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Leading and leadership with horses

Updated: May 30


Leading is a great opportunity to establish leadership in a way that is natural and understandable for the horse. It`s something we do every day and how it`s done will greatly affect our leadership position as well as other aspects of our relationship with the horse.

Lead the way

Horses, follow the leader and where we place ourselves in relation to the horse communicates leadership.


When horses are in a herd, they follow each other, and they follow the leader. Usually, they don’t walk side by side. When I lead a horse, I am conscious of this and walk in front of the horse, and have the horse following me. By walking in front, it is very clear to the horse who leads the way.


I am not saying to never walk beside a horse, but keep that for the sunny days — when everything is perfect and the connection with the horse is great. In my experience, the minute a horse walking beside me gets distracted or wants to walk away, getting the horse back in place becomes difficult to do without using active pressure. This is because we are beside the horse and not in front of the horse. When in front of the horse, we lead the way. When beside the horse, we are in a position where this is not so easy and, chances are, we will end up correcting for doing wrong instead of leading to do right.


Correcting horses for doing wrong is actually positive punishment, even if ever so slightly. This is because we are using active pressure on the horse that implies, “No don’t do this,” instead of, “Feel free to walk away but then the lead rope gets tight, following me is better cause then the lead has a slack and the pressure goes away.” With the latter, the horse is guided into doing right, not punished for doing wrong.


How horses end up with a chain around their nose

Constantly telling a horse what to do and what not to do is micromanagement and not good leadership. Horses don`t like being micromanaged and will avoid this and pull away from the person doing it. The person leading the horse becomes afraid of the horse pulling away and wants something more effective to hold the horse. That`s how a horse ends up with a chain over their nose, or under their nose or in the mouth). A chain that will annoy the horse even more and cause pain when pulled.


If pain is needed to make a horse notice the handler and regard him or her as their leader, something has gone wrong. Get this sorted and the horse will not only become easier to lead, but also easier to ride.


That`s when the person says, but I have a stallion and he is very hormonal. Or I have a mare and she is this and that... During my time with horses which is about 35 years, of which 15 years running our own horse establishment - We`ve had dozens of stallions and hundreds of mares, never has a chain been needed to lead any of them.


Slack and feel

What`s done with the lead rope when leading, will affect how horses respond to the rein when ridden. A horse that follows the slack when led is more likely to respond to feel when ridden. Whether it’s a lead attached to a halter or a rein attached to a bit, it`s the same principle of pressure and release that applies. When operating with slack and feel, it`s not the actual pressure the horse responds to but a “lessening” of the slack. Horses give a softer response to feel than to pressure, it makes them feel safe and comfortable and therefore more happy to be led by us.


In this video, I share 3 tips to success when leading a horse:



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Ride Like a Viking by Cathrine Fodstad

Myrvangen Farm

2500 Tynset, Norway

cathrine@ridelikeaviking.com 

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