblog@gmail.com 

The Bad: Neglected Horses – Seeking Help by raftert

Below is a comment posted by raftert to the Hooves Blog.  (In future – everyone – feel free to put together a short article on such subjects of interest and submit to:  thehoovesblog@gmail.com and I’ll be happy to post them for comments)  The comment is entirely off topic and rather than see it get buried or pull comments away from the article it’s posted under, I’m posting the comment here to be discussed.  Note that advice is being asked for.

This is off topic, but I’m hoping someone on here can give me some advice. I just heard about a group of horses in British Columbia that are in pretty dire straits. The SPCA visited there a number of times a few years ago but none of the horses were seized at that time. As is par for the course in our area, the SPCA is not really interested in helping horses, so I’m not surprised that nothing was done then.

There is approx. 30 horses on the property, many of which are young stallions. The stallions are kept in stalls, 24/7, in a very old barn without much light. The last time there were shavings on the property was in November. The horses don’t get trimmed, but their feet do rot off in the stalls, which are basically never cleaned. Halters are not removed as most of the horses are now unhandled, when the stalls do get cleaned, the owner simply herds the horse into a different stall. Some of the stallions have been inside for almost 20 years, and there has not been any turnout for approx 10 years now. The young colts are moved into the barn when they start breeding the mares, there are new foal crops every year and no idea who is bred to who. I would imagine none of the other basic care is being done, such as deworming, as most of the horses haven’t been handled.

20 years or so ago, this owner ran a really nice barn and the stock (AQHA) was quite high end and well cared for. Her mental health has apparently been declining (obviously) and she will no longer allow people she doesn’t know to even enter the property. So, while I would love to get in there to blow the lid off this, I can’t. As for the weight of the horses, I was not told they were starving or even significantly under weight, so I’m confident that the SPCA will not be of any help now either.

Because I am in a very small town, I also don’t want to be in the limelight. I can accept critisism for that, and it is what it is, and it’s not going to change. All that said, how does a person go about getting attention on this, when the society that’s supposed to protect these animals doesn’t and you can’t get onto the property to get the pictures which could force action from the society? Any advice would be appreciated!

The Long And Short Of It – Part 1 – Hip/Pelvis

Conformation is an extensive topic and many get overwhelmed.  To help make it easier to digest, I’m going to break things down into really small chunks and hope that prevents choking on the technical data. 

Following is part one of three discussions on the length of the hip, back and loin, respectively, and what that means to the horse.  For clarity and comprehension sake assume the discussion is always about ‘riding’ horses, as opposed to ‘draft’ or ‘racehorses’.   Many aspects will apply to the latter two as well, but there are also exceptions.  I will periodically make mention of those exceptions, but for everything else go with ‘this applies to riding horses regardless of discipline’.

As mentioned in the article ‘To Plow Or Not To Plow’, hip length is important for power potential; the more length, the more power potential.  This potential is based on two principles; more length for muscle mass, and more length for leverage.   There is no such thing as a ‘too long’ hip in equines, but there certainly is ‘not having enough length’

The horse needs to possess power to perform tasks.  Arguably, some tasks require more power than others, but it also takes power to engage and collect and while we don’t need every horse to collect to the highest degree, we do need them to engage to protect themselves and perform even the simplest tasks correctly and well.

I’m going to use the same set of horses for all three parts of this series.  I’ve randomly picked individuals from sale ads; some from www.dreamhorse.com/ and some from www.equinenow.com/

  • Poor hip length: < 30%
  • Average/Adequate hip length:  30-32%
  • Good hip length:  33%+
  • Great hip length:  35%+

To determine hip length we measure the horse’s body length and divide that number into the hip length number to arrive at a percentage. 

  • Body length is measured from point of shoulder to point of buttock. 
  • Hip length is measured from point of hip to point of buttock.

Here is a picture of the horse’s skeleton with the three points marked (in red) so you can see where to find the bony points.  Palpating your own horses will improve your ability to spot the points on other horses without touching.  It is harder to see these points when covered in flesh, and even harder sometimes in photos.  We often use differences in lighting and shading to spot the points in photos.

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Horse #1 – 10yr old QH Stallion

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Because of the amount of muscle and how smoothly it ties from one body part to another it’s more difficult to see the points, particularly the point of shoulder.  There is a shading difference and a ‘wrinkle’ in the skin/muscle that helps us find the point of hip.  Being even a bit off in the points can greatly affect the measurement from a photo.  When the eye gets good enough you no longer need to get out the ruler and protractor to have a real sense of the horse’s proportions, ratios and angles.

Below I’ve marked where I believe the points to be.  Now measure body length and hip length and divide the hip number by the body number to come to a percentage.

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My measurement comes to a hip of just under 36.5%.  Our figures are going to vary a little bit depending on how big (or small) the diagram is on our screens and how accurate we each are at measuring from point to point, but we should all be getting a hip figure that clearly states this horse has ‘great’ length of hip.

Horse #2 – QH Gelding

The roaning on this horse makes it a bit harder to see the point of hip, but he’s got a little dark speck right on the front edge of it.  The point of shoulder is easier see.  Now, before you peek, does this horse appear to have as much hip length as the first horse, or less?  If less, do you think he’ll still fall in the ‘great’ category?

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My measurement on this horse’s hip is a bit under 35%, so not as generous as horse one, but certainly a quite good length of hip.

Horse #3 – 4yr old QH

This horse has lots of smooth muscling on his haunch, especially pants muscling.  His pelvis is steeper, but does it have length to it?  Does it possess ‘good’ length?  His front end muscling is very muddy, so seeing the point of shoulder is difficult.

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I measure about 34.5%, so another one with a quite good hip length.  Don’t get fooled by a steeper pelvis that at quick glance can appear short.  Quarter Horses get knocked for some disastrous traits purposely bred into them over the years (and we’ll get to those at some point down the road), but one area where they rarely fail is in pelvic length.

Horse #4 – Arabian Stallion

It’s really easy to see the point of shoulder and buttock on this horse.  The point of hip is a bit harder, but there’s a darker spot of shading that helps us locate it.  Now that we’ve seen three very good lengths of hip, what is your first impression about this horse?

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This one is about 31%, falling in the adequate/average category.  It’ll get the job done for the horse, but he isn’t going to be setting the world on fire in the power department.  He’s a much lighter built horse, and this is not a breed we think about for pure power but they have been praised for their speed.  Speed develops from power potential, though, so this one is not going to be particularly fast for his breed. 

There is one thing to take special note of; this horse possesses what is termed ‘table top croup’.  This is a significant fault in a horse as it makes engagement and collection more difficult to achieve.  With the pelvis so flat, the natural tendency will be for hollowing the back, trailing the hocks, and high-headedness.

 Horse #5 – TB Gelding

So what are your first impressions about this guy’s hip?

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If you thought, ‘well, that doesn’t look like a very good length of hip’, then you were right.  This guy has about 29% and that is poor.  He does possess two ‘saving graces’.  One of them is an exceptional lumbo-sacral joint placement.  This is a situation where a trait or group of traits can significantly balance/nullify/make less weak a poor trait.  The second ‘saving grace’ will be discussed in Part 3 of this series.

Horse #6 – Paint Mare

So, what do you think about this mare’s hip length?

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If you guessed adequate/average then you were right.  She’s about 31%, same as the Arabian stallion.  I suspect, though, that some of you thought she fell into the poor category as the TB gelding before her. 

We’re going to talk more about this one in Part 3 of the series as well, since this horse – even with the better hip length – is a far weaker individual than the TB gelding with the poor hip length.  This is a case exactly opposite to that of the TB gelding; here we have a horse that possesses a faulty, but highly significant trait, which overrides many good traits and makes the entire individual weak.

Take a look in your barn and around the Internet and test your eye.  Look at hips and guess at their length then take the time to find the points and measure to confirm or correct your estimations.  It’s the only way to develop your eye.

The Ugly: Mismatch

I had planned to put up the first official conformation article today, but the ‘Look Ma, No Hands!’ comment section has taken a turn in a direction that might as well be discussed now that it’s on people’s minds; that is of pairing a rider with an appropriately sized mount for purposes of safety.

We’ve all seen the petite lady rider on the big GP Dressage or jumper mount, and typically we don’t give it much thought; she is after all an adult and therefore responsible for her own decisions.  And if she’s a skilled enough rider to get over those huge fences then have it, right?  The petite Jill Henselwood comes to mind. I’ve met her and she’s one tough cookie.

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We’ve also seen the big, burly guy on the little Quarter Horse cutter or roper.  We don’t usually say anything about that, either, since Quarter Horses are big muscled; they can handle it, right?  Look at where all these rider’s feet hang – well below the horse’s belly.

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(I actually think the guy in the blue in this photo is the same guy in white- Jerome Schneeberger – in the first photo.  He’s one big hombre.)

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(This is just one seriously cool picture! Ron Knutson in saddle, I believe.)  And look, even the guy in the background appears to be a big guy for the horse he’s on.

But when it comes to children…

Remember The Black Stallion movie?  The little boy on the big horse was 13 in 1979, the year the movie was released, so likely 11/12 when the movie was being made.  Did we even care that it was a ‘stallion’?  (Yes, my research yielded that two Arabian stallions were used, though, stunt doubles apparently did the running, fighting and swimming scenes.)  Maybe we just chalk that up to an actor doing his job, and getting paid?

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Below is a video I saw quite some time ago.  I remember when it made its first rounds the vast majority thought it was;

  1. Adorable!
  2. What a really well-trained horse!
  3. That kid has mad talent!

What I thought was;

Not cool. 😦  It’s not that I don’t see the training the horse clearly possesses, or the natural ability of the child; I just can’t get past all the things that can go horribly wrong in a split second, and it feels a bit like a group of adults ‘putting a show on for their own kicks and giggles’.

Child Jumping

Look Ma, No Hands!

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I’m torn and unable to decide if I am against this photo on general principle (innocent child in a potentially hazardous situation), or if it’s a fine example of a future Olympic gymnast or movie stunt double in the making, or if I simply don’t care because I’m not that fond of children – thusly embracing my inner Charles Dickens hoping for a decrease in the surface population – and the pony looks too old, decrepit and underfed to want to budge.

Okay.  I’ve just decided I’m annoyed with the condition of the pony and the adult (presumably) behind the camera.

This pony sale ad photo certainly speaks to the genteel (defeated?) nature of the beast.  Of course, give it a few meals; some care and attention, and all bets are off…well, except for that lovely left knee.  What are the odds this one is sound of limb?

They do have a super, well-kept backyard, though.  I wonder if they have a full-time gardener.  Might I suggest a full-time stable hand instead?

The Good: Archeologist Unearths Rare Arti-tack

Early this morning in a remote mountain region outside of Vienna, the famous archeologist, Dr. I.P. Bagatooshi, uncovered a long-lost equestrian device that hasn’t been seen in a millennium.  When asked about the importance of such a discovery, Dr. Bagatooshi replied, “It’s my crowning achievement to be able to bring this technology back into the light for the equestrian world.” 

He further went on to describe the arti-tack, “This particular specimen was made from supple leather, probably the skin of the once prevalent species of mountain goat that roamed the area, Capra hircus maximus, and has a number of primitive metal devices called buckles.  This one also has a swivel joint.”  Dr. Bagatooshi also commented on the condition of the arti-tack.  “It’s in remarkable shape considering its age.  I found it in a sealed, air tight wooden trunk.  I believe the people of the time called them ‘tack boxes’.

Yes, I’m having some fun and the opening is completely fictitious, but that’s how I sometimes feel and view the equestrian world when discussing this particular piece of tack.  Recently I met a woman; I’d guess she was in her mid to late fifties.  She’d been involved in horses for a few decades.  I was long-lining a horse at the time and she commented that she hadn’t seen anyone do that in quite some time.  (You don’t say?)  But what threw me for a loop at the time was that she pointed at the horse’s head and asked; “What’s that?  I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

Have you guessed the piece of tack?

Longeing Cavesson

Let’s get the whole spelling thing out of the way right off:

Longing (soft ‘g’): a yearning desire; like mine for Jensen Ackles;

Lunging (soft ‘g’): to rip out one’s breathing apparatus; usually with bare hands and similar to the technique used to rip werewolf and vampire hearts out;

Lungeing (‘j’):  a sudden forward thrust or plunge, as with a sword – but not exclusively with a sword, a baguette will work too.  Lungeing is also done with the body as in yoga or sumo wrestling, though; using a sword is much easier on the back and knees;

Loungeing (‘j’):  what my husband does in his underwear on Sunday afternoons; pizza in one hand, beer in the other – TMI?;

Longeing (‘j’):  is a technique for training horses;

Longeing Cavesson (‘j’):  a piece of tack used to assist in the longe training of the horse;

There, I feel so much better.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  I will accept lunging (‘j’) (not lunging (soft ‘g’) or lungeing (‘j’) because Webster says, but I won’t be happy about it.  

With the current popularity of the round pen, many have taken up ‘free’ longeing.  I don’t think the horses see a whole lot of ‘free’ happening, but at least nobody’s pulling on their faces or mouths.  Whenever someone says; “I free longe my horse”, I always envision Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling, in a meadow that goes for miles, ‘dancing’ with his horses without restraints of any kind.  But perhaps that’s me getting in touch with my my unicorns, rainbows and butterflies whimsical side?

‘Free’ longeing does remove the need to be somewhat handy holding several feet of line, in addition to the longe whip.  There’s no risk of a horse stepping on the line, getting it tangled in their feet, wrapped around their neck, or being jerked in the mouth.  The person is free (oh, that’s where the ‘free’ part comes into play) to concentrate on body language and voice aids.  Maybe rein aids come later?

Chillax members of The Round-Penner’s Association, I’m not against ‘free’ longeing in round pens but it IS a topic for another day.

Longeing is also often done in a bridle; certainly an acceptable way, but really not a way that should be tackled UNTIL the horse has an educated mouth, and understands many of the rein aids (and voice aids, and whip aids, and body aids).  The person needs to be far more skilled in the dying art of longeing (in my view, it’s on its deathbed with three hooves in the grave), so as to be able to educate the horse further and not confuse or hurt the horse with ill-timed or inappropriate harsh tugs and pulls of the longe line.

My least favorite way to see a horse longed, and arguably the least effective (except when Klaus does it), is in a halter.  I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve seen a loose horse in a halter running with 15’ of line trailing behind, or the number of times I’ve seen a horse bopping around like a Mexican jumping bean with the halter pulled over one eye, or the number of times I’ve seen a horse twist its neck, tilt its head, and do a jaw-droppng imitation of Gumby, while being longed in a halter.  The reality is; it’s just not an effective way to communicate with the horse (except when Klaus does it), to teach the horse rein aids, or to retrain a spoiled or rambunctious horse.  It is, however, awesome for handwalking and handgrazing.

A longeing cavesson is adjusted snugly on the horse, so that it does not slide on the face.  Because of this fit, the horse can feel the nuances of subtle rein (line) aids similar to those it would feel from a competent rider, but the pressure is not on the mouth, instead, it’s concentrated at the sensitive mid-face, where there is hard bone close to the surface.  It sits on the face the same way, and in the same position, as a simple bridle cavesson; just under the curved ridge of the mandible.  It can be adjusted lower on the face for spoiled or rank horses to add additional leverage and ‘bite’, and then readjusted to its higher, proper position once the horse understands he/she no longer has the upper hand.

Pictured below are photos of some longeing cavessons.  Note they come in different styles, materials, material thickness and colors for those visually sensitive people.  Some have more padding than others, some have browbands and some don’t.  There’s literally an appropriate style and size for any horse or pony.

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You can also fit a bridle on with a longeing cavesson and that has its own advantages and uses.

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(Please note the use of bit keepers with a full-cheek bit!)

There are even longeing cavessons that allow for the attachment of a bit without the rest of the bridle.

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I’m going to give it to you plain and simple.  It is infinitely easier to teach a young or green horse the rein aids, to retrain a spoiled horse, and to teach longeing in general with a longeing cavesson than with any other head device, and you can do so without risking hurting the horse’s mouth.  It is way easier for the person to control the horse, to learn how to longe the horse, and to learn how to communicate with the horse.  Until you’ve used a longeing cavesson and had some instruction, you will not understand the difference.  It’s immense and I can’t stress that enough.  What can take weeks of education or re-education can be taught and conveyed in a longeing cavesson in a matter of a couple short sessions.

Here are some basic rein aids:

Moving the longe line in a waving (up and down) motion tells the horse to slow down or stop, depending on the frequency and ‘depth’ of the wave.  You can literally put a rank horse on its butt with a couple of quick, vigorous waves, and doing so does not hurt the horse.  There’s no pulling, jerking, or yanking, but it sure does get their attention.

Moving the longe line in a snaking (side to side) motion tells the horse to move ‘out’; make the circle bigger.  Combine that with pointing the longe whip at the shoulder and the horse moves its shoulder ‘out’.  Point the whip at the hip and the horse moves its haunch out, or point the whip at the horse’s girth and the horse moves its whole body ‘out’.  Again the frequency and ‘width’ of the snaking speaks to the subtlety or ‘shouting’ of the rein aid.

Closing your hand on the line and just ‘holding’, like you would under saddle, is the beginning of teaching the half halt.  Drive the horse forward with your body, voice, longe whip, or combination and ‘hold’ is the next step.  Drive the horse forward with your body, voice, longe whip, or combination and ‘check’ softly in the wrist and you’ve got a full-fledge half halt.

And so it goes.

The other great advantage to the longeing cavesson is that you can easily change the horse’s direction without having to stop the horse, walk to it, and readjust the line.  That’s an advantage people enjoy with ‘free’ longeing and ‘halter’ longeing, except it works way better (and it’s cooler to watch) in a longeing cavesson.  (Please do not tell me you allow the horse to face you when it stops, or to walk to you and stop in front of you of its own accord when you longe; I’ll have a hair pulling fit – your hair, not mine.)

Once a horse is adept at longeing in a longeing cavesson, the next step is long lining and for the horse this is a natural progression.

I could type all day about longeing, but I really just wanted to remind people of this handy piece of tack that nobody seems to use anymore, and that some people in the equestrian world have never seen.   The latter I find disturbing.

For your viewing pleasure, I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite longeing videos:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHEDXcqIe_U

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWWFIpOEvpM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8o_YGVe5JQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VmwdEEVid8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6Y1EBnwg0o

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_odT5WkGYA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lt7HmXN_mKk

Mercedes