Fundamental Fridays: When Leading Becomes a Drag -Tips to Tune up your Leading Skills

Updated: Jul 18, 2019

We’ve all been there, maybe more than once. You have a destination in mind. The goal is to lead your horse to that destination without getting a foot stepped on, break a toe, or to be drug at the end of the lead rope. However you know that along way there are going to be some obstacles that could lead to any of the these situations occurring. Here are a few tips to keep you and your toes safe while leading your horse.

1.Positioning: There are 2 positions to choose from while leading your horse. Leading in the front and leading from the side. From both positions you should be able to keep a loose rope between you and your horse.

A) I use the leading in front position in less formal situations, when I am first teaching a horse to lead, if I happen to have my hands full, or if for some reason there is not room for me and my horse to walk side by side. There should be about 2 feet between your horses nose and your back. If your horse is giving you flat tires while you walk he is too close.

B) I lead from the side in formal situations (like horse shows/competitions), or in situations where I need more control. Leading from the side, your body should always stay in horse's neck space. If your horse's shoulder is at or past your shoulder he is being pushy, if your horses nose is at your shoulder he needs a little more pep in his step.

2. Forward motion: The horse should take a step when you take a step. Forward motion is not created by pulling on the lead rope and halter. Generally speaking pull = pull. You can pull on a horse all day long and they will just pull in return. If your horse doesn’t step when you step try these exercises;

A) From the leading in front position- Take a few steps to one side, either left or right, to encourage the horse to move its front feet. Its ok to bump the halter or create some pressure on the halter when you move to the side. I haven’t met a horse yet that will refuse to attempt a step to the side. It may take a few times of taking zig-zagging steps from side to side before you can actually get a “forward” step. If this is the case make sure that you reward your horse for taking that forward step by stopping and giving them a little break and a scratch in their favorite spot.

B) leading from the side- The hand closest to the horse should be holding the lead rope while the hand on the outside is holding either the tail of the lead rope or a whip. Take the whip in your outside hand lift it and wave it at the hind quarters. If there is no reaction after a couple of seconds then tap the hind quarters with the whip. The horse may move to the side...don't panic. That's OK the first couple of times, just walk forward once they step. Eventually they will pick up that the whip is for forward movement.

3. Stopping: Your horses feet should stop when your feet stop. Not when you pull on the halter, flail your arms in an attempt to get them out of your space, or after they have stepped on your foot. To tune your horse into your movements here is an exercise you can try.

A) Lead your horse. Looking straight forward stop your feet. When your horse takes a step after your feet stop bump the halter, moving your halter hand straight down for a bump, until your horse stops and then take 3 motivated steps back. Settle for a few seconds and try again. Eventually your horse will start watching your feet. I use this exercise EVERY time I'm leading a horse and they don't stop when my feet stop.

4. Mindset: I have this tip last because studies show people remember the first and last things they read and hear the most, definitely not because this is the least important. Having the correct mindset to deliver the right cues at the right time is crucial. Horses are large animals that will take a beating from other horses to establish pecking orders in the herd. As the handler you need to be prepared to establish personal space boundaries and enforce those boundaries as if you were the size of a horse. To safely lead your horse, he needs to be more wary and aware of you and your position than anything else in that environment. Time and time again when I am giving lessons I see people make an attempt to establish boundaries with their horse that is nothing more than a “whisper” in horse language. Horses are very sensitive creatures I'll give you that. But if a horse comes into your space uninvited that is a huge deal that needs to be addressed with the same intensity as the size of the transgression, which is huge. This means the first time you correct it, you body language and aids should be “yelling” at your horse. You may get a huge be prepared. You can soften your language once the horse knows that he made a big mistake. You shouldn’t have to use body language that is “yelling” at your horse every time. One more bit on this mindset portion. Every horse processes intensity of body language differently. For example “yelling” at Sunny is simply raising a hand, while “yelling” at Chardy is using a whip or a rope and all my energy and my whole body….know your horse and communicate accordingly.

Your choice in equipment will make a big difference in your ability to communicate with your horse and the response of your horse. I have included a link for the type of halter I use to train and tune up my horses. I highly recommend the use of rope halters during the training/tuning process.

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