Long Reining - Dr. Thomas Ritter - ebook

Long Reining ebook

dr thomas ritter



Long Reining is so much fun that it is easy to get hooked on it. It trains the rider's eyes and tact by adding a visual impression to the sense of touch and vice versa.” Dr. Thomas Ritter It is no wonder that more and more riders are discovering the old tradition of Long Reining for themselves. It helps the horse to improve his balance and ability to collect without the weight of the rider, and it lends itself well to training difficult movements in a horse friendly manner. Dr. Thomas Ritter explains the correct aids from the beginning through Haute École in practical terms. Thanks to the discussion of frequent mistakes and their corrections, Long Reining novices and experienced trainers alike can find much new information here. The author's passion and enthusiasm for Long Reining are evident throughout. Many helpful tips invite you to experiment!

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Dr Thomas Ritter



While the author and the publishers have compiled and reviewed the contents of this book with great care and to the best of their knowledge and belief, no liability can be accepted for any injury to humans or animals or animals which might arise as a result of actions and/ or decisions taken by the book`s readers


Copyright © 2015 Cadmos Publishing Limited, Richmond, UK

Copyright of original edition © 2014 Cadmos Verlag GmbH, Schwarzenbek, Germany

Design: www.ravenstein2.deCoverfoto: Shana RitterPictures within the content: Andreas Evertz, MaresaMader, Shana Ritter, Dr Thomas Ritter, SandraSchneiderDiagramms: Alexandra GauglEditor: Claudia Weingand

Conversion: S4Carlisle Publishing Services

All rights reserved.

Reproduction or storage in electronic media is permitted only with the prior written permission of the publishers.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.

A catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library.

eISBN: 978-3-8404-6422-5




Differences between Ground Driving and Long Reining

Differences between Double Lungeing and Long Reining

Why Long Reining? Advantages, Dangers, Problem Areas

Long Reining to Support Work Under Saddle

Connecting the Legs With the Ground

Long Reining the Retraining Project

Further Advantages and Disadvantages of Long Reining

Prerequisites for Long Reining

The Right Time

The Horse

The Horse-Rider Size Ratio

The Arena

The Warm-Up

The Horse’s Equipment

The Rider’s Equipment

The Rider’s Posture and Position

Always Stay Balanced

The Rider’s Position

The Aids

Differences between Long Reining and Work Under Saddle

Voice Commands

Whip Aids

Rein Aids


Getting Started

Different Paths

Portuguese Style Work In-Hand

Long Reining with an Assistant

Sequences of Transitions

Training Duration

The Sequence of the Training Steps

Common Mistakes

The Rider’s Gait and Posture

Undesirable Reactions by the Horse

First Arena Patterns

From the Corner to the Serpentine


Circles and Voltes

Serpentines and Rectangles

Straight Lines without the Support of the Arena Wall

Changing Direction

The Movements

(Almost) Anything is Possible

The Lateral Movements

Turn on the Haunches and Passade

Canter Work



The Strike-Off

The Rider’s Position in the Canter

Flying Changes



Haute Ecole





Don’t Give Up




Dr Thomas Ritter with Lipizzaner stallion Maestoso II Shama II. (Photo: Mader)

I would like to take a brief moment to thank everyone who contributed to the realisation of this book. Above all, I would like to thank my wife, Shana Ritter, who has been supporting me tirelessly for many years. Together we developed the training method outlined in my books. In particular, the chapters on piaffe, passage and levade in this publication owe a great deal to Shana’s input. Saskia and Andreas Evertz, the owners of the Aischbach-hof Equestrian Centre, allowed us to use their wonderful facility for many of the photos in the book, and were helpful in many other respects as well. Their PRE stallions Amigo, Mulan and Kabul, the PRE gelding Furia, as well as their Friesian stallion Richold, are featured in many of the photos. I am also indebted to my friend and student Dr Kristen Guest, Associate Professor and Chair of English at the University of Northern British Columbia, for proofreading my English translation.


Lipizzaner stallion Maestoso II Catrina. (Photo: Shana Ritter)

I have studied long reining for almost three decades. I was lucky my teachers were true experts in this discipline, who passed on their knowledge as well as their passion to me. Over the years I have worked with horses of many different types and breeds on the long reins, and trained several of them to the highest levels. In the process I learned a great deal about both the individual horses and dressage training in general. My skills in the saddle also received important refinements over the decades from long reining. Gradually, long reining became one of my specialties, and I frequently presented on this topic in front of audiences. Eventually, I condensed all my experiences and observations into this book, which I have been planning for a long time and am finally able to turn into reality.

Differences between Ground Driving and Long Reining

Contrary to what some people think, long reining is traditionally considered a form of riding, not driving. That is why we talk about riding a turn or a movement on the long rein. Long reining is a type of collected work and is practised mostly at the trot and canter. For this reason, it is not really suitable for starting green horses, unlike ground driving.

Driving horses are guided by the driving reins while the driver stays a relatively large distance from the horse. In contrast to long reining, a great deal of time is spent at the walk in ground driving. The horse is tacked up with a driving harness and driving bridle, and the horse is worked on straight lines and simple turns.

In long reining, on the other hand, the horse and rider are close enough to touch. The horse wears a snaffle bridle. The reins are shorter than driving reins. The horse can learn all the movements and arena patterns of Haute Ecole, including lateral movements, flying changes, pirouettes, piaffe, and passage on the long rein.

Differences between Double Lungeing and Long Reining

Long reining also differs from double lungeing, where the horse wears a lungeing surcingle with rings through which the two lunge lines are run. In double lungeing, the trainer is usually in the centre of the circle on which the horse is moving. This circle can be moved up and down the long side of the arena. The horse is worked mostly at the trot and canter, similar to long reining.

The degree of collection, however, is typically lower than in long reining. It is very easy to make a transition from double lungeing to long reining by moving behind the horse and gradually decreasing the distance between you. This is why double lungeing is a very expedient preparation and introduction to long reining.


Advantages, Dangers, Problem Areas

Lippizaner Stallion Maestoso II Shama II in trot (Photo: Shana Ritter)

Some riders will wonder why they should subject themselves to such a physically strenuous activity. For me personally, it was prompted in the beginning by my interest in being able to execute all dressage movements without sitting on the horse. As luck would have it, my teacher at the time was a real expert in this field and helped me get started.

However, there are additional reasons, besides fun and tradition, which make long reining a worthwhile pursuit. I have always found horses enjoy this type of work very much. It creates a closer bond between human and horse, as they work quite literally “side by side”, and the human has to expend at least as much energy as the horse.

The rider can learn a great deal about the technical and biomechanical aspects of horse training, because they can see the horse’s entire body, and especially the legs, at all times. By observing closely where each leg is and what it is doing at any given time, the rider can acquire a feel for the correct timing of the aids, which will be helpful under saddle as well. Because the rider is not sitting on the horse during long reining, they can focus on the rein aids without having to worry about the seat.

Long Reining to Support Work Under Saddle

Long reining is a great diagnostic tool, because the chain of cause and effect plays out directly before the rider’s eyes. When a problem arises under saddle, you can often identify the root cause faster on the long rein. You see the mechanics of the hindquarters right in front of you, and it is impossible to cover up mistakes through weight and leg aids. All problems that occur under saddle will therefore show up even more clearly on the long rein. However, if the horse performs a movement better on the long reins than under saddle, it is often a sign that the rider is interfering with the horse under saddle.

Fresian Stallion Richold in canter. Long reining and the work under saddle complement each other very well. (Photo: Evertz)

The horse will improve under saddle as a direct result of long reining, and vice versa. You can explain some things better by long reining, while others can be dealt with more effectively under saddle. By the same token, the rider improves in the saddle, because they can see on the long rein what they feel in the saddle. When the rider is back in the saddle, they can match the feel in seat, legs, and reins with the visual impression obtained when long reining. In this way, both types of work benefit each other, and the rider develops a more complete and differentiated range of sensitivity.

All mistakes and problems that occur under saddle tend to be seen more clearly when long reining.

Generally speaking, work under saddle and work on the long rein should always complement each other in a meaningful way. It is possible to teach the horse certain movements on the long reins first, without the rider’s weight, before introducing them under saddle, and movements that have already been learned under saddle can be improved on the long reins so that the horse is able to perform them better when ridden. Conversely, certain aspects can be trained more effectively under saddle so the horse performs better on the long reins afterwards.

Long reining is subject to exactly the same rules and follows exactly the same principles as training under saddle. To save space I will therefore limit myself in this book to the explanation of the specific technical aspects of long reining and refer the reader to my first book, “Classical Riding Based on Biomechanics” (Cadmos 2010), for matters related to riding.

The hind legs produce impulses that are transmitted forwards to the bit (blue arrows). The rider’s aids send these impulses into the ground (red arrows).

Connecting the Legs with the Ground

One of the advantages of long reining is the ability to connect the horse’s legs even more effectively with the ground than is possible under saddle. On one hand, the horse’s back is not burdened by the rider’s weight, and on the other hand, the rider is standing on the ground with their own two feet. You can find detailed information about this subject in my book “Classical Riding Based on Biomechanics”. I will therefore give only a brief summary here. The trainer establishes connections between the various body parts of the horse, the aids, and the ground.

A working connection can be recognised by the free, uninhibited flow of energy impulses in all directions, from back to front, from front to back, from left to right, and from right to left. The impulses are created by the hind legs and transmitted forwards to the mouth by the musculature and the vertebrae (see photo on the left). The rider’s aids shape and direct the horse’s kinetic energy. For instance, they can push the horse into the ground like a basketball, by assigning the bulk of the body mass to a supporting leg. The ground bounces the horse upwards like a trampoline. It is indispensable for the expressiveness of the gaits, collection and fluidity that the rider is able to reach the ground with the aids through all of the horse’s legs at any time. A connection cannot be established if a muscle is braced (blockage), or if it lacks tone or if it lacks positive tension (false bend). In the first case the range of motion of the affected joint is limited.

The ground is the rider’s most important training tool, because it anchors the aids and allows the rider to shape the horse, like a sculptor.

The hind legs create energy impulses that are transmitted forwards by the musculature and the vertebrae. The rider’s aids take these impulses and send them through the horse’s individual legs into the ground, which in turn bounces the horse upwards like a trampoline.

In the second case, the joint is unstable and difficult to control. In either case, the aid does not travel through the horse’s body into the ground but gets stuck, so the gait cannot become elastic and springy.

Saskia Everts on the PRE Stallion Mulan in trott. As the trainer is leading the horse on the long rein, the mounted rider can feel the rein aids. (Photo: Mader)

It is, therefore, the rider’s task to track down and correct any braced muscles as well as false bends in order for all theoretically-possible connections to be realised in practice.

Long Reining the Retraining Project

Just like work in hand or double lungeing, long reining can be useful in re-educating poorly trained horses. It is most suitable for forward-going horses who are very stiff. For sucked-back horses it is the wrong tool, because they will suck back even more and may even become dangerous. The trainer can also support the mounted rider very effectively from the ground with long reins in certain situations, especially if a horse does not respect half-halts or does not bend.

Further Advantages and Disadvantages of Long Reining

In lessons, the student can develop a feel for balance and a swinging back when the teacher is guiding the horse using long reins. They can feel the teacher’s rein aids through their own thighs. This is also a very good method for familiarising students with dressage movements and their aids.

Horses who are returning to work after an injury that can only be worked very cautiously also benefit from long reining. Sometimes I say, only half-jokingly, that long reining is a great workout programme for the rider. Those who do it regularly burn plenty of calories and build up stamina.

As a rule, all forms of work should complement each other in a meaningful way.

A disadvantage of long reining is that it is more difficult than under saddle to develop a good lateral bend. Also, because the dismounted rider has certain limitations in terms of speed, there is a risk that the horse begins to suck back and become stiffer. That is why horses should not be long reined exclusively. When a horse is worked under saddle regularly, the lateral bend and the desire to go forward do not get lost, and both methods can complement each other effectively.


for Long Reining

Gelding Furia with Andreas Evertz. This was Furia’s fourth time on long reins, and his first canter!

The Right Time

Given that the bulk of the work on long reins takes place at the collected trot and canter, it should not be started too early. Second Level dressage is a good rule of thumb. Until horses reach US Second Level they cannot collect sufficiently, which the rider has to compensate for by keeping up with the working trot and working canter. With smaller horses this is often possible within certain limits, especially if the rider is tall. However, if the horse is above a certain size, it becomes difficult. Not every rider is in good enough physical shape, or possesses the necessary leg and stride length.

The horse’s ability to collect dictates how much you have to ride forward (under saddle as well as on the long rein), in order to avoid the horse sucking back and bracing. If the rider is unable to keep up with the horse’s minimum speed, they will inevitably hold the horse back with the hands, which will create problems very quickly. In cases like this, one has to develop the horse’s ability to collect under saddle first and postpone long reining temporarily.

The Horse

Many years ago one of my teachers was asked by an observer, after a lesson in long reining, what kind of horse was suitable for this type of work. His answer was: “An honest one”. This is an extremely important point. Horses with a natural tendency to kick should obviously not be long reined. Having said that every horse has a certain natural tolerance limit, and if this limit is exceeded even the most tolerant horse will kick. Some horses’ tolerance is very high, for others it is remarkably low.

The same teacher also told me that if you long rein enough, it is only a matter of time until you make a mistake and the horse kicks out. For this reason, only horses that are unshod behind should be long reined.

When something does go wrong it is best to be either out of reach behind the horse or directly next to the hind legs, so that the kick cannot develop its full force, but merely grazes the rider’s thigh.

All horses kick if their tolerance limit is exceeded.

I must also warn against trying to work an unfamiliar horse on the long rein. It is important to build a relationship of mutual trust before spending time within reach of the hind legs. It is necessary for the rider to know the horse’s reactions, and for the horse to be familiar with the rider’s personality and way of applying the aids, so unwelcome surprises can be avoided.

The horse should be familiar with lungeing, double lungeing and work in-hand before starting with the work on long reins.


As with all advanced training methods, long reining only works with horses that are in front of the leg, or in front of the whip. Sucked-back horses are dangerous. They appear to be lazy and tired, but don’t be fooled. These horses often release their pent-up energy by kicking when you try to drive them forward.

If you notice that the horse is behind the driving aids, change the strategy by bringing him honestly in front of the leg and whip again through other forms of training, in order to minimise the risk of injury, before attempting to long rein again. Lively, forward-thinking horses are therefore better suited for long reining. Horses with long, thin swan necks often tend to curl up, which is why long reining can be problematic for them. This is something that is much more difficult to cure on long reins than under saddle.

Friesian stallion Richold. Every horse can kick out. It is important to always be careful. (Photo: Shana Ritter)

The Horse-Rider Size Ratio

The taller the rider and the shorter the horse, the easier long reining is for the rider. There are natural limits in this respect. The rider has to be able to keep up with the trotting and cantering horse while walking. The shorter the rider’s legs, the more difficult this becomes. The taller the horse, the more the horse must be able to collect, so that the rider does not need to run. Running should be avoided as much as possible, because the rider has no connection with the ground during the suspension phase, which prevents the aids from coming through effectively at that moment. Traditionally, long reining horses tend to be relatively small. I prefer horses between 15hh and 16hh.

The Arena

The standard arena size of 20 m × 40 m, or 20 m × 60 m, is best suited for long reining as well as riding. The footing should be firm, yet elastic and springy. If you are forced to work in deep sand, your toes will slip back an inch or two every time you push off, which makes the work quite taxing. During the early stages a solid kick board is very important, because it is a good visual support for the inexperienced horse, and it helps the inexperienced rider to keep the horse going straight on the first track. Also, the horse cannot run very far if something goes wrong and they get loose.

The Warm-Up

The job of the warm-up phase is to establish a state of mental and physical balance for the horse, so they can focus mentally on the training. The horse is tuned carefully to the aids, just as a musical instrument is tuned before playing. The muscles are warmed-up and stretched, which is best accomplished by bending in motion.

It is important to protect the legs during the warm-up and not to waste energy, because the horse needs strength and freshness for the working phase proper, during which they are expected to learn something new and deliver an athletic performance in accordance with their level of training.

That is impossible with an exhausted horse. In addition, tired muscles can no longer support the skeleton, which means the tendons automatically take over this task. As a consequence, potentially career-ending stress injuries can ensue. At the very least, they will lead to an interruption to training for a period of several months.

Even so, many riders make the mistake of – warming their horses up – for far too long. When they are finally ready to begin the real work phase, their horses are sweaty, tired and stiff, and productive training is impossible. Chasing a stiff, unbalanced horse at the trot and canter is the fastest road to permanent lameness.

On the other hand, neither should the horse be bursting at the seams with excess energy, because they are likely to start bucking and kicking up their heels for the sheer joy of living, thereby posing a life-threatening hazard for the person at the end of the long reins.