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What Is “Fresh” For Your Horse?

I had a great week at home and now am travelling once again, this time headed to Tallahassee FL for a Horse Master shoot. Getting home on Sunday last week mean I actually was home for one of Rich’s days off and we had a great time riding our horses—for the first time in a LONG time. By waiting until afternoon to ride, the snow had melted from our outdoor arena and we took full advantage of the elbow room. Sadly, the next day it snowed again  but we enjoyed one day of riding in the sun.

It’s rather odd, but my horse, Dually, is always mellow when he hasn’t been ridden in a while. When ridden regularly he’s a little hot, likes to anticipate and loves to go fast. If he’s been in mothballs for a while he’s mister mellow—pony-loping around like a kid’s horse. When I go back to regular riding, he’ll start thinking too much and trying too hard. Rich’s horse Diggs (the polar opposite in temperament) was very good too. He’s never fresh—it’s not in his DNA—but after a long lay-off he seems a little more interested in being ridden and happy to have some attention (or at least less disdainful of it). What’s your horse like if he hasn’t been ridden in a while? Do you have to “work him down” or work up to your normal riding routine or can you just step on and go, as if you had been riding every day?

I am not a big believer in having to longe a horse before he is ridden in order to get the heebie-jeebies out of him. I realize that a lot of people feel the need to do this and in some cases I think it is okay, unless you get into a pattern of behavior in which you have to longe him and he holds you hostage to that. If your horse is too fresh to ride and you feel you are required to longe him so that he can explode in exuberance for a few minutes in order for you to have control once you mount, you may be a hostage to bad behavior. Think about it—if your horse is trained and obedient, he should act that way all the time; having a little extra energy is no excuse for disobedience (exuberance, yes, but disobedience, no). Often in this instance, the horse develops a pattern of behavior that involves him bucking like a maniac on the longe line until he feels spent, then you sheepishly crawl on his back, hoping that is the end of it. You end up in a which came first—the chicken or the egg situation. Are you longeing him to get the bucks out or is he bucking because you are longeing him?

The moral of the story is that you should always insist on your horse’s obedience, whether he is fresh or not. I might long-trot a fresh horse right away to get his energy level down or I might do 5-10 minutes of ground work with a young green horse that hasn’t been ridden in a while, to get his attention. But if you feel that longeing is necessary to get the bucks out, your horse may be controlling you and you may be unwittingly condoning disobedience (if you think he would otherwise buck and go wild while you were on him).

There may be other good reasons to longe a horse before you ride him, but if you are doing it because you feel like otherwise you might have a control issue, then you may want to rethink it. That’s my two cents worth. Do you always longe your horse before riding? Do you think it is a beneficial pattern?

Enjoy the ride,


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  1. I have a mare and a stallion that are by the same stallion. That’s where the similarity ends! The mare is very hot and the longer she goes without work the the higher she gets (with 24 hour turnout and a no grain diet). Longeing her winds her up more. I found out it’s better with her to skip longing; we went to a show and to my horror there were signs everywhere saying “No Lungeing” but she wasn’t so bad without it after all. Lesson learned. The stallion needs regular work to stay awake. We used to longe him when he was a youngster but it really seemed to bore him and drain his energy. He fractured a sesamoid 8 years ago and we haven’t longed him since. He’s much more responsive without it.

    My son had a wonderful mare for years that was the same horse every time you got on her, no matter if you last rode her that morning or last year. Longeing made no difference, either. She was priceless, rest her soul.

    I do always lead the horse out a few steps after getting the girth/cinch tight, just to make sure things are okay before committing my body!

  2. I have been thinking about this just last week. It seems if I put my horse in the round pen, he bucks and generally acts crazy. If I work him a little on the lunge line, just walk, trot, back come, and then get on him, he is more settled. So I was studying about if I was creating and at least allowing the bad behavior.

  3. Interesting article. My mare can be a real handful, and the fresher she is the naughtier she is. She likes to come up with new bad habits; i’ll get one straightened out and she comes up with something new the next time. In the past she wouldn’t turn left, then she wouldn’t whoa and would toss her head and threaten to rear. Her latest trick is to suddenly spook at nothing.

    As you mentioned round penning her isn’t helping. Now she thinks that the round pen is a circus ring. She’s got to the point where I can’t lead her in there calmly, she tries to take off and runs around bucking like a lunatic. She’ll whoa for as long as she wants to then just take off again. By the time i’ve got her straightened out there’s no time to ride, and i’m back to square one the next time.

    (I wish i’d seen your horse buying episode first!)

  4. This is an interesting post. Thanks. I always felt it good to let my young horse zip around the round pen before getting on. (Never quite sure how to get that out when trail riding) Last year he had an injury and has been confined. The vet’s instructions have been to do everything under saddle, preferably in an arena as opposed to a round pen. First it was walk for 20 min. Then it was trot 3 min increments, 4 times in 30 min. So for my horse’s good I was forced to skip the let ’em go for it stuff. Plus he’d had no turn out. Being a chicken, this took a lot of guts for me. I’ve learned what really needs working is getting his mind back to me. I’ve done a lot of those walking 3 part circles you’ve talked about. I also learned that his biggest trick is trying to grab grass along the edge of the arena. At times at the start he feels like he is going to explode, especially when I ask for a trot the first time. Guess what, he didn’t explode. There was quite a lot of head movement and a few jumpy steps here or there but nothing crazy. So this forced “no getting the bucks out” has had a positive side to it. Add that this is with cold winter weather too. I’m still a chicken but this has been an eye opener.

  5. I am so glad to see you post on this! We are not considered part of the ‘real horse world’ around here because we don’t breed, we don’t show and we don’t take lessons, etc. We just enjoy our horses and spend lots of time on them on our wonderful mountain trails, mostly bareback. I soon learned how very extraordinary our horses seem to be, from all the ‘horse people’ who stay at our lodge. We turn our horses loose for 5 months on some wild land. A few years ago, a friend was here when we arrived with the horses, having just picked them up; all three of them stuffed into a 2-horse, straight load trailer-minus the center divider (looked like sardines). They unloaded themselves one at a time on voice command and stood waiting by our side while we hooked lead ropes onto their halters. She had come up to ride the first ride with us, so when we asked if she was ready her first comment was, “Don’t you have to do something with them first? You know, round pen?” We saddled up and headed for the hills. She was in total amazement the whole time at how well behaved they were.

    In all honesty, I do like to do a couple of flexing exercises just so I can see how they are moving; make sure there is no stiffness anywhere and their attention is with me. Almost all the time, both of my horses tune in on me the minute they see the halter in my hand, and their personalities are as different as night and day. I am so glad more trainers are speaking out on this. Thank you.

  6. Our two ride-able horses are absolute polar opposites, and their work routines reflect such. One is frequently longed while the other almost never.

    Snickerdoodle, our lead mare, definitely holds a strong anti-work attitude that strengthens over the time she is not worked with. We do typically longe her before riding, but not with the goal of tiring her out. Longing her is a time to put her attitude in check by focusing her attention on me. Recently it has been possible for me to work with her on a regular basis, which has a profound positive effect on her demeanor. I would stop longing her so often, except that I have been putting inexperienced riders on her (I am not allowed to be around the horses alone so I end up bringing my sister or a friend with me who has little riding experience). Now it has become a good way for me to check how she’s doing and feeling before letting her go with someone else.

    The other horse I work with, Sierra, came to us less than two years ago, and in short is very temperamental, defensive, energetic and has an over-active “go” button. She has improved so much with slow patient work, but the fact is, she loves to run and go fast and convincing her she should chill out can be a difficult feat. Her response to longing is nothing like Snickerdoodle’s. It just doesn’t help her, so I rarely longe her.

  7. I never roundpen or longe Estes before I hop on. In fact, right before we went to your place for Horse Master, she’d been out at pasture (hundreds of acres, running free) for two years. I only had one ride on her as her new owner before Horse Master and we didn’t have any problems.

    I know of people who wouldn’t even consider getting on their horse without roundpenning or longing. I rather enjoy being able to just pull Estes and hop on without worrying that she’s going to be too hot or attempt to buck me off.

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