Dear Jessica, I have been riding for twenty years and teaching riding (mostly dressage) for almost four years. I have two horses that I have trained myself, the older one is now working at Third Level and the younger one is beginning to work at First Level (he is only six and I am not in a hurry with him). I am telling you this in the hope that you will understand where I am "coming from" with my question.
What exactly are the qualities of a good longe horse for lessons?
Most of my students are adult beginners and I think it would make all the difference in the world to their riding if I could put them on a horse on the longe line, take away the stirrups and reins, and teach them to sit and balance before they have to think about how to control the horse and steer it.
I am considering buying a horse for this purpose. I don't want to use my current two horses. My older horse is sensitive and gets worried when the aids are not very soft and exact, so I don't think that his personality is suited to be a longe lesson horse. My younger horse is still learning the basics, but he is a very steady type and always gives everyone the benefit of the doubt. I think he would make a good horse for longe lessons some time in the future, maybe another two or three years. A friend of mine has a horse that I think would be ideal, but I want to be sure because this will be a big investment for me since it's not just a matter of bringing another horse home. I don't own a farm, and I board my horses at the barn where I teach, so this horse will need to make enough to cover his board payments plus a little more just to pay for his own upkeep. I am planning to buy a farm in this area in about five years from now, and by then I would like to be established in the area as a good teacher who offers longe lessons.
The horse I am considering is half Morgan half Percheron and has had a lot of experience, she has been a field hunter and then a dressage horse for my friend who is a very good rider. The mare is ten years old and sound and has a wonderful attitude. I tried her the other day and pretended that I didn't know how to ride, and she was great, very tolerant and would stop and wait for me to get my balance back whenever I got completely unbalanced on her. My friend says that when she lived in another state and hunted, she used the mare for all of her guests because she was so reliable. I think that physically she would be just right, she is not too tall (15.2) but she is very strong and could carry just about any size of rider. But I have only had a couple of longe lessons myself, so I don't have any experience to go on. Would you please tell me what you consider to be the important qualities of a good longe lesson horse, and possibly (I realize that you haven't seen her) your opinion of how this mare would work out in this job?
Thank you so much, your advice on HORSE-SENSE and in Riding Instructor Magazine has helped me an enormous amount in so many different ways, I can't even begin to tell you how grateful I am.
You are SO right about the benefit of taking lessons on the longe, and I agree that this would be a welcome addition to a lesson program such as yours, especially when you are able to keep your horses at your own farm.
Good longe horses aren't all that easy to come by, because like any good school horse, they're generally appreciated by their owners and kept forever. Your best bet may be to find a good horse that could potentially become a good longe horse, and it sounds to me as if you've found one.
Conformation: You'll want a horse that is solidly-built, sturdy, with good overall conformation, a wide, strong back, and a good topline.
Gaits: Your longe horse should have three good gaits - neither short and choppy nor huge and extravagant. The gaits he offers are the ones that your students will learn to ride and will learn to think of as "normal", so for the sake of their education and motor memories, your longe horse needs to have smooth gaits and a moderately long stride. It can be tempting to use an old, quiet, short-gaited horse for longe lessons, but DON'T DO THIS - the riders will never learn to recognize and relax into the feel of three genuine gaits and a horse's LIFTED back.
Training: Your longe horse should be strong, balanced, able to work on the circle in both directions with a steady, unchanging rhythm and a tempo that doesn't change unless the horse is ASKED to increase or decrease it. He should respond to your signals and voice commands, and should be extremely reliable about picking up the correct canter lead as soon as you ask for canter. And - although this is something you can add to his training - he has to be able to work in side reins. (I suggest using ONLY sliding side reins, as the horse will be able to walk, trot, and canter wearing them, which will let you stay out at your end of the longe line instead of having to rush back and forth making adjustments.)
Temperament: Your longe horse should have the attitude of a good school horse - generous, kind, forgiving, and tolerant of mistakes and rider balance shifts (including sudden and inconvenient ones). Just because a horse has a good body, good training, and three good gaits does not automatically make him a good horse for longe lessons.
If you're going to offer longe lessons, you'll need to think about several things other than the lessons themselves. Keeping your longe horse happy MUST be a priority. You'll have to keep up his schooling, so that he gets regular work OFF the longe with a rider who can keep him engaged, energized, and give him the opportunity to stretch out his gaits... this is a case of "use it or lose it", and longe horses that are ONLY ridden on the longe, in lessons, are always in danger of tightening (or, heaven forbid, dropping) their backs and shortening their gaits in self-defense. You can't afford to overwork him, and you'll need to keep a close watch so that you will notice as soon as there is any hint that his gaits, his engagement and roundness, or his cheerful attitude are beginning to be compromised.
Longe lessons are an important part of classical riding, and I think they belong in every riding program, but I know that many instructors depend on group lessons for their income, and really can't afford to keep a horse that can be used only in a one-on-one session. If you - like me - work primarily one-on-one with students, then longe lessons and a longe horse make much more sense as part of your teaching program.
Longe lessons are wonderful, and a longe horse is a valuable investment in your career. Your plans make good sense to me, and the horse you've described sounds very suitable for your purpose. One thing you may want to bear in mind - talk to the mare's owner - is that some mares can be uncomfortable when they are in season (usually from a painful follicle) and can become unhappy, reluctant, stiff-backed movers for a few days every few weeks. If you are depending on using the mare for longe lessons on a daily basis or even three or four days each week, you may want to take this possibility into account. If she is NOT subject to painful follicles, then there's no problem, and as I said, she sounds VERY suitable in terms of her build, size,and experience. I like that particular cross for school horses and longe horses, also - it's possible that there's a bad Morgan-Percheron cross out there somewhere, but if so, I certainly haven't met it! All the ones I've worked with have been strong, balanced, intelligent, and sweet.
I hope that you'll stay in touch, and let me know what you decide about your longe lesson program, and how it works for you, and that you'll let me know when you get your farm. Good luck with all your plans!
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