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Safe Longeing for Horse Health
Safe Longeing for Horse Health
By Jennifer O. Bryant
Asked by a nonhorsey friend to explain what longeing is, you’d probably say something like, “It’s when you put a horse on the end of a long line and let him go around you in circles.”
Simple enough. But longeing is not a simple activity. 
For starters, it involves managing that long line and usually a long whip as well. (Tangles, anyone?) And at the end of that long line is … well, let’s just say that a lot of people longe when they don’t feel safe enough to put a foot in the stirrup. Combine one horse that “needs to get the bucks out” with lots of revolutions on a smallish circle on perhaps questionable footing and at perhaps questionable velocity, and you have a recipe for injury—to handler as well as horse.
In this article we’ll explain why experts urge you not to consider longeing a mindless activity and, instead, to treat it like a serious training tool. And we’ll share their suggestions on best practices for horse health and handler safety.
Basic Longeing No-Nos
Duncan Peters, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVSMR, ISELP, a sport horse practitioner and co-owner and founder of East-West Equine Sports Medicine, recommends longeing as an exercise and training modality, “as long as the horse is kept under control. The worst thing is when the horse is at the end of the line, basically left to his own devices. We see more horses get hurt (while longeing) than with controlled exercise.” he says.
“Some of the worst longeing I’ve seen is by grooms who are told to get the horse tired,” Peters says. “I have videos of some of these—the horse’s head is up; he’s bucking, slipping, and sliding.”
Ever see a horse lose his footing and go down on the longe? It’s scary. The training surface is always important in terms of soundness and performance, but it’s paramount in longeing because 1) the horse is more apt to lose his balance while turning, and 2) certain kinds of footing exacerbate longeing’s stresses on the horse’s soft tissues. That’s why Peters strongly cautions against longeing on slick surfaces, very firm footing, packed-dirt roads, very deep footing, wet or dewy grass or fields, or mud.
Stresses of Longeing
We can get lulled into thinking of longeing as “easy exercise” because we sometimes use it when we want an easy day—that is, we’re short on time or otherwise want to skip riding. But that easy day for you can be a tough day at the office for your horse, especially on the soft tissues of his legs and feet. Here’s why.
Horses “normally don’t run in tight circles like that,” Peters says. The uneven medial and lateral forces, the torque, the centrifugal force—all can be damaging to tendons and ligaments, he says. Not surprisingly, “I’m not a huge fan of chasing them around, letting them cross-canter or counter-canter,” he adds.
As Peters explains, circling weights the horse unevenly, with more stress being placed on the limbs on the outside of the circle. As a result, longeing “can put abnormal stress on a subclinical (inapparent) problem.” And then there’s the torquing and twisting of the leg joints. “The tighter the circle and the greater the speed, the greater the stress,” he says.
And let’s not forget the potential for what Peters calls “the boredom factor”—going around and around on a circle. Not exactly a horse’s idea of interesting work.
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