Into the Bridle – Part 1

Part two of a discussion with Dan James of Double Dan Horsemanship on how to prepare your horse to excel both on the ground and under saddle. Part One was featured in the May/June issue of Western Horse Review.

Long reining exercises develop a versatile, willing mount and a solid sense of feel for body control in the handler.

BY DAINYA SAPERGIA

Last issue we spoke with Dan James, one half of the electric and talented team that makes up Double Dan Horsemanship, to fully understand the theories that the world-renowned performance and training team employ to successfully start their horses on the ground. This issue, we progress to the long-reining techniques that teach drive, impulsion and full body control.

To begin, James explains why long reining is an asset to any training program.

“We use long reining to re-educate problem horses, to start young ones in the bridle, helping horses learn to stand still and teach patience, as well as using it as a tool to teach collection and begin the basics of the lay down.”

Only raise your whip to cue then be sure to lower it once again. You don’t want your horse mistaking the whip for a disciplinary tool as opposed to simply an extension of your arm.

As with any discipline, long reining requires very specific tack in order to execute the tasks properly. Before you begin working on the Double Dan methods, you will need the following:

–  Surcingle (roller)

• Ensure that it is cinched as tight as a saddle would be in order to maintain its position through the exercises.

–  Full mouth or D-ring snaffle

• You want contact in the cheeks of the bit, avoiding loose ring snaffles and the possibility of the bit moving through the horse’s mouth.

–  Long reins

• Attach the outside (offside) rein first, placing the tail of the rope across your horse’s back so that it is in position for you to handle when you move to the inside.

–  Lunge or carriage whip

–  Traffic cones or barrels

When working on a keg yield in the long reins, be sure to stay consistent through your hands and use your whip to ask for the directional cue.

Step 1 – Long Reining Your Partner

Much like the early steps of the ground control exercises, begin your long reining with a partner at the end of your reins so that you can practice your techniques without confusing your equine student. It is just as important to experience long reining from the horse’s point of view as from the human’s point of view. Your human partner should close his eyes and rest his hands in his pockets while holding the reins so that he can truly feel the communication. This will serve to improve any lack of connection and direction from hands to horse’s mouth.

Begin by cueing with your whip for your partner to walk on. Track around behind him, employing your inside (left) rein to ask for a left hand turn. While at this practice stage, remember that you want to achieve consistent contact. When you come through the center of the arena, just as you would with a horse, ask for a change of direction by taking a hold of the lines with a ‘hand over fist’ technique. It is important to remember that you need to maintain a good distance between yourself and your ‘horse’, keeping direct, soft contact and keeping your feet slow.

Ideally, you want your horse collected in the long reins the same way that he would be under saddle; flexed through the poll and driving forward from behind.

Step 2 – Desensitization

It is recommended that you begin these exercises in a round pen, if you have one available. When you position yourself to begin working your real horse, be aware of your positioning, as it is crucial with these techniques. There are 3 driving positions to familiarize yourself with: directly behind, ¾ to the horse and to the center. If you are too far forward, you will block forward momentum and cause the horse to stop.

To accustom your horse to the feel of the reins, go over both sides of his body, allowing the reins to drape and hang over him anywhere that you can allow him to feel it; barrel, back, hind end and feet.

Once you feel your horse is soft and accepting the long reins, begin by taking him ‘inside-out’, by running your rein along the offside, down to his hocks and ask him to follow his nose. It should create a relaxed circle where he ends facing you. Repeat this both directions.

When you have successfully set a solid foundation for long reining, there are many tasks that can be schooled from the ground.

Step 3 – Lateral Flexion (1 Rein)

Next, you will move into your first long lining exercise. You will only have one long rein attached, with one direct rein on the outside. Fasten the long rein to the lower ring on the roller then take it through the cheek of the bit to your hand.

With the rein in your left hand and the whip in your right, ask your horse to move out, allowing rein to feed out as your make the circle larger, keeping your horse at a trot. Here you will be working on gaining control of the size and speed of circle. When you are comfortable that you are gaining feel at the larger circle, starting working him in and away, maintaining a consistent speed. When he is travelling well and you have control over both speed and circle, ask for a stop by stepping back, finding your horse’s eye and stepping towards him. If you have been successful in your application of the ground control techniques from the previous session, he should look for your shoulder.

You can now attach both long reins and begin working on further control at the center position. Ask your horse to move on, feeding out rein until he has moved into a large circle. With contact on both reins, pick up your inside rein, cueing your horse to tighten the circle around you. Maintaining consistent speed, then ask him to track back out to the rail. When he is accepting these maneuvers, you can go ahead and ask for a stop with inside flexion.

Now, you will move to the ¾ position to drive your horse forward and repeat the prior exercises. Once you have achieved the stop, follow your reins up to the horse’s hip, reassuring him and allowing him some praise.

Finally, you will begin driving the horse from directly behind. The reins should be following you between your feet, giving your horse the opportunity to familiarize himself with your new position. From here, you will ask for a change of direction at a walk by bringing him straight across the center of the pen, asking for the flexion with your inside rein until you reach the center. Here, you will use the ‘hand-over-fist’ technique to ask for flexion in the opposite direction, tightening your new inside rein and allowing the outside rein to slide through your hands. It can’t be stressed enough that proper, consistent use of your hands is imperative to the entire long reining technique. As always, when you approach your horse, follow your reins, gathering them as you shorten them to avoid them lying in a tangled heap on the ground.

Editor's Note: watch for Part 3 of this series in an upcoming post of Roundpen.