EC May/June, 2006
The Yearling Longe Line class continues to increase in popularity. In this two part series, we will examine this class, a popular venue for showcasing yearling pleasure prospects that has been adopted by many breeds and all levels of exhibitors. You now see longe line classes at small open and 4-H shows, AQHA, APHA, ApHC, PHBA and other breed and World Shows, as well as numerous futurities.
It has opened up doors for a lot of people who haven’t had the opportunity to show; people, who by preference or physical limitations did not or could not ride, could now show a colt in the longe line class. Amateurs and ‘backyard’ breeders could work with and train a colt to show in this class, often without professional assistance, adding to its popularity. This class has given breeders and trainers alike an opportunity to show and market their pleasure prospects, getting colts in front of more people to promote the sires or to sell the colts. The industry has watched as the number of horses being shown in this class increases annually, competing for dollars during their yearling year when in the past non-halter horses sat home. It also gives a competitive advantage as the youngster who has been shown as a yearling is more relaxed and used to the sights and sounds of a show ring atmosphere before they have to experience it with a saddle and rider on their back.
For many years, the common progression for a pleasure horse prospect was to perhaps be shown in the weanling halter futurities, sit out a year if they weren’t halter horse material, and then come back as two-and three year-olds for the pleasure futurities.
Around 20 years ago, some of the breeders and trainers were discussing ways to showcase their yearling prospects, particularly since it was difficult to get them in front of large audiences. The best way to demonstrate the capabilities and promise of a young colt to a prospective buyer is to longe him, so the concept of the longe line class as a show event for yearlings was born.
In this class you are observing raw talent, the end result of selective breeding and the true natural ability of a horse being shown with no rider.
The purpose of the class is to demonstrate the best movers in a show ring environment, scoring traits defined in most rule books as:
• Conformation suitable and conducive to future
• Quality of movement
The Yearling Longe Line class made its debut in 1990 at the Tom Powers Futurity in Michigan. Jim Dudley who, with his partner Missy Hood, owns a breeding and training facility in Columbia, Missouri, was involved with the class from the start. “At that time, there was not an exact set of rules or guidelines as to how the class was to be conducted or scored,” recalls Jim. “I remember some of the early shows, where they had the judge in the very center of the ring, trying to score a performance with the longe line passing over their head. Most of the time was spent on scoring the motion of the jog and lope, with the walk mainly being a pass/fail gait. There is a lot more emphasis now on attitude and manners, too.” Jim has been an AQHA judge for nearly 25 years, an APHA judge for 27 years, is carded with the NRHA, and is an NSBA judging committee member. “There were really no set guidelines; it was just a matter of preference of whoever was judging.” He recalls that, at first, conformation was not a big part of the scoring and, in fact, until recently was judged separately at the end of the class when the participants were brought back in and judged like a halter class.
Over the years, the NSBA judges committee defined and refined the scoring, and recently released the new guidelines and score sheet, which has been adopted by nearly all the breeds. A major change includes the conformation judging at the time each individual colt is worked, and not at the end of the class in a group.
In the class, a yearling must be shown both ways of the circle, demonstrating all three gaits – walk, trot or jog, and canter or lope – including a reverse, which is commonly done at a walk. The circle is no larger than 30 foot in diameter, and the handler is allowed to use voice cues and/or use a whip for cueing, which may not touch the colt at any time.
A western pleasure prospect is shown in a regular halter, either a silver show halter or a plain leather halter, with a longe line attached at the ring underneath the chin. You commonly see either leather show longe lines or parachute cord lines with horsehair tassels; either is acceptable, but if a chain is on the line, it must hang from the halter ring or be doubled through the ring and snapped, it may not cross over or under the colt’s nose. Hunt seat prospects are commonly shown in a plain leather halter and leather longe line, and usually with a braided mane.
Judging the Longe Line Class: What is a judge looking for in scoring this class? Of course, there are the guidelines in the rulebooks that state the standards and procedures for the class, as well as descriptions of what constitutes a good mover, but being a judged event, there are preferences from judge to judge as to what they are looking for.
Sherry Haynes is an NSBA judge, holds cards in several other breed organizations including APHA and ApHC, and stands several pleasure-bred stallions at her Joshua, Texas facility. Sherry judges many shows a year, and is also an exhibitor in the longe line class, often promoting the offspring of her studs. In describing what she is looking for when assessing a yearling longe liner, Sherry says she utilizes the NSBA scorecard ‘average’ as the beginning point, and moves a horse up or down the scale from there. “I don’t compare the colts to each other – I compare them to an ideal,” she says. “On each individual score – conformation, walk, jog, use of circle, etc. – I determine if that colt is better or worse than the average prospect and score him from there.”
Jim Dudley uses the same approach, judging the colts against an ideal instead of each other. “It’s similar to what is done with reining horses,” says Jim. “For example, if on a scale of 1-10, with 5 being average, and 10 is an outstanding performance, I will give the horse a 5 going in then move them up or down the scale from there to determine my final scoring.”
Sherry Haynes adds, “You can only judge what the colt shows you during that particular performance. For example, during their yearling year, colts are physically changing and may go through a growth spurt where he is off balance, his hips higher than his withers for awhile. You try to give them a little leeway, being babies, but you have to judge them based on how they are performing or moving that day.” Particularly with the hunt seat prospects, Sherry observes that they often are growing faster than they can learn to use their legs, which means a colt’s performance can be inconsistent.
From a judge’s standpoint, they look at the three major components of the scoring – conformation, quality of movement, and attitude/manners.
Conformation: Jim Dudley notes that more emphasis is being put on the conformation of the colts, based on an ideal instead of against each other. Jim says, “When I think of standards, conformation first comes to mind – pure conformation – not the tallest or the fattest but the best structurally. How does the wither tie into the back, the back into the loin, and then the croup, neck into the shoulder, the slope of the shoulder?”
Sometimes the best movers are not the best looking horses, which is why conformation is so important. You are striving to get the total horse that best meets the ideal, in conformation and in movement. It always boils down to form to function. Jim relates a story that backs this up. “A few years back I attended a horse race at the Saratoga track in New York. There was a card of 9 fillies in the 2 year-old race, and 4 of those fillies displayed excellent conformation.” He adds, “In fact, one filly could stand Grand at any Quarter Horse show, and the other 3 were pretty well put together. When the race was over, the super nice filly had come in second, and another one of the best conformed fillies won it.” Later, when he was discussing the participants with trainer D. Wayne Lukas, Lukas told him that when he is looking at unproven prospects, he goes by conformation as well as by pedigree – it all comes back to form to function. If they are structurally correct, chances are they will perform properly.
Sherry Haynes says she looks for balance as well, not an overly muscled colt but one that is structurally sound. “Now, since the rules have been changed so we are judging the conformation first, the horse is shown at a trot and a turn on the lead shank. It’s important to evaluate soundness, and a problem will often show up in the turn. This can weed out the unsound colt from the start.”
Movement: Then, when reviewing movement, Jim asks, “Is it a two-beat trot and a three-beat lope? Does the colt have speed and forward movement? There seems to be more emphasis now on the lope than the trot, and rightly so. With the exception of a few classes like pleasure driving and trail, the lope is the most important gait for a performance horse, whether running after a steer in the roping or penning arena, or loping through a western riding or reining pattern, or in a western pleasure class.”
Sherry adds, “When presenting the colt, it’s not the slowest horse, it’s the cadence for that horse, based on his size, structure and what is natural and comfortable for him. I look for a flat-kneed, deep-hocked mover with good rhythm, not choppy.”
Most judges agree that at this stage of the training, they are not real concerned with the colt’s headset. Sherry explains, “I don’t want to see one with their head way up in the air and their back hollowed, but they are still babies and I don’t mind them carrying their head inconsistently as long as I can see that they have the conformation to carry their head correctly.”
Jim adds, “When you’re talking about a yearling going around the longe circle, keep in mind that you don’t have the cues and aids that you will have once you start riding him, to control his frame, speed, etc. Since you aren’t on their back and only have a longe line, your voice and a whip to cue with, you don’t have the ability to use your weight and legs and hands to control and frame him up – the colt should not be expected to be framed as he would further along in training and with a rider on his back.”
A smooth transition between gaits, the smoothest overall performance, and the horse that is shown to the best of its ability is what the judges look for when assessing the movement of a colt. Although all horses have 90 seconds to perform all 3 gaits both ways of the ring, the order of the gaits is not important. The exhibitor should be aware of the colt’s strong and weak points and should demonstrate that the colt is broke, but he’s still a prospect at this stage, not a finished riding horse.
Unfortunately, in the horse world as everywhere else, a good thing is often taken to the extreme. If low is good, then lower is better. If slow is good, then slower is better. If tall is good, then taller is better. But all extremes are too intense for some of the colts at this stage of their development.
Attitude and Manners: As far as attitude and manners, Jim doesn’t like to see a colt that has been overbroke or overdrilled. “It tells on them in the pen, with their sour attitude and pinned ears, usually seen as the result of too much drilling. I like a colt to move quiet as they go around the ring but you shouldn’t penalize them for being a youngster. At this stage of their development, we should be accentuating the positive and not the negative. Some judges will kill a colt on scoring if he makes a little bobble, even if he was otherwise the best mover. That’s not the purpose of the class. In my mind, I like to look at it this way – a year from now, which of these colts is the ones I would like to put a saddle on?”
“A horse may be the best mover, but if he has a bad attitude that is an indication he may not be trainable and is not going to make a good performance horse. I would not knock him off for just acting like a colt, but I don’t like to see unnecessary bucking, running off, ear pinning and tail switching,” Sherry Haynes adds, “You can’t judge how a colt moves if he’s constantly being bad.”
Some colts become extremely agitated and attempt to run off, or rear up and fall. This is a disqualification.
Observations of Common Mistakes: Often, the judges see a nicely formed colt that has nice movement, but the exhibitor is costing the colt a placing or even the class due to presentation errors, some relatively minor as well as some major mistakes.
Use of the circle: Judges like to see the exhibitor use the entire diameter of the circle to their best advantage when showing the colt. Sherry Haynes observes, “You get a score on your use of the circle. I like to see the colt out on the perimeter of the circle. The tighter the circle, the shorter the movement of the colt, if you keep him too tight, it messes up his movement and that really shows up at the canter.”
Also, by staying at the outer end of the circle, the colt’s head tends to be more relaxed. If you try to keep the colt closer to you in a tight circle, you tend to pull the nose in, which throws the outside shoulder, often causing the colt to pick up the wrong lead.
Sherry also likes to see the exhibitor stay in the ‘center of the wheel spoke’ when showing the colt, and not have the colt dragging the handler all over the arena. “I don’t like it when the exhibitor starts the colt at one side of the arena and by the end of their 90 seconds they are on the other side of the arena.”
Correct reversals: Sometimes you will see a colt have a nice go in their circle, only to get all flustered or tangled up on the reverse. You should teach the colt to reverse on the end of the line, quietly, at a comfortable pace (usually done at the walk). If he comes in too close, he may step over the longe line. This is a cause for disqualification, and in some cases, the horse has even gotten loose.
Presentation: An exhibitor is allowed to carry a whip to cue the colt, but is prohibited from touching the horse with the whip. However, some exhibitors tend to get carried away with snapping or popping the whip, which not only can upset the colt but also can distract from the overall performance.
Excessive verbal commands and voice cueing can also be distracting. It could be a nervous habit of the exhibitor, or it could be an indication that the horse hasn’t learned his homework.
Sherry Haynes says when a Hunt Seat longe line prospect is shown to her, she likes to see them braided and presented like a future Hunter Under Saddle horse, and prefers that the exhibitor dress in hunt attire. “I like to see a nice sweeping trot, one that looks like the colt is floating, slow-legged but covering lots of ground. You’re presenting a hunt seat prospect, not a western pleasure prospect.”
Next up: In the next issue, we will discuss training techniques and how some of the top exhibitors and trainers prepare their colts to perform in the Yearling Longe Line class.