Help your horse see you as a kind and competent leader by facing forward and looking in the direction you want her to go. Give her slack in the line so that she can discern the difference between pressure that she should respond to and the removal of pressure that tells her she’s doing what you’ve asked. Hold your hand several inches away from the clip when your horse is relaxed and leading well and choke up whenever you need more control. Holding tightly all the time will quickly desensitize her to your cues. The constant sensation of confinement will also make it difficult for her to move forward comfortably because horses use their head and neck for balance. If a snug lead makes her feel more vulnerable, it could create emotional and physical tension and make her more difficult to handle.
Walk with certainty about where you are going. If you are distracted or unsure of yourself, your horse may dive for bites of grass or feel insecure. Be consistent to help your horse know what to expect whenever the two of you go for a walk. It will go a long way to improve her behavior and confidence on the end of the lead. Always lead your horse from the same position relative to her body. Her head can be slightly in front of your shoulder, but her shoulder should never pass you. Being able to see her head lets you monitor her expression – a change may indicate that she’s becoming concerned about something. The sooner you can redirect her attention, the less likely it is that you’ll find yourself dealing with a spooking horse.
If she were to pull away, move with her instead of planting your feet and trying to wrestle 1000 lbs of flight-motivated horse flesh. Most importantly, make sure the lead rope isn’t wrapped around your hand or attached to your body in any way. A tangled or coiled lead can lead to a disastrous outcome. Instead, lay folded lengths of your lead rope across the palm of your hand, with the looped ends outside of your grasp. Hold the lead securely but with a relaxed grip.
It’s easy to become complacent about such a seemingly simple task as leading your horse. However, it’s important to be mindful when you and your horse are on either end of the lead rope for your safety and hers.
Dale Rudin is a CHA-certified riding instructor and clinician with a mindful and balanced approach to horsemanship and riding.