Long and Low

Relaxation Vs. Tension

In the previous articles, we have discussed the correct way to ride in order to effectively and gently control the horse. Yet, when things go wrong, we cannot always accuse the rider of faulty riding; horses do have bad days too!

When looking at the average riding school, how many horses do we see are avoided as rides for novices? Possibly about half the horses will be considered 'flighty' or 'excitable', therefore not suitable for beginners. What does a horse do when he's excited? He bucks, rears, gallops, kicks, etc. These are all signs of anxiousness. An anxious horse is not a focused horse. No matter what you do to 'kick the horse into obedience' you will be unable to achieve much success because the horse is simply not listening. His muscles have contracted, his pulse is racing, and his mind is set.

The best way to get the horse under control is to relax him, physically and mentally. To begin with, you must remain relaxed, physically and mentally, as well, otherwise your anxiousness will seep into the horse. Once a horse is relaxed, he will become balanced, focused, and will present a pleasant and successful ride.

The Anatomy of Relaxation

If you watch a horse grazing, you will notice that he swishes his tail casually, carries his ears calmly, turning them occasionally, and walks around lazily. Beyond your vision, his pulse and respiration rate will be low. In the grazing position, the horse's neck and back muscles are stretched and his abdominal muscles are contracted. This is called the antagonistic muscle group, or the relaxation group.

If the horse is startled, his neck and back muscles tense and contract.

"Immediately, all their neck and back muscles go into extension, in readiness for action. They lift their heads, extend their necks and backs, their tails stand up and they erupt into a stiff-legged trot."

Karen Blignault, "Successful Schooling".

Long and Low

The Long and Low method is commonly used to relax the horse and supple his muscles. It can be described as riding the horse on a long rein, allowing him to stretch his neck and lower his head, while engaging his hind legs into a balanced and rhythmic pace. Benefits of riding Long & Low for the horse are as follows:

It develops the abdominal and hip muscles, which strengthens the back.

Produces submission as the horse's field of vision becomes minimal, thereby avoiding a startle.

The horse's strides become longer and more elevated as his hindquarters become more engaged to maintain his balance.

Produces longitudinal suppleness because the horse's back is raised and stretched.

Allows the horse to gain independence from the reins and carry his own weight rather than depend on the rider's hands.

Relaxes the horse mentally and physically.

Develops the horse's sense of balance.

Achieving Long & Low

While in walk, ask the horse to stretch his neck down by sponging the reins. 'Sponging' refers tightening your fist around the reins, then relaxing them. It does not mean pulling against the horse's mouth, since this will cause resistance. When the horse reacts by lowering his neck, release the pressure immediately, as this will act as reward. So sponge the reins alternatively, allow the horse to stretch lower, then sponge again, and the horse should lower his head further more.

The desired effect should be as follows: The angle between the base of the neck and the chest of the horse will decrease, while the angle between the horse's head and the neck should remain constant. In other words, the horse should lower his head and neck by rotating from the base of the neck. Keep the contact with his mouth as light as possible to encourage him to carry himself.

Once you and the horse are secure in the walk, gently urge the horse into trot. There might be a tendency for the horse to raise his head during the transition. To eliminate the possibility, continue to softly sponge the reins to let him know that there will be no changes in position.


Refer to the photo left to help you see the desired effect:-
1 - The reins are sponged gently and the horse lowers his head.

2- Notice the engagement of the hind quarters. The horse should be stepping forward with impulsion.

3- The horse's back is raised, which allows him to engage his hind quarters and support his balance

Note: Horse must be kept active and engaged so that he does not fall on the forehand.

Trot him on a 20m circle without allowing him to lean on your hands. His pace should be kept slow and balanced. Rushing is caused by nervousness, which you are currently trying to demolish. Keep him in a manageable trot until he has balanced himself. After he has become used to carrying his own weight, you can drive him energetically forward so that he trots with a swinging back. When that is established (whether in one session or after a series of fifty), urge the horse into canter. Again, let the pace be lazy rather than hurried until the horse finds his balance. Remember to adopt a very light contact.

Ideally, the horse's poll should not be higher than the withers. Give the horse a chance to experience some independence while positively affecting his muscles. The good news is that it's easier than it sounds! You will notice a difference from your first experience with Long & Low. You can use this technique to calm a nervous horse or to strengthen and supple his muscles. Eventually, you could spend the first 10 minutes of your riding sessions with a period of Long & Low exercise.

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