Ask The Trainer
At what age should age should you start teaching a horse to longe?
I don’t think there is any hard and fast rule as to a specific age, but there are some concerns when longeing a young horse with immature bones and joints.
Working a horse in a circular pattern such as longeing and roundpen work is very stressful on a horse’s joints and legs. Because of this, most professionals agree that any circular work with horses under the age of three should be done at a walk and slow trot only, and for no more than 10-15 minutes at a time, especially to start. Precautions should also be taken. A horse should not be longed with only a longeline attached to the head when it is first being introduced. A horse tends to “lean” on the line, torquing the body and joints. If it gets excited or frightened and runs, the horse can exert a tremendous amount of strain on the neck, back and spine as the head is pulled in and the haunches fly outward as in a game of “crack the whip.” Even if stopped quickly, this can result in injury, it doesn’t take but a second to twist or sprain something. “Free longeing” inside a round pen can also lead to injury. Though the head is not being pulled in, and the haunches do not fling outward, if the horse takes of running for some reason the bending and twisting of the legs while traveling in a circle can cause damage. splints are common injuries in these situations.
Ideally, if any longeline work with a young horse is to be done, it should first be taught inside a roundpen to protect the body with a longeline attached so to maintain control and keep the horse at a gentle walk or trot to protect the legs. As the horse grows accustomed to working on the longe line and gains experience with the signals, the amount of time can slowly be increased. Still, I personally would only longe a horse under three for no longer than 30 minutes total and at no faster than a working trot, with plenty of walking.
One last thing to consider is the horse’s mental ability to concentrate on something that requires quite a bit of physical control and ability. In my opinion, the majority of horses under the age of one do not have either the necessary mental or physical control necessary for longeline work. Its been my experience that time spent with a horse this young is much better spent on other things such as manners, leading, standing tied patiently, picking up hooves, ect.
Longeline work can be a great training tool, but care must be taken in the early stages of teaching this technique with any age horse. The younger the horse, the more cautious one must be.