I am a bit torn about whether or not to ruthlessly mock longe lessons.
(just one sec... pffff - pffffff- that is the sound of me blowing the dust off of my copy of "The complete training of horse and rider" by Alois Podhajsky in preparation for this discussion. Do you mind if I call him Al? Now where was I ...)
On one hand - I do see the value. Everyone who calls themselves a rider should be able to, in the words of Al, "control his seat in all movements without ever holding the saddle". Can't really argue with that one. "Control the firmness of their seat in all transitions", oh yesss. And "maintain an upright posture" while "learning the correct positions". Oooh baby, I am feelin' the shwung.
But if you are anything like me, you are probably a middle aged woman, not a pubescent Viennese boy growing up in 1965 with an intense desire to join the Spanish Riding School. Spending six months grinding your scrotum into a saddle while circling on the longe is not totally necessary for you. First, you don't have a scrotum. Second, it (no not the scrotum... keep up. The longe lesson) is not really needed to meet your ultimate goal: finding yourself sitting under a tarp in the pouring rain at Palgrave one day, crying softly into a bottle of red, wondering why on earth you just spent $2000 to stop by a dressage ring for a total of 15 minutes over 3 days to get the opinion of a wizened biddy who rode a horse back in 1911 or so. While decorating your new $300 white pants with indelible clay splashes. And busily digging trenches during a downpour to keep your horse from floating out of the ghetto land tent stable on a bale of $10 pine shavings. For this, it is probably not a dealbreaker if you decide to learn to ride by actually riding.
Riding without stirrups all by your lonesome, for a few minutes during each ride will also allow you to lengthen your leg, deepen your seat, etc. and as an added bonus, you also get to learn how to steer at the same time. It is like multi-tasking. Or - now I know this sounds crazy - but what you could also try is doing all of that with stirrups, to make it really tricky (since it is actually so much easier to have a deep seat without them). Oh wait.. then you would just be riding. That hardly seems as unique or discussion worthy as "ohhh, I am taking a longe lesson at the Pine Moulin Academy".
That said, I totally would not be opposed to a tune up on the longe every once in a while if an instructor suggested it. And, riding around on the longe line with no stirrups and your arms waving in the air may not be all that critical in everyday practice but it does seem cool. It is one of those useless things that you should be able to do just for the hell of it if the mood strikes you. Like being able to tie the stem of a maraschino cherry in a knot using only your tongue.
According to my buddy Al, The final stages of gymnastics on the longe should include vaulting. Suggested maneuvers include "swinging the legs forward until they meet over the horse's neck". Note that it is suggested that during the exercise one "take care not to touch the horse's head and frighten him"
Huh - kicking horse in head = bad idea. Thanks Al!
So - now you know how I feel today. Back in 2004 or whatever it was, I was way more keyed up for "the longe lesson". I was going to be a dressage goddess after "the longe lesson". I drove across Toronto at 5:00 in the afternoon for "the longe lesson". And I still laugh about it today. So really - maybe it was good value for the dollar, in retrospect.