Friday, June 12, 2009

The End of the Lounge Line

One of things Shorty struggles with is bending and going forward at the same time. He will stand still and allow me to gently guide his head from one side to the other, and he has mastered going straight on the racetrack, but clearly my horse is not a multitasker.

Today, I free lounged Shorty for a few minutes at the walk and trot in both directions. Normally, at this stage, I would have the horse in his bridle, reins removed, with the lounge line through the inside of the bit, over the crown piece at the poll, and clipped to the other side (clip facing out, of course). Even that is too much for my large and stiff friend. So, we started with the basics.

I attached the lounge line to the center ring of his halter, put on my riding gloves and asked Shorty to walk. He almost immediately stopped and questioned what I was asking, so I encouraged him to continue walking out on the circle with clucks and a wave of the excess lounge line in my hand (whips are too much for Shorty and I get tangled up in them anyway). We walked for minute one way, turned around, and walked the other way. Shorty started to get the hang of walking and looking to the inside, which made me happy.

I started to think about some of the other uses for lounge lines. Here are some of the ways I've employed my 25 foot friend:
  1. Putting timid or inexperienced students on a lounge line for their first time trotting or cantering allows me more control of the horse and lets my student concentrate on feeling what the horse is doing.
  2. The benefits of balance exercises and stretches while working on a lounge line are amazing, especially in developing your seat or working on maintaining or correcting your equitation. It helps to have an instructor holding the lounge line; he or she will see some of the minute asymmetries and tense points in your body that could use a bit of attention (if said instructor knows what he or she is doing).
  3. This probably sounds awful, but I once put an unruly camper on a lounge line. I clipped it to his belt loop and told him to pretend he was a racehorse until he was so tired he didn't have the energy to kick at me or slap the little girls in the camp. I lounged that kid harder than I've ever lounged a horse.
  4. The first time I taught safety to my campers, I sat them down and lectured them on horse behavior and barn rules. They fidgeted, didn't pay attention, and didn't learn a damn thing. Now, I pull the kids in the arena and do role playing before they get to work with the horses. My tacker is great at pretending to be a horse and gently kicking at the kids when they go behind her. To teach spacing in the arena, I took a few frayed, awful looking lounge lines that were sitting around and clipped them together to make a 100 foot line. Using my trusty tape measure and a sharpie, I marked 15 foot sections with a black band. I then lined my campers up and had each one hold the long line at the black marks. I then sent them off around on the ring, and the kids had to maintain the slack in the rope- if it was on the ground, they were too close. Its a great way to get your students to look up and pay attention, and they understand what 15 feet looks like. During lunch breaks, the kids would ask if they could keep playing follow the leader with the long line!
  5. Getting horses in the trailer. Sometimes, a 12 foot leadrope isn't enough for the horse that pulls back suddenly. One horse nearly dislocated my shoulder before I figured that one out.
  6. Rope gate practice. The first time I set up a rope gait for my students to work through, I found they quickly ran out of rope and got discouraged. Before I realized that could buy 15 feet of nylon rope at Wal-mart for a couple dollars, I used a lounge line and bundled the excess line to the "gate" with a bungee cord to keep it out of the way.
  7. Blocking off a driveway for a horseshow. My lounge line is a brighter shade of green and made an excellent barrier across the driveway between two jump standards. To complete my road block, I taped signs to the standards and hung one off the line itself. It was very effective and required all of two minutes to set up.
  8. Diagnositics. I use lounge lines to evaluate lameness, especially when I'm on my own. I like to lounge all of the school horses and observe how they move. I've learned a lot about the schoolies I work with and know when they're moving normally, when they're thinking about bolting, and when they're feeling arthritic and sore. (I like to ride the schoolies every now and then as well, but observing them on the line has really helped me understand them from the instructor's viewpoint on the ground). Some lamenesses are more prevalent on a circle as well.
Here's what I don't use lounge lines for:
  1. Wearing out the energy of a horse. Yes, I've lounged to take the edge off a horse that I know has a lot of extra energy and is considering bucking me off, and I've used it to build communication with a horse, but I never lounge a horse down to totally tired and dripping in sweat. I feel that the horse doesn't learn anything, and it sure as shit doesn't improve your image in the horse's eyes when you wear them down like that.
  2. Long lining. The few times that I've long lined a horse, I used real long lines, although they did suspiciously look a lot like a pair of lounge lines. :)
  3. Ground work. There's too much of a possibility of getting tangled up when you are working closely with the horse.
  4. Tying up the barn manager and locking him away where he can never touch a horse or "clean" a stall again, although I've been tempted at times. He's the only person my horse truly hates, and there are many reasons for that.
On a related note, I never use a lounge line with a chain. Ever. Period. How does using a chain teach a horse to come forward?

Also, if you lounge in a saddle, don't subject your horse to pain via stirrups banging on his sides. Remove them or, if you can, run them up. A western trainer of mine used to flip both of his stirrups over the seat of the saddle and put a short bungee tie around them and the saddle horn so they would not come down and hit the horse's ribs, although Cashel makes a stirrup keeper for western saddles and it really shouldn't be hard to take the fender, or at least the stirrups, off your western saddle (if it is, you might not be cleaning your saddle enough).

Also, for Pete's sake, wear gloves. Rope burn is a bitch and really slows you down when you work with your hands. Some of those nylon lines will chafe right through your skin, sometimes causing a deep, four inch gash along the palm of your hand.

Above all else, use common sense and take it slow. Loungeing is a wonderful training tool, but don't use it as a regular substitute for riding and don't overwork and overburden your horse with it.

P.S. I've seen a lot of ways to spell "lounge" and "lounging." I'm not entirely sure which spelling I've used, so forgive me if I spell it differenly.

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