09/03/2004 12:00AM

Old-school way of breaking still a good one

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The Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association estimates that 10,000 yearlings in central Florida will soon begin preparation for the 2-year-old sales or the races. Few will be broken and schooled using the method known as long reining.

The long-rein method of basic training schools the young, raw Thoroughbred to become totally responsive to the commands of the trainer.

"Long reining is not the same as longing," said horseman Tony Barnard. He explains that longing is tying a long rope to the bridle and prompting a horse to move in a circle. Long reining employs specially tailored ropes or custom-made leather reins and attaching these reins to the horse's bit. The reins are then run through the surcingle - a band that encircles the body of a horse and binds the saddle to the horse's back - with the outside rein draped over the horse's hocks. The reins lead to the ring master, who guides the horse from a selected distance and uses a buggy whip to enforce discipline. A similar procedure is employed in the schooling of the stylish Royal Lipizzaners in Austria.

"It's a lost art," said Barnard.

Barnard has had a role in preparing more Eclipse champions and Grade 1 stakes winners for the races than any other Florida-based Thoroughbred headmaster. During his tenure at Tartan Farms, Barnard schooled Smile, Eillo, Codex, Dr. Patches, Fappiano, Cozzene, and countless additional graded stakes winners. He was also school master for Eclipse champion Unbridled, as well as Saint Ballado and Cahill Road.

"I am from South Africa and learned my profession there," said Barnard.

After a successful career at levels of horsemanship ranging from training and riding hunters to racing donkeys, Barnard earned a notation in the South African Thoroughbred record book when he conditioned the English import Grand Rapids to win 10 straight stakes.

Relocating to America in 1964, Barnard met Tartan Farms general manager John Hartigan, who sold him on coming to Florida to develop young racehorses for Tartan Farms and its clientele. Barnard retained his position as the Tartan Farms trainer until that elite organization liquidated in 1987.

The result of getting a basic education via the long reins is a horse who is ready to step up to the next level. "After 10 days to two weeks, the horse will respond to forward, backward, trot, you name it," Barnard said. "Then he is ready for a rider and the next level of education and conditioning."

Dennis Elliott, father of jockey Stewart Elliott, the rider of Smarty Jones, learned his basic horsemanship in England. He, too, is a long-rein advocate.

"They still break and school horses this way in Europe," said Elliott. "Myself, I fashioned my own long reins out of a cotton twill rope. Have the same ones for years."

Elliott differs from Barnard in that he prefers to keep them on the long-rein program for a minimum of 30 days.

"I think it takes that long to complete the discipline and to build confidence in the horse," he said. "And you know, babies who have had a month on the long reins do not, in my experience anyway, have anywhere near the buck shins problems that others have. You don't ruin their mouths, either."

Elliott learned his fundamentals from Tom Masson, a veteran English horseman. Masson operated a training center near Brighton on the downs of Suffolk.

"Old Masson operated a sort of mental asylum for outlaw rogue horses," Elliott said. "Back in the 60's when I first got started, the Queen sent Masson 14 maidens who were giving her trainer fits. Masson schooled every one of them on the long reins, got their heads on right, and all but two, I think, broke their maidens that year."

Leo Azpurua, the Ocala-based horseman with a reputation for being a successful developer of young racehorses, was asked about the employment of long reins in schooling yearlings. "Sure," he said, "I think they are very effective. But try to find someone in Ocala who knows how to do it. These are skills learned mostly in Europe. It's very hard to find these kinds of horsemen in Florida."

George Isaacs of Bridlewood Farm, where Smarty Jones got his basic training, is not a long-rein advocate. "We break and train the conventional way," he said. "Patience and fundamentals are what we teach."