Leading horses - why I don‘t care about a right position

Lately at the barn: The frisian is defiant, too much energy, he bucks and roots his head. After  a good run, we walk around the arena together. Walking, coming to a halt, backing up, and walking again. I pay attention to him reacting instantly and I correct him rather strictly. 

Same task on the way back to his stall (where grain and hay are already waiting for him). Walking, stopping, backing. He obeys right away and adapts to my speed. We arrive at the stall and I expect (and allow) him to walk in. Instead, he stops with me in front of the door and waits for me to signal him to enter. I take the halter off (he starts to fidget but he doesn‘t try to run into the stall) and he walks calmly through the door. 

Those few minutes of leading him consequently have been enough to make him wait patiently in spite of the food in the stall. 
I think that often we underestimate the value of leading our horses. We do it to go somewhere. And it doesn‘t matter really if the horse just stops for a moment to steal some hay from the rack or to have some bites of fresh gras along the way. In the worst case we drag the horse along some steps till we get to our destination. It doesn‘t make a big difference for us - but it does for the horse

Tania Konnerth wrote an interesting article why leading correctly is vital. Unfortunately, it‘s in German but the main point is: The horse asks us questions when being led. And it depends on our answer how he‘ll react and behave. But often we are not aware of his questions. Or we are not very particular with our answers. And the horse thinks: „Ok, if she lets me eat while leading I‘ll try that on the next trail ride, too“. Being consistent when it comes to the details pays off: It leads to obedience in the big picture.



Leading is possible from different positions - farther back it becomes 
ground driving (which is enormously fun). Photo: Verena


There are different ways to lead a horse, and different trainers favor different positions. I personally pay attention to three things.

1. I don‘t lead holding the horse under his chin. Doing that I‘d make the right behavior (following nicely) uncomfortable for the horse as I‘d constantly put pressure on the halter. Also, with a tight rope, I'd pull him right on top of me. I don‘t need that in a horse.

2. I don‘t want the horse to walk right behind my back. I want him slightly to my side. If he spooks, I can spot that in the corner of my eye - and if he jumps forward he won‘t hit my back. I feel the risk of being run over is higher with a horse directly behind me (and some horses take advantage of that position and try to push the human).

3. I don‘t care if I am walking next to the horse‘s neck, shoulder or even some steps ahead of the horse. What is important though: I need to be able to control the horse from wherever I am and the horse needs to adapt to my pace. 

Some horses will like to lead and other tend to be dragged. If I allow the quick walking horse to be up front, he needs to stop when I stop - even with me being further back. The same applies for the lazy one: He is allowed to walk farther behind me, but I‘ll send him forward if he starts to drag. So if my horse prefers one position over another I am happy to let him choose - as long as he is able to walk on the others too. 

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