Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Richard Malmgren Long Lining Clinic

Photo by Sophie Ghedin
I had the opportunity to audit a clinic with Richard Malmgren recently.  A native of Sweden, Richard came to the US to become a working student for Scott Hassler and Hilltop Farm.  He eventually became a fulltime employee for Hassler Dressage and played an integral role in building the training and education center at Riveredge, in Chesapeake City, Maryland. In 2013, he formed his own business focusing on his long lining skills.  He splits his time between Delaware and Wellington, Florida.

For this particular clinic, each horse was slotted for a 45 minute long lining work session where Richard worked the horse with some commentary for the owner and auditors so we understood the goals he had for the horse and how the horse was doing.  I watched him work two horses, both with different “issues”.

As he began the work, it was obvious the mare he was working wanted to come into the circle.  As Richard said, “she wants to put her inside shoulder in my lap.”  He quickly moved into the canter as the “canter has tension and tightness so you can use it to fix the straightness and then reinforce in a slower gait.”    He also said he sometimes uses the wall as its easier for the horse to find straightness along the wall.

The owner of the mare reinforced the thought by letting me know that, when “you get on the next day <after he works the mare> its so nice and straight and even in both reins.”

Richard said the goals of long lining are simple and in this order – Straightness, thoroughness/connection, and stretch.  “Long lining is about the basics – not the tricks.   When I work the upper level horses, sometimes the owners think we are going to be doing piaffe but I don’t want them to piaffe because that is their evasion and they are not relaxed when they are doing it.  You can only build muscles once the horse is relaxed.  The recycle of energy happens when you have them relaxed, supple and through.”

“Its like going to the gym and doing so many push ups or sit ups.  I am the coach making sure she doesn’t cheat and encouraging her to do just a little more – ‘No, you didn’t do that chin up all the way – keep going.’”

One goal that seemed to be common with both horses was that Richard wanted the horses to learn that evading or resisting just meant that they needed to work harder because he expected them to ‘carry their own weight’.   He didn’t punish them for spooking or speeding up or really anything they did.  Instead, the horse learned that misbehaving just meant more work and so eventually they settled into their work.  

We discussed when to quit or give breaks and when to be satisfied.   “Knowing when to quit is an art.  Sometimes you don’t go long enough and sometimes you go too long.   For example,   I was about to be satisfied and quit but then she just gave me this big release and relaxed so we kept going for a little longer.  The key is knowing when to stop and give them a break where they don’t need to work.”  He proved his point but shortly after stopping the work and letting the mare amble around for a bit.

That doesn’t mean you are looking for perfection though.  “I want her to stretch a little more – yes!  But we will get there and I am very happy with this.  That is the perfectionist, the ideal.  But this is a huge improvement with more swing in the back so its good enough for now.”

The next horse was much more forward and his evasion was to go forward, buck and go faster.   Richard said the best approach was to ignore the bad behavior and keep with the program and eventually he would come back to him.   “Patience, consistency, persistence.  Keep your cool.  Don’t let him take advantage but if he wants to evade with a bit of exuberance, he will realize he needs to carry himself there and its more work that way.”

Because he was looking for forward energy, a faster gait is okay.  “If he chooses to go up to canter that is okay because I want forward energy.  If he chooses to go down to trot, its my job to push him forward.”

Photo by Sophie Ghedin
Richard pointed out that when he is long lining, he is not on a circle but its more of a diamond shape.  He walks along with the horse’s movement and the diamond shape occurs because he is looking for straightness which is easier to obtain in a diamond or octagon than in a circle.

Once the horse settled into his work, Richard offered the horse the chance to stretch and relax but when he did the transition was not obedient so he started again briefly and once he was working well again, offered the reward of a break again.

I wondered why long lining is so effective – why can’t riding achieve the same goals?   Richard pointed out that, “when spooks happen in the saddle, there is the richochet effect and seat bones, hands or whatever.  But on a long line that does not exist so they have to carry themselves so the horse obtains understanding quicker.”

Ambidexterity is also important.   Most horses are weaker to the right but Richard always starts the horses to the left since that’s the most common way of handling a horse.  Once he knows the horse and if he/she has difficulties to their right he might try to start going that way first to see if the fresh energy of the horse can be used to work the more difficult direction. 

Towards the end of the clinic, Richard summed up one of his end goals – to make the horse feel like a success.  “My job is to set him up for success.  If he can’t hold the canter for long then its my job to get just a few steps of quality canter and then move him back down to trot so he understands and feels good about what he did.   If I get a horse that is scared and worked up by the long lining that never settles down and his nostrils are flaring and breathing heavy when the session is over, I would suggest trying one more time another day and if the result is the same the next time then long lining might not be a tool for that horse.”   Richard quickly added though, “SO far I haven’t had a horse that didn’t end up having a relaxed content look in his eyes and feeling fully proud of himself.“