Eli took a spill while on a longe line quite some time ago — maybe a few years ago? After that experience, it was clear to me that Eli did not have good enough training on the longe line to make it very safe for him to longe, nor did he have the mental capacity to keep his shit together in a new environment without a ton of reassurance from me. I stopped longeing him almost completely, and did not longe him at all if we were off property. Not to stop longeing would have been extremely irresponsible on my part. We had to work from square one to get him to a better understanding of what it means to be on a longe line.
I got inspired to revisit this in writing for a handful of reasons. One, to consider how well my reasoning (and ranting) from a previous post is holding up. Two, getting Eli some exercise in the past few weeks has been a challenge because of weather conditions. Three, I ran across an excellent article about longeing safely that hits so many points I totally agree with.
I have never taken ground work out of Eli’s exercise regimen. I have spent time on the ground with him in the round pen (unattached), asking for different gaits, or just letting him hang out, not ever getting after him for anything, but rewarding the behavior I like to see. I keep these sessions to 15 minutes or less. I have also, like all of 3 times probably since he fell, put him on a longe line if he has been in daily turnout and constant work–so I know he’s not “fresh,” “wild,” or “high.” He still struggles with cantering normally on a line, but we can trot and walk very obediently now. At least, the very few times we’ve tried.
So then this stupid cold weather hits, and cedar season starts. Daily turnout and a regular work schedule dwindled to hand walking or grazing and limited turn out in a smaller space. In the past few weeks, I have only ridden a few times. But something I did try? When the footing was adequate in the small arena, and nothing else was going on, I took Eli for a short longe. Just 10-15 minutes, mostly asking him to stay at the walk or trot. Were we 100% successful? To the left, not really (it is his weak side). He was trotting along okay and then something set him off (anybody’s guess as to what) so we were back to Eli trying to full on gallop like a fleeing rabbit but on a circle. This is how he fell before, and what I am trying to avoid. I got him back to a walk eventually, after maybe 4 or 5 circles (it seemed like forever!) and I kept him walking for a little while before changing directions. To the right, however, he actually stayed quiet and listened! Okay, now we are getting somewhere.
Starting this week, we have gotten back to more regular turn out schedules, and the footing in both arenas has been good. Good conditions for exercise, right? Sure, if my head cooperates. Cedar fever is making that a little more iffy. My hope is to actually ride this evening, and whether or not I put Eli on the line before hand is yet to be determined. Longeing will never be a regular part of our routine, but I’d like to get Eli to a point that he understands that it’s work time and not a reason to panic and stop listening to me. Although I wouldn’t mind if he threw a buck or two, just as long as he comes back instead of taking off. We have gotten much closer to that goal.