Cutting in on the Longe Line

by Dana Hokana | September 2nd, 2012 8:23 AM | No Comments

Q. Hi Dana,

I have a problem with my horse on the longe line.  He drops his shoulder and cuts in, especially on the right circle.  Do you have any suggestions for me?


A. Dear Katherine,

That is a very good question and I think it is great that you are recognizing that there is something wrong and it could be better.  One of my sayings is that I feel people should be intentional or mindful about what they do with their horses.  Most people longe their horses without giving a lot of thought to it.

Longing your horse correctly can improve your horses overall performance.  Most people longe their horses to take the edge off of them and for years that’s what I did also.  I would just longe them in a hurry to get them ready to ride.  When my daughter Brook was about 10 years old, I bought an 11-year-old mare that had navicular disease and some hock issues; her name was “Zip My Blue Jeans”.  She and Brook became multiple Congress and All Around Champions.  I saw a lot of potential in her if I could keep her sound.  Years before I had learned from a great horseman that many navicular horses can become sound and stay sound a lot longer with consistent daily exercise.  I made sure that I rode, hand walked or longed this mare every day, rain or shine.  She stayed sound for many years.

When I would longe her to the left she would always carry her head to the right, drop her shoulder and cut in.  She also didn’t move nearly as good on a left lead.  Her lope to the left was choppy and very average while her right lead lope was good.  When I longed her to the right she carried herself well.  I knew that at the lope a horse needs to carry his body on a slight arc or bend.  While loping to the left the horse’s body should be on a left arc or bend.

This mare of mine was actually carrying herself on a right arc while traveling to the left.  She had done this for many years and consequently had learned to drop that left shoulder which didn’t allow her to reach up very far with her left hind.  After years of doing it wrong she had muscle memory to travel incorrectly.  This may have started from some unsoundness or it may have just been her weaker arc or direction and being handled un-mindfully made it worse over time. Most people just aren’t taught the importance of correct body position and as a result correct energy flow. I am convinced that after a period of time, when a horse moves and carries herself incorrectly it can promote or at least aggravate unsoundness.

It took me months to change this bad habit. I started out by getting control of her head. She was so stiff I had to put a stud chain on her to pull her head to me. I have since found that with really stiff or resistant horses I will longe them in a smooth snaffle and attach the longe line right to the ring on the snaffle, switching it when I reverse.  If a horse is light and responsive I just attach the line to the side of the hater switching it when I reverse. A stud chain is another choice. The thing I like about longing some in a snaffle is that if I pull on the longe line on one side of their face that is a direct rein pull similar to what I do when I ride my horses, while teaching them to follow their nose on the direct rein cue. I want my horses to not only give to my direct rein pull but I want their energy flow and body to give as well, while the horse follows her nose. When a horse is longing correctly they will not have any lean or have their body drift to the outside of the circle. When a horses face is one direction and their body is drifting to another they are not tracking up to their face and are not following their nose. Their movement will deteriorate and collection will become very difficult.

I try to be good with my hands longing as well as when I ride. In other words don’t be too aggressive or rough. If they are too stiff to get a lot of bend at the lope then work a lot at the trot. Be patient and give them time to develop new habits. Once you have control of the face or head you can stop them from dropping their shoulder and drifting in. I also will stand in one spot as much as I can to help them keep their circles the same, while using my whip to encourage them forward. Sometimes just adding the forward motion will make it a lot easier for the horse to maintain his arc. I try not to have constant pressure on their head. I want them to learn to carry themselves. I will tug or pull their head in and then release. If you hang on them, they can learn to hang on you and get heavy on your hands. Teaching them to be heavy can open up a lot of new problems.

The other thing I want to stress is that horses are like athletes, they need a warm up and a cool down. I like my horses to walk at least five minutes, and then I will trot them for a while to warm them up before I go to work at the lope. When their workout is over I walk them to cool them down for as long as it takes the particular horse. This will greatly reduce injuries and if you have a horse with mild stiffness you will see a lot of improvement.

Using these techniques have improved my horses’ movement and soundness greatly.

Thanks and good luck!


About the Author

Dana Hokana is one of the top female trainers in the Quarter Horse industry, and currently operates Dana Hokana Quarter Horses in Temecula, California. Raised in Southern California, she has had a lifelong love for horses. Dana has trained multiple Western Pleasure circuit champions, winners at major futurities, and horses who have placed in the top ten in Western Pleasure at both the All American Quarter Horse Congress and the AQHA World Championship Show. Riding her own stallion, Invested Dimension, she captured an AQHA Reserve World Championship title in Senior Western Pleasure.

Dana’s DVD series entitled “The Winning Strides Series,” is designed to educate horse owners and riders from the basics of horse handling and horsemanship, to competing at high levels in the show arena. Skilled at teaching in an encouraging, relaxed, non-intimidating way, she carries these traits into the instruction in her video series. Dana will be a featured clinician at the Mane Event in Red Deer, Alberta, and has spoken at the Equine Affaire in Pomona, California and was a clinician at the Equine Affaire in Massachusetts and Columbus, Ohio, focusing on topics from grooming to western pleasure.

Now is your chance to have your questions answered by Dana! Just submit your question using the comment section below or the email link, and she will respond to select questions in future posts.

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