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Leading and Handling Basics

The most important part of training your horse is to be very clear in what you expect from your horse and be consistent. Don't ask him half-heartedly one time and punish him when it's not perfect the next time. Reward your horse for good behaviour with a treat or pat (mostly pats) and a kind word. Most horses want to please you if you are a fair leader.

Make sure to get help from an experienced horse person if you aren't seeing the results of your training, so that they can help you to correct your mistakes, and any bad habits that you and your horse have developed. This will also redirect your focus, so that you do not become too frustrated. Losing your temper and becoming physical is the fastest way to lose the respect of your horse. The tension will also make your horse nervous and make him less cooperative.

Leading Safely 

 1. Never hold the horse's halter with your hand when leading. Your hand could get stuck if the horse tosses his head and/or decides to spook or take off running. It is very, very dangerous. Always use a lead rope when leading a horse, and hold it in both hands.

 2. When holding the lead rope, always fold the extra rope back and forth instead of around in a loop. Then, hold the rope around the outside of the bundle. Never, ever loop the extra rope (or any equipment), around your hand or other body part. If you do this and the horse pulls away, the rope can tighten around your hand or fingers, possibly causing serious injury should the horse then take off running.

 3. Always wear a helmet when leading or working with any horse. Also, always wear boots or hard-toed shoes to protect your feet should you get stepped on. Horse injuries can happen before you even get into the saddle. The horse may startle when you are leading him, and you'll want protection for your head should you accidentally get trampled, dragged or stepped on.

 4. When leading your horse, walk next to him near his shoulder (or halfway between his head and shoulder), never ahead or behind. If you walk ahead of him, you could get stepped on or run over should he become frightened and attempt to run. If you walk to far behind, you are at risk to be kicked if he becomes frightened or startled.

 5. Remember that the horse is much stronger than you are. If you are not an experienced horse trainer, and the horse becomes startled and attempts to run, just let go of him. If you hang on to the lead rope while the horse tries to escape, you may put yourself in danger of being knocked over, dragged or trampled.

6. Whenever you are leading a horse through an entranceway or doorway, be sure that there is at least 4 feet (1.3m) wide, with clear space on either side of him. Never lead a horse through a smaller opening. This will give both you and the horse more room to react should he become frightened from accidentally bumping against the opening of the entranceway.

7.To decrease the possibility of you being kicked when turning out your horse, always lead him all the way through the gate and turn him around to face the gate. When you remove his halter, be sure to step well out of the way, since some horses become excited when being turned out and immediately turn to buck and run. 

8. Be consistent in everything you do with your horse.  There is an old cowboy saying: ”Let your horse get away with something twice, and you’ve trained him to do it.”

 Making your horse stand still

 Horses that do not stand still for mounting are potentially dangerous. At any moment, the horse may walk off or decide to move in a direction that may leave you on the ground. It is very important that all our horses know how to stand still while being mounted. To teach your horse to stand still while mounting, you must dedicate yourself to the training process and follow the five rules outlined below.   

Rule #1.

You cannot be in a hurry to get on. If you are, your horse will never learn to stand still consistently and safely. When you're in a hurry to get on and ride, he will react to your mood. Be patient and consistent!

Rule #2.

Do not get on ride your horse until he learns to stand still. The most common reason our horses don't want to stand still is because they have had a bad experience with mounting or riding. We must wait until the horse tells us (by standing still) that he is ready. If you are an unsteady, or heavy rider, try a mounting block so that you don’t wrench his back.

Rule #3.

Before mounting, always grab the saddle horn or pommel and pull on it from side-to-side. Your pull should be firm enough that the horse has to re-adjust his feet, so that the horse can be better balanced on all four feet before we mount. If a horse is not properly balanced when you mount, his natural reaction is to counter move your movement (the second most common reason horses won't stand still).

Rule #4.

Always use a slack rein while mounting. 'Slack' is, not having contact with his mouth while holding the reins for mounting. Don't give him the entire reins! If you have contact with his mouth, he will be more likely to move, because you are giving him the signal to turn his head (or you may be making it uncomfortable for him to stand with his neck bent.)

Mount with his head bent away from you only if the horse moves sideways away while you are mounting. Your reins should be short enough that you could easily gain control should he move off, but not so short that there is contact with, or jerking of his mouth.

Rule #5.

Do not sit down hard on your horse's back, or kick him in the rump while swinging your leg over! Be very gentle when mounting...we want him to enjoy this too!  Praise him, and stand quietly for a moment. Always reward good behavior.  Make your horse stand still before you get off at the end of the ride or lesson. Take both feet out of the stirrups before dismounting, so that if the horse moves you will not get dragged.

If your horse continues to resist mounting, make sure that your saddle is fitting him correctly.  An ill-fitting saddle may pinch the horse and cause severe pain, which he would naturally try to avoid.  Look for dry spots under the saddle pad after riding, which indicate a pinch area.

© Cheryl Spencer, B.A. 2000