By Kathleen Graham
Horses have always been a big part of my life. I started riding at 8 years old. Growing up, I primarily rode hunt seat (equitation and hunters) and was fortunate enough to ride with trainers George Morris, Frank Chapot, and Carol Hoffman Thompson. During this time, I had the opportunity to work with and ride many talented horses. All of them still have a special place in my heart.
Eleven years ago, a new chapter started in my life, when my husband and I decided to buy a young horse as a show hunter prospect. We found a 3-year-old Dutch Warmblood named Entourage, or better known as Fonzie. We placed Fonzie in training with a local professional, and he began his showing career. Fonzie was a very successful “A” circuit hunter and won several championships and reserve championships, in Baby Green through Pre-Green divisions. Even though he was extremely successful as a Pre-Green, due to the economy at that time, we decided not to continue showing him as a 1st Year Green.
Since I was getting older and determined I didn’t want to jump any longer, I decided to learn a new discipline: dressage. After my first dressage lesson, I was immediately humbled and realized, even though I had been riding for over 40 years, I truly knew nothing about straightness and connection. Unfortunately, after a couple years of learning dressage, I had to stop riding due to back issues.
Shortly after we stopped showing Fonzie, he was plagued with lameness issues. We tried everything; shoeing changes, injections, chiropractic, etc., to try to help determine the cause. Finally, with the help of a standing MRI, we were able to determine the cause of his lameness. The veterinarian’s diagnosis of incorrect shoeing, and prognosis that Fonzie may not recover, suggested that Fonzie probably needed to be retired. I knew in my heart that Fonzie’s career wasn’t over, and decided to research treatments to help Fonzie recuperate. With the help of Dr. Bob Grisel, we implemented a treatment program to help correct Fonzie’s shoeing and lameness issues. His program consisted of corrective shoeing, platelet-rich-plasma (PRP) therapy, shock wave therapy, joint injections, and herbal supplements. We saw immediate results and, within a few months, Fonzie was sound again. During my research, I found an article on the benefits of long lining and decided to pursue this modality.
Four years ago, with the help of some dear friends, Fonzie and I started our long lining training with Betsy Steiner. Since I had taught Fonzie voice commands, and he was familiar with lungeing, we had a jump start for learning the process. In the beginning, we worked only on a large circle, learning to move forward into the outside rein. We learned about the importance of straightness, self-carriage, and connection.
When we felt a little more comfortable with long lining, we decided to learn how to travel down the long side of the arena. Long lining is similar to flying a kite. Every movement of your hands and fingers can communicate a different message to your horse, through the reins. Since you don’t have the benefit of your legs and seat, your voice and position/usage of the lunge whip is essential in communicating with your horse. I am constantly communicating to Fonzie, both commands and praise, so he knows when he is doing something right.
I have always had a wonderful relationship with Fonzie. However, I feel long lining him has changed our bond and connection with one another. Working with him from the ground has given me a new perspective, one that I have never experienced in the saddle. I can watch and react to his body language, and he watches and reacts to mine. It’s like he can read my mind, and knows what to do before I ask him to do it. When we work together, it is as if we become one. The connection is unbelievable.
Long lining has given us a second chance to continue our work together and learn new things. It has given him a job again and a purpose in life, and it has given me an opportunity to ride my horse from the ground, master my skills in dressage, and take my riding to the next level. It also has allowed me to lose weight and to become more physically fit. I have lost over 50 pounds since I started long lining, and it has truly improved my overall well-being.
When I look back at our long lining journey, it truly amazes me that Fonzie and I have been able to achieve so much in just four years. I would highly recommend learning how to long line, if you would like to improve your effectiveness under saddle, increase your level of communication, or achieve a strong connection with your horse.