This week Little Love and I rediscovered long reining. A year ago, when she was still living at the big barn in Switzerland, we used to do long lining on a weekly basis. It was the perfect activity for a horse who could not stand riding in the indoor but who was too scared to go out on the trails in the wind and rain. It also worked wonders when the intense "bise"-wind (pronounced beez) came in and nearly blew the tin roof off the arena. The wind slamming on the walls and howling in the corners made all the horses nervous, which in turn made Little Love practically unrideable. Through target training with a clicker we found some peace and once we found peace, we could do other things, like work on long lining lateral movements at the walk. This worked so well that even Little Love's ex owner learned how to long rein her horse. It was a win-win situation; she was able to exercise her horse safely and Little Love didn't have to endure dressage riding in the indoor arena. Soon she was so good at the long reining she actually helped me teach a few beginners how to do it!
So, last week when the barn owner joined Lilo and me on a walk with Kira decked out in a longing surcingle and long reins, I had an epiphany. This was what we, too, could do. It would be a change in the routine of walking side by side. The osteopath had recommended lateral work and what better way to do it than while longlining! My only concern was the fact that there was no arena to do all this in. The idea of being behind Little Love on the road seemed sort of scary. What if she became scared? What if she took off? Would she even want to go with me behind her or would she just stop?
The only way to find out was to try.
The first time we long reined, I went off with Kira and the barn owner. She wanted to longe Kira at the "grazing spot" between the two hills, where there is a gravel parking lot big enough for longing (our makeshift arena is a muddy pond at the moment due to lots of rain). Kira and her owner walked ahead while I was behind them longreining Little Love who had a surcingle and her bitless bridle. The reins were fairly short, and I was walking mostly on either side of Little Love's back end. She seemed very content and immediately collected herself into a shorter frame with the lightest contact. I tried leg yielding across the road and she crossed her legs beautifully, as if she had just been waiting to do so. Her ears were forward and she was licking and chewing like this was the best idea I had had in ages!
While Kira was on the circle in the parking lot Little Love and I moved back and forth on the road working on lateral movements. Then we moved onto trotting. I was amazed how easily Little Love collected and wished I could have seen what it looked like from the side because from where I was standing (or rather, running) it looked pretty darn elastic. By the time we got back to the barn half an hour later, I was pretty excited. I could tell Little Love was very pleased with herself as well.
Encouraged by this experience, I tried long reining again today, but this time alone, without a horse helping us leave the barn.. The weather was not exactly perfect for this activity; we were experiencing the aftermath of a hurricane that had broken up over the Atlantic and the winds were quite forceful. I was, however, determined to at least try the long reining. I guess I was just curious to see if Little Love would even leave the yard with me behind her, instead of ahead of her.
She did. The wind was blowing around us, leaves were flying everywhere, but Little Love was as focused as she has ever been. We walked to the mailboxes and back, leg yielding every so often. Her lateral movements were even better than the time before, and I could already see the benefits of this exercise. When we got back to the barn I turned Little Love around and she performed a walk pirouette to the right as if she had been doing it all her life. Wow. We trotted back to the mailboxes and turned around again. Back and forth we went, slowing down, speeding up, moving sideways, backing up: you name it. I don't think Little Love has ever been this sensitive while working the "human agenda". Under saddle she used to hate all this stuff, shutting down the moment you asked for a leg yield or taking off with her head in the air when you tried to collect her. But now... who is this horse? Why is it all so easy? Has enough time passed? Or is it really the fact that I have not ridden her that has changed her? Or maybe this is alright when we are not in an arena? I could have sworn she ENJOYED the work we did today. It was a mere twenty minutes and then we had to stop because of the branches that were starting to fall into the road from the trees! (Yes, a bit unsafe, yet another proof, however, of how much Little Love has changed; she wasn't even freaked out!)
I don't ever want to force Little Love into "working"; she has had enough of that in her lifetime. Perhaps this is why I have been so careful about starting any activity that even remotely resembles what she did in her old life. Yes, she needs to exercise for the sake of her health (and especially hoof health), but that can be done in a way that she enjoys it as well. We have no goals other than feeling good. I know she likes our walks, but I do know that sometimes she gets bored. I can't blame her, I feel that way, too. So perhaps longreining can be something we do together, something different to change things up a bit. We will have to see. I sure enjoyed it today, though, despite the wind!