Let's look at long lining in a little more detail. Why long line? In addition to exercising and evaluating horses, I use long lining to teach or improve the following (in order of complexity): 1) stopping, 2) lateral bending, 3) guiding, 4) collection, and 5) elevation. Both steps one and two, stopping and bending, should be taught to colts on the lunge line and later reinforced in long lines. Steps three through five, guiding, collection and elevation, require better communication (equipment) than the single lunge line.
The basic equipment for long lining includes: 1) horse, 2) trainer (you), 3) bridle, 4) surcingle, 5) drop lash whip, and of course 6) long lines! Protective boots can be a good idea, and, if you really like dressing up your horse, you can include developers, chains, color-coordinated blinker hood, neck sweat, worksheet, etc! Long lining communication between horse and trainer (again, you) relies on the bit and the lines. Okay, for the purists, we'll also add voice, body language, and whip for the trainer, and ears, tail, and back feet for the horse.
"A bit is only as severe as the hands holding it" is a great saying, but what's just as important is the realization that if the horse doesn't understand the basics, let's say the "whoa" of a smooth snaffle, you don't skip ahead to using a more severe bit thinking he'll catch up. Sometimes a bridling or long lining problem can be traced back to and identified on the lunge line. Is the horse under control? Bending? Paying attention? If he isn't, he isn't ready to line. If you got your new horse home, only to find the two of you are constantly arguing, it may be that somewhere in his training he didn't understand or someone skipped a step. I can't tell you how many owners I've initially disappointed, when they called me eager to know how I was getting along with the show horse they sent me, only to have me respond, "I'm lunging him." Even if it means backtracking, you'll save yourself time and your horse aggravation if you make sure he understands each step. For older, poorly trained, or just mentally challenged horses, it may take a couple of days to catch them up to speed.
Back to bits, I prefer starting horses with a loose-jointed, full cheek smooth snaffle. That's a mild bit that won't pull through the mouth. Advanced hands and horses may move on to twisted wires and, for the very skilled, mule bits or curbs. I have rarely seen professionals lining horses with curb bits. That said, one of my favorite advanced bits is a horse Liverpool. The Liverpool is a three-in-one bit for me. It works like a straight bar snaffle ( I wrap it in latex), or it has two separate rein slots for mild to moderate curb action.
The use of a caveson can add to the severity of any bit, as it lessens the horse's ability to escape from the pressure. When needed, a properly used tongue-tie can assure a playful tongue cannot slip over the bit and possibly safely avoid a dangerous situation. Some horses can react uncontrollably if the bit contacts the sensitive bars of the mouth. The tongue-tie can also avoid having that occasional horse "choke down" from a tongue-blocked airway. Another good thing about long lining is it allows you to identify these needs from a safe distance.
Since I'm talking about the bit/bridle combination, I'm going to jump ahead (I know it's skipping, but I will go back!) to 5) elevation. For this, the two basic bridle options are side check or over check; neither should be used before steps 1-4 are understood.
Now for the lines! Long lines can be bought, made of rope, or two lunge lines. Most people use one of the following four ways of attaching the lines – open, straight, open draw, and full or closed draw.
The open line is the first I use on colts; progressively, it's the next step from lunging and can be considered lunging on the bit. A surcingle is not needed. The near line goes directly from hand to bit. The far or offside line does the same, but over the horse's neck. It's possible to introduce stopping, turning and guiding with this line option.
The straight line goes from hand through surcingle ring to bit. As give-and-take is direct and immediate, it's great for guiding. When using the top surcingle rings, this line most closely resembles riding rein directions.
The open draw has the line going from hand through the bit and back to the surcingle. Hand commands are not as quick as with the straight line, and there is never a total release of contact. This is not as powerful as the full draw, but can be useful for horses that need the reminder of constant contact. When connected to a lower surcingle ring, this configuration reminds go-forward horses to stay back, and it's also one of the better options to teach collection while bending and turning.
The closed or full draw gives the most control. This line goes from hand through the top surcingle ring, through the bit and back to the surcingle. The choice of which rings to use varies with the individual. The full draw never completely releases pressure on the bit. Basically, it pulls and holds. I was amused when asking a fellow professional trainer why he always used a full draw as opposed to a straight or open draw on all of his horses? His honest response was, "I don't want to work that hard!" Fortunately he had the skill to get away with it. Because of its restraining qualities, this line can sometimes fool people into believing the horse has learned extreme collection. Too bad the horse isn't always fooled.
This has been a rather simplistic overview of an extremely complex training practice. One way to check both your and your horse's lining skills is to set up some empty plastic garbage cans or safety cones and see how easily you can maneuver your horse around and through them. If it's a problem, it may be time to take a step back. As a side note, even if you have no intention of showing your horse, visiting the show grounds can provide a wealth of training information. Arriving early or staying late will almost guarantee the opportunity to watch both AOTs and professionals working horses. Because of time constraints, this may or may not be the place to have questions answered, other than "can I call for an appointment to visit your barn sometime?" Speaking for my fellow professionals, with advanced planning we would welcome both you and your questions.