Grab a Friend! It’s Time to Start Long-Reining

Are you ready to build a stronger partnership with your horse? Hoping to achieve a remarkable softness from the ground before you swing into the saddle? Starting a youngster or working to overcome training and behavioural problems in an older mount? Becoming bored with endless round-penning? 

Australian equestrian star Dan James of Double Dan Horsemanship is crisscrossing North America, wowing audiences with his liberty routines, and teaching horse people of all experience-levels an infinitely useable training skill: long-reining.

If ever there was hidden treasure in the diverse and ever-evolving realm of horsemanship, it is this underused but incredibly valuable practice. Long-reining benefits every equestrian discipline, improving the horse’s self-carriage and responsiveness to the aids, and your feel and timing, like nothing else, and all from a safe and controlled position on the ground. 

Think you might want to give it a go? Grab a friend and try this fun and easy exercise from the book Long-Reining with Double Dan Horsemanship to get started!

The Long-Reining the Person exercise builds confidence with long-reining techniques before applying them to your horse. Using a person to practice on before you attempt maneuvers with your horse helps in two specific ways. First, you are not trying to teach the basic concepts of long-reining before you’ve learned them yourself. A bit of experience and coordination will prevent you confusing your horse and also shorten his learning curve tremendously. Also, by first practicing with a human, you will get valuable feedback about how to improve your communication.

In our clinics, we always have students take a turn both as the trainer and the horse. It gives the driver a chance to become familiar directing with reins and a whip. But, most importantly, the other person starts to have an appreciation of the confusion that can be created by a driver’s hands. We’ve found it to be a very helpful exercise.

  1. You need a partner for this exercise. To begin, your partner holds the ends of two long-reins, one in each hand, and pretends to be the horse. She should face away from you with her eyes closed or be blindfolded so she has to rely on you completely for instruction on where to go and how to move. She should tuck her thumbs into her front pockets or hook them in her belt loops so her reins approximate the same position they’d be when attached to a horse’s bit.
  2. Stand directly behind your partner, a horse-length away, one rein in each hand and the whip in your right, tucked down and behind you, out of the way. The long reins should trail down between your legs and drag behind you.
  3. Your job is to guide your partner around using rein pressure and a few verbal cues, such as clucking or kissing. But, before you move anywhere, check your hand position. Your arms should be bent at the elbow, with your forearms and hands forming a straight extension of the reins to your “horse’s mouth.” Start with your elbows approximately even with your ribs, with only enough drape in the rein to prevent accidental cues to the “horse.” You may move your hands forward once you are in motion, but the goal is still to keep them close together and make small movements to communicate, much like when riding.
  4. While standing still, practice Hands Over Fist (the Double Dan technique of reeling in and feeding out the long reins). The more automatic you can make reeling in or feeding out the long reins, the better you’ll be able to handle them in later exercises with a real horse, when you will need to react quickly.
  5. Practice with the whip. Flip it back out of the way and forward again until the motion feels less awkward. Try holding it in your left hand. Once you are proficient with this, tuck it back and just carry it.
  6. When you are ready to actually move forward, return your focus to learning to handle the reins. (You can pick whip-handling back up when you are steady with your rein commands). Ask your partner to move with a verbal cue—whatever you plan to use with your horse is fine. Just make sure whatever you use, it is consistent.
  7. Once you have forward motion, try halting, changing pace, or direction. If you find yourself too far away or too close to your partner—and even if you don’t—take the opportunity to practice Hand Over Fist in motion.
  8. As mentioned, be sure to switch roles with your partner so you can see what it is like to be a horse, receiving cues through the long-reins.

This excerpt from Long-Reining with Double Dan Horsemanship by Dan James and Dan Steers was reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books.


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