The Difference Between Lead Line Circling And Longeing Logo

Ask Julie Goodnight:
What’s the Difference in Longeing and Lead Line Circling?

Question: Dear Julie, I purchased your DVD, Lead Line Leadership and I have been searching your library and need some basic clarification. What is the difference in lead line circling (from Lead Line Leadership) and longeing? What/when is an appropriate use of each and can you please include what is the proper equipment for each?
Answer: Good question! This is a subject I talk about at every groundwork clinic that I do, but I have not written much on the subject. So thanks for asking!

There are actually three kinds of circling work that you might do from the ground with horses—each for different purposes and with different technique and equipment. There’s round pen work, done with the horse at liberty in a confined area, for the purpose of establishing herd hierarchy between you and your horse and getting the horse to “hook on” to you. Then there’s circling work done on a training lead (12-15’ lead line) as is covered in the video you mentioned, for the purposes of refining your relationship and developing a line of communication with the horse. And also, there is longe line work, done on a 25’ or longer light line, primarily for the purpose of exercising or conditioning the horse or for training purposes such as bitting, teaching voice commands or working on transitions; or for performance ends, such as vaulting or longe line obedience competitions.

For round pen work, the equipment needed includes a small area of confinement with a high, sturdy and safe fence to discourage the horse from trying to jump out and to protect his legs if he gets them tangled up in the fence. The purpose of the confinement is to simply level the playing field between you and your horse, so you aren’t chasing him over 40 acres; it doesn’t really have to be round, it’s just easier if it is (otherwise he constantly gets hung up in the corners as you are driving him around). A 60’ pen is ideal for groundwork and allows just enough room to ride the horse at a walk and trot as well. A smaller pen of 50’ makes the circling work easier for you but harder on the horse and it may get a little crowded if the horse cops an attitude (and it’s too small to ride in effectively).

For round pen work, the horse should be at liberty (no halter, lead or bridle) and the handler should have a flag or stick or lariat in hand in order to direct the horse and defend himself if the horse should become aggressive or charge. Ideally the horse should wear protective leg boots, like splint boots or sports medicine boots, to protect the legs in hard turns and accidental collision with the fence. It’s also not a bad idea to wear a helmet when doing ground work with horses since it is not only possible, but likely that the horse will kick out, strike or become defensive.

As demonstrated in detail in my groundwork video called Round Pen Reasoning, the round pen process involves herding the horse, controlling his space and thereby establishing authority over the horse. It is accomplished in five stages: driving the horse away, controlling his direction with outside turns, controlling his speed, changing directions with inside turns and allowing the horse to hook-on to you as his herd leader. Lead line work is also done in part on the circle, driving your horse away from you in a fashion similar to longeing—but for different reasons. With lead line circling, your goal is to refine the relationship with the horse that was begun in the round pen; to not only assert greater authority over the horse, but to establish a line of communication where the horse is focused on you and looking for each and every directive you issue. For lead line circling, you’ll also drive the horse in a circle, control his speed and do lots of changes of direction using subtle gestures. It has nothing to do with exercising or tiring the horse; it has to do entirely with relationship building and communicating—once you get the response you want from the horse, your job is done, regardless how much time it took or how many circles you made.

The ideal equipment for lead line circling is a rope halter and 12-15’ training lead. My halters and leads are specially designed for this type of work, with the halters made of a high-tensile and slightly stiff rope of moderate diameter (the narrower the rope, the harsher the pressure) that does not stretch. My training leads are made with a heavy yacht rope that is pliable and comfortable in your hands and heavy enough to give good feel between you and your horse. I prefer not to have a metal buckle attachment to the halter since it may bruise the horse’s chin if the rope is jerked hard.

The handler should also have a flag or stick to direct the horse and prevent him from coming close enough to kick or strike you. The same protective equipment for you and your horse as outlined for round pen work is well advised. My video, Lead Line Leadership, explains the different exercises you can do on the lead line, including circling work.

Longeing is more simplistic and has more to do with the number or circles your horse makes and the distance he travels. You’ll probably want to use a halter that maximizes the horse’s comfort, like a padded nylon-web or leather halter or a longeing cavesson, with or without a bit in his mouth (depending on your purpose for longeing). A longe line is usually lightweight and 25-30’ long to allow the horse to make the largest circle possible, thereby covering more distance and reducing the stress on his joints. A longe whip is generally used by the longeur to help cue and motivate the horse; it is extra long and has a long lash. Although a horse that is properly trained to longe will respond to visual and audible cues from the longeur, there is not as much dialogue or relationship building between horse and longeur as there is with round pen and lead line work.

With my extensive travel schedule, I don’t get as much ride time on my horse as I’d like and therefore he gets longed each day, simply for the exercise—so he stays in reasonable shape for me to ride when I am home. He is well-mannered and obedient and does not need the ground work for relationship purposes; even if he has not been ridden in a very long time, I would not feel the need to longe him to “get the kinks out,” as many people do. I am not a big believer in longeing for that purpose, because I think it could be an indication that more ground work is needed to bring the horse into a more obedient and compliant frame of mind. Although having excess energy could be a reason for a horse to feel exuberant or energetic, it is not an excuse for disobedience.
There are numerous articles in my training library that relate to the different ground work techniques and specific issues that arise.

Thanks for your astute question—it is always wise to think about why you are doing certain things. The more you understand, the greater the chances for success.

Good luck!
If you liked this article, Julie suggests the following products to help you continue the work with your horse ( or call 800-225-8827 for ordering help): The From the Ground Groundwork DVD Series:

Issues From The Saddle: Not Wanting To Go Forward Logo

Question Category: Issues from the Saddle

Question: Julie,

I have seen you several times at the Equine Affaire in Columbus over the past few years and respect your training skills. I have a particular problem with one of my horses with “not wanting to go forward” & I sure could use your help. Just to give you a brief background about my horse and me, I am 44 yrs old and just start riding about 5yrs ago. For the first 1 ½ years I took lessons & worked at a local stable one day a week. I would consider myself a confident intermediate western trail rider. I have 2 middle-aged geldings, which I keep at home. The 1st one I’ve had for about 2 ½ years now. The other horse that I am having a problem with is named BJ. I’ve had him for about a year now. He is a 10yr old Tennessee Walker. Overall he is a great guy, but from time to time he can be a little stubborn and will test my leadership. When I first brought BJ home he was a lot “buddy/barn sour”. I couldn’t even get him to leave our property (we live in a rural area on a dirt road). With some ground work & a little patience he overcame the fear of leaving our property. When both horses go out together, BJ is much better. The specific problem I am having is that BJ will not go forward when we get to certain areas of our ride. We ride on the edges of all the dirt roads around us and an occasional field. Generally, he is OK when there are open fields on both sides of us, but when we get to certain wooded areas he just stops & will even back up. He does startle somewhat easily, but I try to reassure him. I don’t want to force him forward if there is something up ahead that he is afraid of (I can’t figure it out what it is). What I’ve done so far has not really been successful, and I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong & I need your help. What I have done so far is to 1st kiss to him, and then apply light leg pressure (no spurs). When that doesn’t work I apply stronger constant leg pressure, while all the time keeping him facing forward. Usually, when I do that he will even start to back up. When he backs up I tell him “whoa” & he will stop. Maybe after 30seconds or so of constant strong leg pressure he might take a step or two forward. Immediately after he takes that first step I release the leg pressure, but then he stops again. I have also tried kicking type leg pressure and even a smack on the butt with the end of my leather rein. None of which had any great success. I have also tried changing his focus by working him right there in small circles, backing him, turning on the forehand & haunches. He does all these willingly, but he still will not go forward willingly. It may take me ½ hour just to go a few hundred feet. I can feel that he is tense and not relaxed (I try to stay very calm & patient). Only when he knows that we are almost done with our ride will he drop his head, snort & relax.

Thanks for your help!

Answer: Ray,

As always, it is hard to totally diagnose a training problem, without being able to see the whole picture. I find that an objective and knowledgeable observer will always see more than the rider thinks is going on. If I had the chance to observe you and your horse in action, both when you are having trouble and when you are not, I might have something totally different to say to you. But for now, with this imperfect means of communication, I will share with you the thoughts that go through my mind, based on experience, as I read your description of the problems you are experiencing.

First, whenever a horse refuses to move forward, I always want to look to a physical cause. Is there a saddle fit problem or a lameness or chiropractic issue that is preventing or discouraging the horse from forward movement? In your case, if the horse is only refusing at this particular place and he is moving freely forward at all other times, then it is probably not physical, but I would still rule it out. For instance, a small pain from the saddle will make the horse more stressed; then when you add additional stress (like going into the scary trees) the horse reaches a melt-down point that he might have tolerated were he not already stressed.

The next thing to look at is the training of both the horse and the rider. Does the horse have solid fundamentals of training, meaning he knows how to respond to the aids to go, stop and turn and he has a strong work ethic that makes him understands that he should not question the authority of the rider, even if that means he has to do something he doesn’t want to do. Horses are such willing animals that we often mistake willingness for training; because he is willing to do what we ask of him, we tend to think he is trained to do it. He’s not really trained until you can ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do and he is still compliant. Often willing and compliant horses are thought to be trained when they really aren’t. Your horse may need to go back to some fundamental training.

Also, it is a very strong trait of human nature that makes us always place the blame squarely on the horse: “my horse goes too fast,” “my horse won’t do flying lead changes,” “my horse bucked me off.” Most of the time, it is the rider causing the problem by either giving confusing or conflicting signals to the horse or asking him to do something that is not possible like go and stop at the same time and thus forcing him into noncompliance (a very common rider error). One thing I have seen repeatedly in my career is that when horses are backing up, it is usually because the rider is pulling back on the reins (typically in an effort to stop the horse, but instead it makes the horse back up further). So always look within and try to understand what you are doing to make the horse react the way he is.

One thing that is clear from your email is that by trying and failing repeatedly, you have most likely trained your horse to be disobedient. Whatever your horse is doing when you release him, is what you are training him to do. So every time you have asked and failed and given up, you have trained your horse that by refusing, he gets what he wants. You are better off not asking a horse to do something than to ask and then fail to reinforce your request.

Two things will help you in this regard: first, make sure your horse is obedient to you in less challenging circumstances. Work both from the ground and the saddle on refining your control and improving your relationship with your horse (there’s lots of information about this on my website and in my groundwork videos), before you tackle the woods again. Part of the reason he doesn’t want to go into the woods is because it is scarier and he doesn’t trust your authority or leadership. Secondly, when you are ready to tackle the woods, at the first sign of your horse balking, get off and lead him through. I might even drive him in a circle around me as I make him pass through the woods, so that he learns that not only will balking not get him what he wants, but it will make him have to work harder. Don’t take your horse away from the woods to correct him (as you describe), continue to make him move into it because he may prefer a little hard work away from the woods, over actually going into the woods.

Finally, there is a concept in training that says that however a horse is acting at a particular time is how he is most motivated to behave. In order to change his behavior, you must apply enough pressure to motivate him to change. Depending on how motivated he is to act that way to begin with, that will determine how much pressure it takes to motivate him to change. My guess is that you are not applying enough pressure to motivate him to change. Sometimes a spanking will go a long way with a horse like this. Numerous mild corrections (nagging) are not always effective in motivating the horse to change and often result in an angry and irritated horse. I’d rather see one harsh correction than continuous nagging (and so would the horse).

There are numerous Q&As on my website that may help you with this horse, so be sure to spend a little time reading and thinking about it. You’ve made a lot of progress with this horse so far, from the sounds of your email; I think you’ll be able to work through this rough spot with your horse, with a little hard work and persistence. Good luck!


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