Longeing the Older Horse
This entire web site is copyright ©
1996-2001 Geronimo & Mary Bayard, © 2001-2008 Mary Bayard Fitzpatrick
Q: I found your article on longeing very interesting. I have a 10 year old quarter horse who can't seem to figure out his leads in he arena. He hops back and forth and gets in a tizzy. The thing is he was a team roping horse all his life till about 1 1/2 years ago when he became a trail horse. I don't think he's ever been taught about leads or loping... Do you think a 10 year old horse would benefit from lessons on a longe line? We also have a round pen but he didn't seem to get the idea. I've only had him a week and I'm going to try it again today. Mostly I've been doing trail rides where he's awesome... He'd be happy if he never saw an arena again but I do need to teach him how to canter. Maybe the longe line is something that would help. What do you think? Suggestions for reading would be appreciated. Thanks.
Congratulations on your new horse. I hope he works out well for you.
Leads and resistance at the canter in general sometimes
are very complex problems that do not have simple answers. To start with, we
will assume that your horse simply doesn’t know what is expected of him. If
this is the case, work on the longe line or in a round pen would certainly be
the logical place to start.
A horse must learn to balance at a canter (as opposed to
a natural gallop), and it is easier for him to do this without a rider on his
back. To have a horse pick up the correct lead on the circle he should be
relaxed and slightly bent along the arc of his path. If the horse is tense or
pulling against the line he will more often than not pick up the outside lead,
or at least pick it up in back and will end up “cross cantering”. Your horse
should be asked to do frequent transitions from trot to canter until he will do
it immediately upon command. Trotting faster and falling into the canter will
allow him time to change his balance and to pick up the wrong lead.
If the horse consistently picks up the wrong lead,
sometimes it helps to bring him in onto a slightly smaller circle by shortening
the longe line and then letting him drift back out to the larger circle as you
ask him to canter. Obviously if he doesn’t go into the canter promptly it is
nearly impossible to get the timing to work out right.
Having a pole or very small jump that the horse must
cross just as you ask him to canter will also frequently get the horse on the
correct lead. Of course you will have to get him used to going over the obstacle
at the walk (pole on the ground) and trot (for a small jump) first.
After the horse will pick up the canter smoothly and on
the correct lead with some consistency, you can advance to cantering with a
rider. The same techniques can help you with the leads—moving out on a circle
(or leg-yielding out) and going over a pole or small jump during the transition.
The above was written for the sound and sane horse that
is just uneducated. You must realize that with a ten year old horse you are
buying a lot of history. There are very possibly issues complicating your canter
The first thing that comes to my mind is that your horse
was a roping horse. Although team roping is probably less stressful than calf
roping, ALL roping is very hard on a horse’s body. Common problems with roping
horses are sore backs and shoulders from the saddle being jerked down suddenly,
navicular and other front-leg unsoundnesses, and hock problems from the stress
of repeatedly starting and stopping so quickly.
Back and hock problems are both very common causes of
horses that won’t pick up a particular lead and horses that get upset when
asked to canter, even to the point of bucking and running to escape the pain.
Although I have never competed in roping myself, I have
watched ropers warm up many times and they usually lope, and lope, and lope—so
most rope horses are very comfortable in the canter. Even though his cue to pick
it up may not be what you are using, once in the canter I would expect your
horse to settle down if nothing were wrong.
There is the possibility that it is something as simple
as him having always been ridden in a short tie-down and not knowing how to
balance without it. If so, the longe line work will fix the problem.
My suggestion would be to try the longe line or round
pen for a while. If you make progress then you can start work under saddle. If
at any point you get really bogged down again, you should have a good equine vet
give your horse a thorough check up. Tell the vet what particular problems you
are experiencing so he knows where to focus his examination.
If the vet doesn’t find anything, or if he finds back
or other musculo-skeletal problems, then you should have a good experienced
equine chiropractor work on your horse. I have seen many horses with major
canter problems that were fixed with some good chiropractic adjustments.
Remember that even if you find physical problems that
are remedied it can still take a lot of retraining to get some horses to stop
expecting pain every time they canter. You might still have to start at the
beginning again with the longe line work.
You may find that some work with a good trainer who is
open minded enough to check out the possibility of physical problems would
be a very good investment. An experienced trainer can sometimes quickly sort out
whether a horse is spoiled, uneducated, in pain, or scared, etc.
It is possible that your horse has enough physical or
mental problems that he can’t be retrained to do ring work, at least not in a
reasonable timeframe and budget while still being fair to the horse. While this
doesn’t come up very often, it does happen. If so, just count your blessings
that your horse is a great trail animal and use him as such. If you need a horse
that can be more versatile at least you can sell this one with a reasonable
expectation that he will have a useful and comfortable life.
Good luck with your horse. Please keep me posted as to his progress!
The American Blacksmith
This entire web site is copyright ©
1996-2001 Geronimo & Mary Bayard, © 2001-2008 Mary Fitzpatrick