How to Lead Your Horse or Pony

Female jockey walking horse in paddock.

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Chances are the very first thing you'll ever do with your horse is lead it somewhere. This is a basic skill that everyone who owns a horse or pony will need to know. Walking quietly beside you is also something your horse must learn. Although it is traditional to lead on the left side, you should be able to lead from the right (offside) as well. Walking obediently beside you is the basis for many other things you'll ask your horse to do such as loading on a trailer and longeing.

What You Need

To lead your horse, you will need to have your horse properly haltered. Then you'll also need a lead rope or shank. Choose lead ropes of a thickness comfortable for your hands. Shanks of flat leather or webbing can be more difficult to handle although some people may prefer them. Many people like using thick cotton rope. If you prefer, you may want to wear gloves to protect your hands. If your horse pulls away suddenly, the gloves will protect your hands and fingers.

How to Lead

  1. Begin with your horse haltered with a sturdy lead rope snapped to the ring on the underside of the halter
  2. Standing on the left-hand side (near side) of the horse, hold the lead rope about 8 inches from the snap with your right hand.
  3. Hold the end of the lead rope folded to fit comfortably in your left hand. Hold around the middle of the folds so that there are no loops around your hand.
  4. Stand at the horse's shoulder.
  5. Cue your horse to walk with a slight forward motion of your right hand (not a tug or pull) on the lead rope. Say "walk" or "come" or whatever word you choose to use consistently. Walk forward yourself.
  6. If your horse doesn't understand how to walk forward at your cue, you can try carrying a long whip that is between 36 to 40 inches long, like a dressage whip. Hold the whip in your left hand with the folded rope. Tap the horse gently on the top of the croup and ask it to "walk."
  7. Stop by asking the horse to "whoa" (or whatever word you choose to mean "stop"), stopping yourself and pulling lightly on the lead rope. The horse should stop and stand beside you and not swing out or try to face you.
  1. To ask your horse to trot, increase the distance between your hand and the halter to at least a foot so that you don't restrict its head (which can affect its gaits. This is especially important if your vet is trying to see lameness or you are in the show ring).
  2. Cue with the forward motion of the lead rope as you did when walking, tapping the horse's croup with the whip and asking it to "trot" while jogging forward yourself.
  3. Ask your horse to back up by turning around to face it. Take the lead rope in your left hand, and with your right-hand point at or press on the horse's left shoulder. Ask the horse to "back" and pull down and back slightly with the lead rope. Step forward yourself to stay with your horse as it steps back.

Tips

  • Do not try to haul your horse along. The harder you pull, the more resistant the horse may become. The horse should be taught to walk and trot with you on cue without any pulling.
  • Don't get left behind, but stay at your horse's shoulder.
  • Stay close enough alongside that you can see what your horse is doing. But, don't go so far away that your horse is off on the opposite side of the lead rope.
  • To get your horse to move forward if you don't have a whip, try pulling the horse slightly to the right so that it has to take a step with its left forefoot to re-balance. Pull the horse gently back towards you so it then has to move its right foot forward to again re-balance. Sometimes this is enough to unstick a reluctant horse.