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Developing Long and Low

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  • Developing Long and Low

    I have a difficult time warming up my mare at long and low. My instructor rides her twice weekly and no problem. My instructor has noticed my tense wrists. That I am still working on this. I was gripping with my thighs but I think that I have been getting that under control. The mare is Hannoverian/Saddlebred cross. Not gifted gaited but very cooperative. I purchased her as a second-level horse for me to learn how to advance from training level. She is not like a giraffe but I cannot get her to relax and therefore sometimes I cannot relax enough to encourage the long and low. She can be difficult to come soft at the poll and round. Once in awhile I seem to get it and then other times I am riding for 45 minutes trying to encourage this long and low. I think it is important so she can learn to come through her back more and therefore be more supple. Any ideas??

  • #2
    how are you asking for long and low and what exactly do you mean by long and low?

    To me, long and low is having your horse's nose sniffing dirt - it is the first step to do with coming soft at the poll and rounding, but it is not the same thing.

    Are you asking for bending and flexing? Are you sitting back or do you have a tendency to lean forward? Are you allowing the reins to be loose or keeping them tight? How long have you been working on this?

    There are a lot of factors and I don't want to start making suggestions without knowing as much as possible. I also want to make sure you and I are thinking about the same concept.


    • Original Poster


      I am sitting as tall as possible and give by opening/closing my elbows. I try to softly squeeze the inside rein to encourage her to stretch down. She is not sniffing the dirt. I have been developing this exercise for about a year in my warm-up. She has gotten better about this over the course of the year but I am not sure that I am really getting her to stretch over her back. My reins are slack some of the time. Sometimes she fills the rein. After getting the walk long and low then I go to trot and it seems like I am starting all over again getting her to stretch down into the reins. Canter is ok. Then I start to ever so gently shorten the rein trying to keep her soft and work through the gaits again in this new frame. My goal is to try to get her soft at the poll and through her back.


      • #4
        Long and low is NOT about getting the horse to 'sniff the dirt'. IT is NOT about getting the horse's head down at all, actuallly, OR how LOW you get the horse's head down. A lower stretch is not automatically a better stretch.

        Every horse will stretch slightly differently, and in the beginning especially, the horse may only stretch an INCH or two or three! The horse will only GRADUALLY develop the ability to stretch down more.

        It is far more important to stretch correctly, with a connection to the reins, than to try to get the horse's head down by teaching him a trick (tweak reins, comb reins, put oats on the ground....).

        What does your instructor say you need to do? Have you tried that? Just relax your wrists is all she said?

        I don't know if someone can really just tense their wrists. Are you curling them inward, yet still leaving shoulder, elbow loose? That would be a tough thing to do. most people are 'all of one piece' so if wrists are tense, everything is tense.

        most of the time, your fingers/fist should be closed VERY firmly around the reins, with the fingers closed, and your 'giving' should come from your whole arm b ecause your shoulder is loose and supple.

        Alot of times, people aren't using enough leg to 'send the horse down', if the instructor can do this on the horse and you can't ask her for suggestions.

        if the horse only sometimes 'fills the rein', probably you don't have that connection there honestly at any time. work on getting a connection all the time.

        that connection is not something you wait for to happen, you make it happen. if your leg isn't there the connection isn't there.

        in the BAD OLD DAYS, LOL, when a lot of trainers didn't stretch their horses, and you would ask them why not, they'd angrily say, 'i am stretching the horse alll the time'. sounds awful these days but there is something to learn from it.

        what this means is that every second one rides, one really is stretching the horse. every moment, one is pushing the horse out to the bit, with one's legs. the horse is always 'connected' to the bit by the rider's legs.

        many people have a problem with that. they lean forward, so they can't actuallly give the rein from the shoulder, they would lose their balance.

        so they give the reins by letting the slip thru their fingers or by straightening their elbows, rather than by 'lengthening the connection', which isw what they shoud do.

        this means they can't make that elastic connection longer, with the horse striding along reaching his hind legs forward, which is what maintains his balance when he stretches. it means the horse can't stretch, if he does he will fall on his face (on the forehand) and he knows it.

        when you';re sitting correctly in a correct position, it is alot easier to make that elastic connection. when you have the forward from your leg and the horse is always connected to the bit, it works.
        Last edited by slc2; Jul. 1, 2008, 08:34 AM.


        • #5
          People have different ideas about how to encourage a "novice" horse to learn long and low. Your's is clearly not a "novice", but it may be that she has a hole in her training and/or her Saddlebred genes may also be working against her. (I'm not knocking Saddlebreds... one of the nicest horses I ever rode was a Saddlebred/Trak cross, but he too had to constantly be reminded to stretch and round his topline, as his natural inclination was to invert and crunch his neck in).

          My personal opinion, is that long and low is just an extension of the basic requirement that the horse stretch into the bit. If you're riding with stiff hands, you may be pulling her in (to the bit), instead of riding her out to the bit. First things first: When you ride her "on the bit" she needs to be stretching out to your hand, not the other way around. It sounds like this is missing because when its there, long and low really just involves allowing MORE stretch.

          If the long and low isn't there... I think the place to start is actually working her correctly "on the bit". Work on getting the right connection - where she is stretched into the bit all the time. Its easier to develop while riding on the bit. Then, once the correct connection is there, long and low is "easy".


          • Original Poster

            long and low replies

            Both replies gave me a a good visualization on how to approach this. I am anxious to try it today.


            • #7
              Doesn't sound like you are applying enough leg when you take with the rein (was never mentioned when you explained what you are doing). if you are just working your horse up front and not keeping the engine going from behind and asking her to come through from behind she will struggle with stretching into the contact. Also, check to make sure you are riding her straight, while keeping the bend - If she is crooked, it can impact your ability to get her to accept the contact...


              • #8
                Originally posted by baymareseven View Post
                My reins are slack some of the time. Sometimes she fills the rein.
                Herein lies the problem I think. Horses should always SEEK the contact, so as you are giving out the rein, she should be seeking the bit.......lowering her head, poking her nose out, and going long and low while MAINTAINING contact.

                Just dropping your reins will not make her go long and low. As dwblvr stated, you need to use your leg/seat and keep the engine going too.

                Originally posted by baymareseven View Post
                I am riding for 45 minutes trying to encourage this long and low.

                This is something I am working on with my green mare too. But I do not drill it for 45 mins. ?? I would think that that much low and long would put her on her forehand.
                Last edited by Dreamspark; Jul. 1, 2008, 02:18 PM. Reason: typos
                Member of the Standardbreds with Saddles Clique!
                View my blog: http://standardbredexcellence.blogspot.com/


                • #9
                  Originally posted by rileyt View Post
                  My personal opinion, is that long and low is just an extension of the basic requirement that the horse stretch into the bit.

                  Exactly. The horse has to be correctly on the aids first, from behind into the rider's hand. Then stretching happens automatically when the rider offers.


                  • #10
                    I ride a saddlebred/friesian cross and although he has a little spark at times and likes to run (especially when tired) I have realized that these horses- more than any others need to be ridden 85% from the seat. Keep your contact but use your seat and legs to fill in the 'space' in your contact. It is the perception that the 'hot' horse doesn't need leg that leads you to solely focus on your hand. Make your hand just be 'there' - quiet and non- intrusive and work the horse from your seat and leg- to get rythmically forward and fill that space in front of you with the energy you create- doing that well means riding well...hands are not important- especially if your seat is independent- your hands are just 'there'!

                    Good Luck!
                    "the man mite be the head but the woman is the neck and the neck can turn the head any way she wants..." -smart greek woman


                    • #11
                      I would venture to guess that at the times when your horse was going better, you were better balanced and your horse was better aligned and in a steadier rhythm.

                      The ‘forward and down’ gesture is a natural response to balanced, aligned, relaxed, full, well-timed steps. The key to helping the horse reach forward and down is channeling the horse’s energy so that it flows freely forward from the haunches, straight forward through his spine, through the poll and straight forward toward the bit. The energy is then received and directed by the rider’s seat. A tight fist creates tension in the wrist and forearm and blocks the horse’s free forward flow of energy. It’s important to maintain a soft, neutral, elastic contact. It can help to think of the reins beginning at the elbows instead of the hands.

                      Starting out each ride with a correctly ridden ‘walk on the buckle’ exercise can set a relaxing tone for the rest of the ride. It also creates a solid foundation of relaxation and reaching that the horse and rider can come back to when tension creeps in.


                      • #12
                        There is a poster on this site with a quote from a trainer: "It's not so much about long and low as it is about down and around". I really liked that, though I can't remember the trainer's or the member's name. There has been a lot of good advice posted already, but I'll add my two cents I hope I am not sounding patronizing - I'm just letting you know what works for me.

                        Never underestimate the power of the half-halt. Ingrid Klimke has said that she half-halts at least every two strides, and she really knows what she's doing. Keeping up with these will allow your horse to come through with her hind end and have an easier time of stretching her back and then her neck. The other day in a lesson, I could not get my steed to stretch lightly into the reins - she's more of a hanger-on. We were working at the sitting trot, and my trainer told me to let my shoulder blades bounce into my back pockets, and if that didn't loosen me up, had me do alternate shoulder rolls in time to Phresca's trot. It helped me to loosen a lot. Sometimes, the more I focus on relaxing, the more tense I get. Also at the trot, she had me just slightly let me elbows give alternately with each step like rubber bands. That kept me from pulling on the Push Me Pull You.

                        If you haven't gotten where you want to be yet, I hope these will help you. Also, if you've been working the long and low at the walk, try it at the trot. The natural impulsion makes the exercise much easier to learn at this gait. Good luck!


                        • Original Poster

                          Long and Low Advice

                          Oh wow! You have really hit the nail on the head. I had a lesson with a new instructor today... Too much tension in me. I do not even realize it. We worked on the elbow release and gently squeezing sponge-like on the reins. More inside leg is required of me but I must know when to take it off. He said that I must become more elastic in my legs and hands and learn the timing. "Trust your mare" she will not go anywhere and allow the release to happen. He also had me use shorter reins...then release through my elbow. Mare seemed to stretch more than
                          All of your advice has been accurate and told to me in many different ways in my lessons. It is so hard to let go. Who would think it would be more difficult to relax and feel?


                          • #14
                            My mare (a Saddlebred, BTW), has to have a really good connection and really be working over the back to get a good "down and around" (great quote) stretch. When we first started dressage, I found it helpful to establish the good connection and then let the reins out an inch at a time to get her to lengthen her neck. I think I almost tricked her into it...I would let it out an inch, let her get comfortable, take back the inch, let out two inches, collect back up, let out three inches, collect, so on an so forth. Proper seat, leg is imperative. Now, I can let her go almost the full length of the reins and still maintain a proper connection...it just took time!

                            *OMGiH I Loff my Mare* and *My Saddlebred Can Do Anything Your Horse Can Do*


                            • #15
                              One little thing I remember that made a difference....

                              This is pretty basic, but a long time ago, I got to ride a very nice saddlebred mare for the summer, and I was just learning the basics of dressage at that time.... she had been trained for fine harness as a young horse, and mostly done pleasure driving till I met her....

                              She would tend to carry her head girraffishly, and her comformation also I'm sure contrubuted to this way of going.....

                              But I found that in an exasperated effort to get her to stretch down, I was carrying my hands extra low, like I was trying to pull her head down.....

                              I still rememeber the turning point/ aha moment when I had her going forward in a light connection, and RAISED my hands up. As soon as my hands were high enough/ where they should have been all along, her head came down, she was pushing from behind, and finally stretching down, rounding her back and seeking contact.... what a rush!

                              Good luck with your mare. I just love the saddlebreds. (Used to ride saddle seat way back when.....)
                              What's the scoop?


                              • #16

                                this should be added to the COH dictionary.


                                • #17
                                  Oh yes....

                                  Originally posted by slc2 View Post

                                  this should be added to the COH dictionary.
                                  Great idea!

                                  Although I might want to revise the spelling, would there be a better adjective to describe
                                  'like a giraffe?" I think we've all ridden a horse like this at one time or another.....

                                  Thanks and best wishes from Kansas.
                                  What's the scoop?


                                  • #18
                                    When I started dressage lessons with my gelding I had the same issue with long and low in the warm up. It was much easier to develop it toward the end of the ride. So I would work on it at the end of the ride and as my horse and I got the hang of what we were actually trying to do we were able to do it sooner in our ride, and eventually, in our actual warm up. It was frustrating to try it at the beginning of the ride when we didn't have the connection needed for it, and hadn't done it before (correctly, at least). So I would try working on it toward the end of your ride, after you've been working and developed a better connection than when you first mount up.


                                    • #19
                                      The question is why you are asking for this exercise in warm up??? The ability of the horse to do the exercise asked for in the test (chewing the reins from the hand, forward/down/out) is dependent upon the degree to which the horse is on the bit, not merely accepting it (training level). The horse has to be connected from the hindlegs (seat/leg) into the hand. If it is there is a degree of flexion/self carriage/mobility of the jaw. If this happens then the rider can ask the horse to follow the hand, swing more over the back, etc. This may happen for a circle, or two, and go back to working. Or for a few steps, mm of becoming less compressed/short. Or at the end of work out to completely go forward/down/out and onto loose reins as an ending. But in first two cases, the rider must have a steadily (but lighter) connection in order to speak with the horse, to ask more, to keep energy recycling; if not the horse can flatten or come off the aids all together, the conversation with the horse is the heart of the exercise. And the ability to speak in mm plays into more advanced work so that the rider can keep the horse connected/open/free in every movement (ie want an more open posture/swinging back in piaffe? mobilize the jaw and stretch a mm).

                                      All exercises are used for the theraputic effect. Some need to be connected from the beginning, some need to work/relax/work relax, totally individual.

                                      IF your wrists are stiff (or hands flat or low or fixed) WHY would the horse chew/seek such a stiff connection??? You hold something very precious in the hand (the mouth), treat it as something alive.

                                      The reason the canter is better likely is because there is a period of time in suspension which pushes the horse for a more prolonged period into the hand/connection. Remember the inside connection doesnt allow the stretch, the inside connection (helps to) mobilize the jaw, it is the filling out of the outside rein and thennnn letting the horse go (slightly) longer which keeps the horse open and out to the hand. Try to pulse the inside leg, not so much the inside hand (although a slightly opening rein can help because it sustains the even bending w/o acting on the bars).
                                      I.D.E.A. yoda


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by ideayoda View Post
                                        The question is why you are asking for this exercise in warm up???

                                        Why not? I regularly ask for stretching in warm up with many types of horses. It's particularly useful for those who have high set on necks and those who tend to be tight in their backs.

                                        Yes, stretching is a product of being correctly on the aids. So the horse does have to be on the aids before you ask for it, but it is still a very valuable warm up excercise for plenty of horses.

                                        The only type of horse I don't do much stretching with is the one who is built quite low in front and is naturally on the forehand.