EQUUS Consultants: Lowering the Risk Longeing
Medical editor Matthew Mackay-Smith discusses ways to reduce
Question: I would like to longe my 6-year-old mare with side
reins, but I am concerned about wear on her knee joints. I keep
all of my horses until they go to the big green pasture in the
sky, so I'm hoping to keep her sound for another 25 years or so.
What steps can I take to make sure longing is as easy on her
knees as possible and is there any arena depth that would be
Answer: The constraints of time and space most of us face make
circular exercise for horses an appealing compromise. Longeing a
horse for educational purposes and exercise can be useful with
progressive planning and preparation so long as it is conducted
in a safe and sane way.
In terms of training, the risks of longeing include reinforcing
several undesirable behaviors including unruliness/willfulness
due to poor control, the tendency to either balk or run away or
both, and even dangerous aggression toward the person at the
center of the circle. Physical risks for the horse arise mainly
from excessive twisting (torque) of the limbs around their long
axes, due to speed, centrifugal force and inadequate slope
(banking) of the work surface. So the danger is really strains,
rather than wear and tear.
You can reduce a horse's chances of developing a strain by
longeing in the correct environment. A longe area needs to be
level and uniform, with a perimeter built from fairly deep sand
that yields to the hoof enough to encourage the bottom of the
foot to stay perpendicular to the leg. Four to six inches of
sand will usually suffice. With use, the longeing surface
becomes progressively sloped inward as the sand is pushed out.
Resist the urge to drag the track flat, because the berm created
becomes a banked rim on which longeing at the walk, trot and
collected canter or lope can be done safely.
Clearly, the larger the circle, the less torque on the legs and
the smaller the circle, the better your control. Most people
compromise by longing horses on a circle between 40 and 60 feet
in diameter. A fence or another barrier around the outside adds
to control, and accommodates free-longeing and other educational
drills and exercises.