In the September 2004 Western Horseman print feature "Defensive Care," Indiana equine practitioner Timothy Bartlett, D.V.M., offers advice on preventing lower-leg injuries in performance horses. Two of his tips are to properly condition and warm up your horse.
Longeing is a common technique used to work the fresh off horses and to get horses in shape. What you might not realize, however, is that out-of-control longeing - whether the horse is on or off a line - can cause body misalignments, such as canted shoulders and hips, which strains leg tissues and puts a horse at risk for losing his balance and injuring himself.
In this online bonus, Bartlett explains how to bit up your horse and work him in a controlled manner from the ground. His technique also enhances your handle on a horse when you're ready to ride.
Saddle your horse and bridle him with snaffle bit. Place a rein on each bit ring and tie the reins to the saddle horn at a point they make light contact with your horse's mouth. This encourages him to flex at the poll, round his back and drive off his hindquarters for collected movement.
Next, run a 30-foot lariat through the left bit ring, over your horse's poll and down through the right bit ring, and snap it to itself, as shown in Photos 1 and 2. This configuration enhances your control, plus helps keep your horse balanced as he moves, thereby reducing strains and injury.
Longe your horse in a safe enclosure, such as a corral or round pen, beginning at a walk and working up to a jog and lope as you and your horse are comfortable and he abides by your cues. (For longeing instructions, see "Learning to Longe," August 2002 WH.) Slightly tip his nose to the inside of the circle with rope pressure so that he keeps his shoulders elevated and his body arced, thus moves in a balanced manner, as shown in Photo 2. If your horse becomes out of control as you increase the speed, bring him back to a walk with line pressure, your voice and body language. Work him at a walk until he's calm and attentive to your cues.