Teaching Your Horse to Lead
July 10, 2014
Written by: Keith Hosman
Written by: Keith Hosman
Training your horse to lead -- given time and controlled circumstances -- is not difficult, not at all. Any problems occur when we neglect to teach proper ground manners and suddenly we're called to move the horse from A to B. Like when the veterinarian arrives to give shots and his truck is parked nowhere near your horse. You go halter your horse, but it balks and refuses to budge -- and you remember that this is Wednesday and you'd planned to teach leading on Thursday. (In such dire cases, see the following chapter.) Don't put yourself in that position by procrastinating. Here's how to get your horse trained today.
A horse that leads well also respects your position as leader; you'll find positive effects not only on the ground -- but in the saddle as well.
Caution: If you're working with a baby, know that their necks (and legs and brains) do not mature for a few years to come. Don't ever, ever jerk or pull on a baby's neck in any direction whatsoever. You can do permanent damage -- or even kill the horse. This means that you do not tie the baby that hasn't been specifically taught to tie -- and it certainly means that you watch your temper and avoid any impulse to force the youngster should it balk
Outfit your horse in a halter and lead line and begin your training either in a round pen or alongside a fence. Position your horse parallel to the fence and turn to face it. Stand at the horse's mid-section, his head to your left. Take the lead near the clip in your left hand. Raise the end of the line in your right hand and concentrate on the horse's left hip. Stare at that hip, willing it to take a step forward. Later, your body language will be enough to cause the horse to move forward -- but of course, now he'll just stand there. Twirl the lead in your right hand and toward his hip, suggesting "move forward." If he stands there, tap him on the hind end with it, causing him to move forward. After a stride or two, apply light pressure to the lead line, asking him to stop, signaling to him that "forward" is all you were looking for. Pet him a moment and relax. Repeat the process until the horse will move forward anytime you fix your gaze and raise your right arm.
When the horse will willingly walk off at your cue, it's a simple thing to ask him to move and for you to move with him, side stepping, but gradually turning your own body to walk abreast. The first few times he stops, turn and face him, cuing him as you have. After a few moments, begin carrying the lead in both hands, with the coiled end in your left hand. If the horse stops walking, keep facing forward but bring your left arm back and pitch the end of the lead line toward his hip. Don't, at any point, try to drag your horse forward with the lead; the hips are the driving force and they are always what you want to turn to when asking for forward movement.
When your horse will walk smoothly alongside you, find an opportunity to walk just a bit faster and then turn toward his shoulder, walking toward his head and neck, in effect cutting him off and asking him to turn toward the fence. If he balks, wave your hands, adamant that he move away. (If this horse has been trained in the round pen, he's familiar with an outside turn -- and that's all this really is, an up-close outside turn.) Use your body language to guide him around 180 degrees, to the fence and back in the opposite direction. You might find that he gets the idea faster if at first you don't ask for a full turn, but instead ask for him to take a step toward the fence before returning to the initial, forward, path (as if changing your mind about turning). Practice these outside turns until they're smooth and effortless.
Next, practice walking the fence line as previously practiced -- but pick up your pace and ask the horse to begin trotting. Work to get your horse to the point where he'll immediately pick up the pace or slow down to match your strides. Anytime he moves beyond you, (which is likely if he becomes excited), turn to the inside, circle back to the fence and try again. Note that he will learn much faster if you have fun with this and practice many stops, starts and changes of speed. (You'll soon find that when you simply lean forward, the horse will as well.)
Tip: Teach almost anything to your horse with the "Clock Work Exercise." That's a chapter in the basic training book "What I'd Teach Your Horse" - and you can hear the whole section right now for FREE on audio when you click here.
Get your horse to stop now, not later. If it takes 2 seconds to go from a walk to a stop - multiply that by 8 when he's excited. Click here to read the "Hip-Shoulder-Shoulder" 3-part series of article - and get that stop the easy way!
Wanna teach your horse to drop its head and stay relaxed? When you're finished with this article, click here to read about the "Classic Serpentine."