Training Your Horse To Lead - Part TwoBy Jeffrey Rolo
If you haven't yet read the first part of this article you can do so by clicking here.
Spooking is an inevitable part of lead training, which is one reason why it's so much easier to desensitize and train a horse while they are still young. If your horse spooks it is important to remember that he's not purposely misbehaving. A horse's first instinct at even a whiff of potential danger is to flee, so when your horse becomes nervous or outright panicked you'll want to be extra patient with him.
Most horses will start charging ahead when frightened to escape the source of their fear. To regain control you want to turn your horse into a circle and continue to tighten the circle until he stops. If you try to have a tug-of-war with a horse in a straight line you will lose, but if you pull him to his side you'll come out the victor since you affect his balance.
Once you have regained control of your horse try to desensitize him to what scared him. If it was a shadow or paper bag try to slowly lead him to the source so he can see for himself it isn't a big deal. Taking the time to desensitize a horse each time he spooks will add more time to your training process, but it's time well spent because it will eventually build his trust in you and make him far more cool-headed when it counts… such as under saddle.
An untrained horse is often going to resist your requests to lead properly, but luckily in the end cool heads will always prevail. If you are feeling cranky or impatient on the day you plan to train your horse to lead then you should probably just stop before you even start. Lead training can range from being a walk in the park to being a real pain in the neck, depending on your experience, your bond with your horse, and your horse's attitude and willingness.
If your horse appears easily distracted while you are leading him you should give a sharp downward snap of the lead line to bring his focus back to you. Do not yank him sideways if you're just trying to regain his focus.
If your horse is charging ahead of you and doesn't respond to a sharp tug backwards then you'll want to yank him to the side and force him to advance in a circle. Keep tightening the circle until he grows tired of the challenge and stops. Once he has stopped, proceed to walk in a straight line again.
Untrained horses will often need multiple doses of this "circle treatment" before they decide charging ahead isn't all it is cracked up to be. Don't worry if you have to stop and circle him a dozen times or more in one session because eventually he will cooperate and walk in a straight line parallel to you.
There are two techniques horsemen use when their horse has the opposite problem and refuses to move forward, so I'll begin with the technique I do not recommend. One strategy you can use is partaking in a battle of wills by pulling on the lead line until your horse eventually gives up and moves forward. You're not trying to actually pull the horse forward because there's absolutely no way you're going to overpower a horse; instead you're trying to force the horse to engage his neck muscles until finally the muscles tire enough that he doesn't want to fight you anymore and steps forward. It's the same principle as forcing a person to keep their arms up and outstretched… although easy at first, eventually lactic acid builds up and the person simply must drop his arms.
It's not quite tug-of-war because you're not trying to pull him to you, nor are you allowing him to pull you to him. You're just keeping a steady pressure on his neck muscles until he gives. While the technique will eventually work, it is a very slow and inefficient process. First, you might tire out before your horse's neck does! It also requires immense patience since a strong or persistent enough horse could keep you there for a very long time. I prefer not to engage in a battle of wills with a horse, but rather incorporate quick and effective ways to force his cooperation.
The best method to make an unyielding horse move is pulling him sharply towards your direction in a tight circle. You cannot overpower a horse straight on, but you can do so sideways since you take him off-balance. Once the horse is forced to take a step forward to preserve his balance, attempt to walk again. If he refuses to move, continue sideways pressure and tight circles until eventually he tires of the conflict and cooperates with your request.
Teaching your horse to reverse is simple – just give some reverse pressure with the lead line, and if he doesn't respond start snapping the lead backwards sharply to get his attention. At the start of the training process you can outstretch your right hand and place the palm against his chest, pushing backwards lightly to indicate the direction you'd like him to go. Just make sure that while your arm is outstretched the horse doesn't suddenly decide he can invade your personal space. You're moving closer to him, he's not moving closer to you.
Do not underestimate the power of your voice; it can often educate your horse far better than any of the physical techniques provided in this article. When you want your horse to halt, use a vocal command in addition to your physical cue (i.e., whoa, halt, walk, back up, etc.). By associating particular words with physical requests eventually your horse will connect the two and learn to follow your requests strictly by voice.
Beyond eventual word association, voice has another powerful benefit: emotional stimulus. Through the power of voice inflection you can express disappointment or anger to discourage bad manners or you can express reassurance and warmth to reward a horse or alleviate his fears.
As long as you act as a confident, firm and understanding leader, as well as exhibit the necessary determination and patience required to guide your horse through the uncertain learning period, you will have a ready and willing partner that will follow your lead for years to come.