Chances are, if you are one of the crazy people who get to the horse show at 4:30 a.m. to longe a horse, you have seen incorrect longeing.
Maybe it’s a horse that has been cantering nonstop for 45 minutes, or the one in a rig being used incorrectly, or the horse cross-cantering and out of breath while a human continues to chase it forward. But what do you do? Confront them?
Although incorrect or abusive longeing takes place every morning at a hunter/jumper show, it’s rarely discussed. This may be due to the fact that many people don’t realize it happens. Most likely the adult amateur who spends more money on their horse’s treats than their own groceries would not be thrilled to know that their horse gets chased with a longe whip for an hour every horse show morning.
Oftentimes even the professionals don’t know exactly what happens in the longeing area. Nobody tells them that their best client’s horse slipped, fell down, and then proceeded to canter on the longe line for another 20 minutes. As long as the horse shows up to the ring quiet and sound enough, everyone is happy, and no further questions are asked. It’s sad to watch a well-respected professional walk their horse out of the ring after a nice round and say to their groom, “Great job prepping. You just have to kill it in the morning.”
Some of these abusive longeing practices include additional people outside of the longeing circle chasing the horse at 4 a.m. when there are few witnesses. Horses are also often longed in rigs, which, if put on incorrectly, result in the horse having its head tied between its knees under the pretense of getting the horse to stretch down and over its back. Some rigs are adjusted too tight and can cause painful friction between the ropes and the horse’s skin. If not noticed immediately, this can lead to bleeding. Additionally, some longers are under the impression that instead of properly guiding the horse into a circle, it is acceptable and more effective to immediately hit the horse with the whip, causing it to tear off running on the longe line. The idea of letting the horse have a walk break or walk on the longe line at all does not even seem to cross their minds.
Horses can be difficult to longe and are often easily set off in longeing areas where they are surrounded by several horses. This isn’t the longer’s fault, but these situations are sometimes made worse by an inexperienced longer or one who simply does not care.
While lack of education on how to properly longe a horse is definitely a contributing factor to the issue, it’s not the only cause of improper longeing. There is a robotic approach to these early morning longeing practices, often caused by time constraints. The longer has a set amount of time to get the job done, and there is no thought beyond that. When their time is up, they abruptly yank the horse to a stop and walk out. They are oblivious to the horse’s movement, the depth of the footing, the horse’s lead in the canter, the horse’s breathing, and many other factors that could have a negative impact on the animal.
After many mornings spent in the longeing area, it’s obvious that very little training is spent teaching how to longe a horse correctly. Should horses even be allowed to longe? Yes, of course. Although there are many cases of incorrect, dangerous longeing, there are also many grooms and professionals who do it correctly. Longeing is a great way to allow a horse to stretch its legs and get a few bucks out without a rider being on their back. Correctly working a horse on the longe line or using a rig appropriately can indeed work a horse properly over its topline and improve its fitness. Often at shows, horses are not able to go out in turnout, so longeing gives them an opportunity to stretch and “play” before they are asked to perform.
This is not trying to place the blame on big show barns, professionals, the hunter discipline or grooms. Incorrect longeing is not only done by grooms, and hunters are not the only victims. Horses of well known, friendly and accomplished professionals can be seen longeing in dangerous situations.
Trainers and grooms are under a huge amount of pressure from clients. People expect horses to act like machines and not set a foot wrong, which is a lot to ask of a living, breathing animal. Preparing a horse in the morning is often stressful, especially because there is only a limited amount of time. While there are steps to humanely allow a horse to let out excess energy, chasing it in a tiny circle for 45 minutes with a plastic bag on the end of the whip should not be one of them.
So what can be done? It seems unlikely that a steward will be able to watch all longeing areas starting at 4 a.m. or even earlier. The U.S. Equestrian Federation Rulebook briefly states rules such as only one longe whip per person, no longeing of a lame horse and no cell phone use, but maybe this is not enough. Perhaps whoever is longeing must wear the horse’s back number so that there can be some accountability.
Longeing horses at the horse show is not going to stop and should not stop, but the abusive nature of longeing needs to be addressed.
Sabrina Brashares grew up in Connecticut and rode with Stacie Shepski and Harkaway Farm as a junior. She graduated from Marist College (Connecticut) with a degree in human resources and a minor in psychology. After traveling up and down the East Coast attending horse shows while working for Harkaway Farm, she became a media intern at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida.