Training With Long Lines

Prepare your green horse for riding with long-lining.

Your yearling just hit 2, and it’s time to think about starting him. Before sliding in the saddle, try long-lining him first. In our opinion, long-lining has many benefits and, unlike some other training aids, has no drawbacks when used correctly. Besides using long lines to prepare a green horse for riding, we use them for horses who need exercise but cannot carry a rider due to physical issues, for those times when a horse needs to be in training but the conditions aren’t safe enough to mount up, or simply when we want to watch the quality of our horse’s movement.

To be ready to longe line, the horse must be comfortable with:

    • Carrying a saddle at the walk, trot and canter



    • A “go” cue



    • Ropes all over his legs and body at the walk and trot


    • Good ground manners – he must not kick, as at times you’ll be working very close to his hindquarters.

AQHA Professional Horseman Curt Pate believes in using common sense horsemanship to train high-performance mounts. The first step to creating a top-notch riding horse is breaking him to a saddle. The "Low Stress Colt Starting with Curt Pate" DVD will give you an excellent introduction to Curt’s methods of training.


    • One pair of long lines


    • Halter


    • Headstall with snaffle bit (no reins)


    • Surcingle or saddle pad and girth


    • Ground poles, blocks, etc. for obstacles (optional)

We use a pair of round half-inch-thick long lines made of double-braid polyester. They run smoothly through the rings of the saddle or surcingle. Our lines are only 22 feet long, shorter than longer traditional lines, as we find they are much easier for most people to handle.

To begin, your horse must know to move forward when you cluck to him or tap his hindquarters lightly with a whip. Now, just using one of the lines attached to the side buckle of your horse’s halter, teach him to walk a circle around you (similar to longeing). When you can do this in both directions, start to move your circles by adding some straight lines. You accomplish this by changing your body position to apply pressure toward his nose or shoulder, instead of driving his hip. When you’re good at this, you’ll actually be able to get your horse to turn completely away from you, effectively “pushing on a string.”

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Now it’s time to add the surcingle (or, if you don’t have one, a saddle) and the second long line. Attach your first line to the side ring of the halter, as before, but now run it through the lower ring (mid-belly) of the surcingle, or the stirrups of a saddle (if using an English saddle, be sure the stirrup irons are run up and secured well). Attach the other line to the other side ring of your halter, but then bring it over across the horse’s back by either running it through a surcingle ring, or behind the saddle pommel.

Remember that, at this early point in the lesson, your horse may get nervous if you go directly behind him where he can’t see you. So stay visible as you ask the horse to walk forward, doing circles and straight lines by staying on the horse’s side where you connected the first line, which is also your primary line when asking for a circle. You shall, however, use your outside – or second line – to help him go straight. The next step is to reverse the lines and do circles and straight lines, teaching the lesson on the horse’s other side.

“The first 30-60 days of a colt’s life working with him creates so much of the horse in the future... Whether or not it be a world champion could be in the first ride,” Curt says. The “Low Stress Colt Starting with Curt Pate” DVD will put you on the right track with your young horse.

When proficient at the above, we will now run both lines through the surcingle rings or stirrups on both sides, so the lines run along each side of the horse’s body, parallel to each other. Teach the horse to turn left and right. It is important in the beginning that you stay on your horse’s left side (behind him, but so he sees you from his left eye) when turning left. When turning right, switch to his right side. Next, you’ll begin to stay directly behind your horse for one step, then two steps, then three steps, etc., while he goes straight before you change directions. When he is completely comfortable going straight or changing directions with you directly behind him, replace the halter with a bridle and snaffle bit.

Practice changing directions, circling and straight lines, and now add stopping, backing up and trotting. Finally, change the setting of your lines so they go from the bit to the top rings on the surcingle, or below the pommel, and repeat all of your exercises. This will give your horse a feel through the bit, much like that of the reins when you are riding him. You can even begin some lateral work and introduce obstacles.

Have fun with this – it can advance your horse’s training in many ways. Imagine getting on your colt for his first ride, landing in that saddle for the first time and having built-in steering, stopping, backing up and lateral work – wow! Until next time, have a blast bringing out the best in your American Quarter Horse!