Into the Bridle – Part 4

Our final installment of this series on long lining from Dan James. You can find Part Three here, and Part One was featured in the May/June issue of Western Horse Review.


Step 7 – Direct Inside Rein Obstacle

Here, you will use the body control that you have taught in order to navigating an obstacle. This will allow you to use body position to control where your horse is travelling in a larger arena.

Set up an obstacle in the arena, be it a barrel, cone or drum. Begin your horse in a smaller circle at the trot, asking him to move out around you. Take him closer to the barrel by driving him towards his shoulder, allowing him to pass between yourself and the obstacle for the first few time. When you are correctly positioned, you will send him around the barrel. Let your horse come between, then repeat sending him around. Here, you will gain a firm understanding and feel of exactly where you need to be to move your horse around the arena.

Step 8 – Two Reins in the Arena

Here, take the opportunity to be patient and regain your feel for handling both your horse and the two long reins. Ask your horse to move into a circle at an easy trot and work on your hand coordination, switching from both hands to one hand and back again. Work on your circling, transitioning from large to small to larger once again. Employ your feel and understanding to judge where your horse is at and how they are progressing through these steps.

If you have been successful to this point, you can confidently send her to the end of your rein, accentuating the transition from large to small. Only when you have a competent feel for this point should you move to the next step.

Change of direction at this step is slightly more involved because of the distance between yourself and your horse and the speed at which he will be travelling. You will need to be conscious of your reins in your hands and your whip carriage. It should stay low and in the right hand. When you need to use it on the offside, simply bring it across and under your long reins, use it, then put it back in position.

Here, ask for a trot and then a lope in a larger then smaller circle then larger again, using the ‘spiraling’ technique, in with the inside rein and out with the outside rein. Finally, ask for a trot and then a halt, rewarding a successful session.

Only after you have successfully accomplished circling, left and right, speed control at a trot and lope and negotiating size of circles will you move to changing direction in the large arena with two reins.

Begin on the offside at the ¾ position at a walk. Keeping a forward walk, switch inside reins and ask for an easy change of direction. Make sure that you have mastered this technique at a walk before you move up to a trot.

When you are moving faster, you will remain at the ¾ position. The steps are all the same, only moving at a faster pace. Ask for the circle and once you arrive at the center, switch directions by changing reins and moving to the offside ¾ position. Ensure that you establish a good forward circle before you ask for the change to avoid difficulty in keeping the forward momentum. Ideally, you want to achieve the confidence to ask for this change of direction both in larger circles as well in tighter circles, obviously more difficult.

Step 9 – Long Reining from Behind

It is imperative here to maintain a good distance (1 to 1 ½ horse lengths) behind your horse. You will need to keep your horse in an active walk and maintain forward momentum so that he stays straight. Extend your arms and lengthen your reins until you approach the corner, where you will gather your reins once again, move slightly to the outside and fall in behind when the corner is completed. Repeat this exercise the other way, ideally completing a figure eight pattern through the arena. Arrive at the center and ask for a stop. Ensure again that you have maintained that good distance back from your horse’s hind end.

The next task is to move to a more involved task, achieving a serpentine-type flow. Make a straight line directly up the arena and begin by travelling straight for five strides. You will then ask for five strides in one direction, then turn back to the line, where you will repeat the five strides, then the turn back to the line. When you have arrived at the end of the arena, circle up and repeat. While you are starting out, there will inevitably be times when you need to check your distance and your rein handling during this exercise as there is a lot going on. Be conscious not to ask too hard for the turn, or the horse will break off the line at too great of an angle. Keep your hands soft, keep your body in position and be conscious of your striding to complete this successfully.

If you have gone through these exercises methodically and consistently, you should have achieved a solid foundation by the end of these steps. Repeat them and work on a soft, relaxed horse in the long reins before you move forward to the next level of Double Dan Horsemanhip’s training techniques.

Into the Bridle – Part 3

A continuation from last week’s introduction into using long reining techniques from Dan James. You can find Part Two here, and Part One was featured in the May/June issue of Western Horse Review.

Step 4 – Speed Control

Here, you will work on understanding body position in relation to your horse and the practices to have the most effective hands in order to control speed. Start out at the ¾ position and ask your horse to move forward into a walk, then a trot in a large circle. Set him up for a lope by stepping behind the eye and driving forward. Adjust your reins accordingly, ensuring there isn’t so much slack that it’s slapping the horse’s hind end, but loose enough that he can move out. Once cantering nicely, ask for a downward transition to a trot, ensuring you maintain the forward momentum so as not to have him stop completely, continuing forward into a walk.

Next, you will employ the foundation you have created so far to ask for a change of direction at a trot. Remember that you can take your time to set up the exercise successfully; it does not need to be a rush. You are working on developing the feel, technique and timing working both reins. Ask for a tighter circle and keep the forward momentum through the center of the round pen by holding the inside rein, switching in the center, then allow the outside rein the slide through your hands smoothly. Repeat this as many times as you need to until the flow is consistent and relaxed.

Step 5 – Body Control

Here, we utilize many of the techniques that we begin with our ground control training. Step behind to the side that you’re asking for flexion and use your whip to cue for the leg yield along the rail, with your horse’s nose tipped to the outside. Engage your outside rein, drive the flexion with your whip and keep forward momentum. When you first ask for this, be satisfied with three or four good steps, then release. If you get stuck, you will start over by asking for their nose to the inside and walking on. Re-establish the forward momentum, then step across and ask again. Again, accept and reward a good effort with a solid pat.

Step 6 – Moving to the Arena

When you move from the round pen to an arena, return to the set-up of one inside rein and outside direct rein. Move your horse out to a large circle, asking for a trot and then a lope. It is beneficial to ask for the lope in a larger circle if this is the first time that you are introducing this to your horse. Ask for a downward transition and gather the rein, hand-over-fist, circling him in closer to you. When you are ready to ask your horse to enlarge the circle again, ask by stepping towards the shoulder and extending your rein. As with all of these steps, make sure to repeat them in both directions.

Editor’s Note: watch for the final Part 4 of this series in an upcoming post of Roundpen. 

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.


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.