In this series of articles I will explain how to take a young/ untrained horse and safely teach it to lead. This will help to deepen your relationship, and the level of communication with your horse. Each article will have a systematic approach that will be both easy to understand, and to teach your horse. I will break down each baby step and teach you how to teach your horse each lesson. There will be examples in the training phase that has corrections and also what responses to watch for in your horse. My hope is that this will “demystify” some of the concepts in working with young/ untrained horses.
This article is written on the assumption that you have already taught your horse to accept a halter. f2art It is also based on the assumption that you have handled a young or untrained horse before. If you are NOT comfortable in handling a young or untrained horse please consult with a professional trainer.
Part 1: Overview of Equipment
First of all you are going to need several items in order to make this safe for both you and your horse:
1. A halter that is in good condition and is correctly fit to your horse.
2. A sturdy lead rope that is also in good condition.
3. A dressage whip
4. A riding helmet that is ASTM/ SEI certified
5. An indoor or outdoor arena (not a round pen, you need a “flat” wall)
6. Gloves (optional, but good protection for your hands)
First of all, the equipment should fit your horse correctly. To make sure that we are on the same page I will explain how to correctly fit a halter to your horse. It should be on tight enough that the throatlatch (the piece that lies underneath the horse’s throat) is not more than couple of inches from the jowls. You want enough space for a couple of fingers to fit between the throatlatch and the throat. When the halter is on you also need to have room to fit two or three fingers underneath the noseband and below the cheekbone. The halter should lie no more than an inch below the cheekbone. See figure 1 for horse halter anatomy.
Figure 1 Labeled Halter
Remember, the halter needs to be correctly fit to your horse so that is does not slip off or twist around on your horses face. If the halter twists around on your horses face it can cause discomfort, and make training much more difficult.
A sturdy lead rope is another piece of necessary equipment. Soft cotton lead ropes with a brass bolt snap are very sturdy and easy to attach or remove from the halter. It is also fairly “soft” on your hands and does not cause you to get rope burn if you chose not to use gloves.
The next piece of equipment is a dressage whip. The reason for a dressage whip is they are a good length (39″ to 43″) to use easily and quietly during training. The whip becomes an extension of your arm and creates a shape or position that the horse understands. It is not used to punish a horse but rather to reinforce the commands given.
An ASTM/ SEI certified helmet is the next piece of equipment that is needed, especially when working with young or untrained horses. I have a strict helmet policy for all of my students. My philosophy is you can never be too careful when working with an animal that can weigh around 1000 pounds.
The final piece of equipment is the arena. I recommend using a flat wall arena and not a round pen for teaching a horse to lead. Using a flat wall helps to keep the horse’s body straight. Using a round pen will tend to angle the horse’s haunches towards you, which can make it difficult to stay out of the “kicking zone”. If the horse’s haunches can easily reach you then you increase your chances of being kicked.
The main reason for using an arena is you will a have a full corridor of aids. The outside wall will actively work as another you on the other side keeping your horse straight. (During riding the outside wall works as your outside seat bone, outside leg, and outside rein.) These aids help to communicate a particular “shape” you want the horse to follow. The wall will keep your horse from turning his haunches away from you and will not add the extra confusion of not having outside aids. One last reason for using an arena is if your horse gets away from you then he will not have much of a place to go. This will make it easier to catch your horse and start working with him or her again.
Working with a young or untrained horse can increase the odds of accidents; safety for both the handler and horse must always come first. Next month’s article will focus on the training of your horse, and will go into details that make this safe, simple, and enjoyable
Learn something new every month from Horse Logic. A new article will be featured every month in From the Horses Mouth by: Sara McKiness from Horse Logic.