Last month I gave a few pointers on how to touch and catch your weanling or yearling. Now that he is caught, he needs to learn to lead.
There are a couple of things to consider before you start.
It is not natural for a horse to be pulled on. The halter rope is simply to guide him not to pull on him. Pulling on the halter too hard may cause him to resist by pulling against you. This can cause your horse to rear up or to bolt and try to pull away from you. If this happens you may be simply applying too much pressure.
Leading, like touching and catching will take time to learn. Do not expect him to lead very well for the first few days. Remember to keep your training sessions short. You should always try to stop before he wants you to stop.
For the sake of this article, I will concentrate on basic leading. Only when your young horse will lead confidently is he ready for more advanced leading techniques. Things like stopping, backing and leading past you on a loose lead will be covered in future articles.
For equipment, I use a halter, lead rope and a second, longer lead rope. The second lead rope is not so two people can pull harder. It will be used as a bum rope. Snap the lead back onto itself to form a loop. The loop should be large enough to drop over your horse’s bum. The rope should not hang below his hocks and it should not be directly under his tail. The snap should be over the middle of his back. Run the tail end of the bum rope through the halter.
This rope is used to urge him to walk forward while you guide him with the rope attached to his halter.
Do not be too particular where you go initially. Any forward movement should be rewarded. Simply stop pulling on the bum rope to do this. Try not to pull on the halter rope. This will often upset them and cause him to become confused. Confusion could make him want to escape from you. If he does try to get away keep the halter rope short so he is traveling around you. If he gets turned away from you, it is much more difficult to stop him from getting away.
Keep him pointed where you want him to go. If he turns away from you softly pull his head back. If his head is where you want it, soften your feel so his head does not feel too restrained. When asking him to move keep a gentle contact with the halter ropes. If you lead him slightly to the side, it will put him off balance and he will have to move his feet. Pulling straight could cause him to brace and simply start a tug of war.
With his head where you want it, pull on the bum rope. It is better to maintain a gentle pressure and give him time to respond. Start slowly and expect him to move only a step forward. If he does this release to reward. If you continue to pull after he responded by moving forward, he will learn to ignore your pull. Remember he does not have a clue what you want him to do. There needs to be release at some point or he will learn nothing. Releasing at the wrong time will teach him the wrong thing. Your timing is very important.
If you reward one small step, he will know that his effort is in the right direction. He will continue to improve because he is constantly finding a consistent reward.
If he backs up when you pull on the bum rope just maintain your pull until he stops and leans forward. It could take some time until he is comfortable moving away from pressure like a bum rope.
When he is moving fairly well, start asking with the halter rope, now the bum rope can be used only as a backup to the feel you are offering. You will still not pull his head to lead him but there can been more of a feel in the direction you want to go. If he braces then reinforce with the bum rope.
Keep the bum rope employed for a few days until you do not need it for added incentive for him to lead. Never get into a pulling match. Do not be afraid to go back to the bum rope if he decides not to lead.
If you have another horse, it will help to have someone help you. If they lead the older horse beside you, your youngster will want to follow. He will get some confidence and comfort by knowing he is not alone. At the same time, he is following the older horse; you will be leading him. Occasionally turn him in a small circle to help him learn to follow the halter rope. Then catch up to the older horse. See if he will lead in front of another horse. If he stalls just let the other horse catch up and start again.
A few days of this and another horse shouldn’t be needed. You can then start to take him on walks farther from the other horses so he will learn that he does not always need equine company to be lead.
Teaching your young horse to lead properly is essential to a solid foundation. Without good leading habits you, horse will be a handful to take anywhere. If your horse leads well, he will have a better chance of learning to stand tied; he will load in a trailer with less effort and eventually be easier to direct when you start to ride him. Take the time at an early age and it will pay off during future training.
Future articles on training the young horse will include : picking up and handling feet : teaching to tie : advanced leading and trailer loading.
© 2004 Will Clinging