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Building a Partnership with Your Horse
“Teaching Your Horse to Lead At The Walk”

by Lynn Palm

“In hand” work refers to teaching a horse maneuvers from the ground. It builds on the basic ground training started in the stall and can be introduced when the young horse is consistent with his responses to the four basic building block commands of “come to me,” “move away from me,” “whoa,” and “back.” Work in hand can help sharpen and lighten the responses of an older schooled horse, too. No fancy equipment is needed. Even if you cannot ride, you can enjoy time with your horse by working in hand.


Leading is an important in hand lesson to master. Chances are you are already leading your horse, but I am going to share the proper method for better control and responsiveness. If you are interested in participating in showmanship classes, perfecting leading should be a goal!

Leading builds on the “come to me” command introduced during the horse’s basic training in his stall. The goal is to teach the horse to be responsive to verbal commands with only the lightest contact on the lead.

Use the Right Tools

The tools needed for teaching in hand maneuvers are the same ones used in basic stall training. Outfit the horse with a properly fitting halter. A halter fits if one inch of its caveson (noseband) lies below the horse’s cheekbone. The halter should not be so loose that if twisted it could rub over the horse’s sensitive eye area.

I recommend using a flat cotton longe line, rather than a lead rope, because its length gives more flexibility to move with the horse and still allows the handler to remain in contact. Instead of attaching the longe line to the bottom halter ring, thread the longe line through the halter ring on the side you are working on, over the nose or under the chin, and clip it on the ring on the opposite side of the halter for better control. Make sure that the snap faces outward so that it will be easier to release in case of an emergency.

I like using my Palm Partnership Training™ Halter because, unlike other halters, the rings are designed large enough to allow a lead or longe line to easily fit through them. Excess longe line should be held in a loose, but organized and neat coil. Provide the horse with leg protection such as polo wraps.

Carry a 6-foot stiff dressage or “in hand” whip. This length allows you to easily touch the horse’s hindquarters while standing in the proper leading position at the middle of his neck. Carry the whip under the arm with the end pointed down to the ground in the same hand that is carrying the excess longe line. Hold it in your left hand when leading from the horse’s near (left) side and vice versa. Never wave the tip in the air!

Practice this lesson in a small fenced paddock, corral, round pen, or ring. Start alongside the fence to help keep the horse straight and under control.

The Handler’s Position is the Key

The key to leading is the handler’s position. Stand facing forward approximately one foot away from the horse. Keep the side of your body and shoulder perpendicular to him and positioned between his throatlatch and his shoulder.

The most common handler error is standing ahead of the throatlatch. This causes leading the horse from too far in front. In this position a handler cannot see her horse’s expression or what is happening to his body position. She is too far forward to effectively use the whip. She will tend to pull her horse forward with the longe line and use it to maintain her balance, especially when trotting the horse in hand.

The opposite problem, standing behind the horse’s shoulder, puts the handler “behind” her horse. A handler in this position will pull back on the lead and drag her horse’s head towards her as she struggles to keep up with him.

Our eyes are important to good horsemanship. When leading, a handler’s eyes should be focused ahead, not looking at her feet or her horse’s hooves. With “eyes forward” a handler can see opportunities to be creative with a lesson, such as changing directions, and will be able to coordinate her actions with her horse.

Teach Him to Lead at the Walk

I will explain this lesson on leading at the walk as if teaching it from a horse’s left side. Be sure to practice it on both sides!

Start alongside a fence to help keep the horse straight. Position yourself at the middle of the horse’s neck, but no further forward than his throatlatch. Keep your shoulders square and the right side of your body perpendicular to the horse. Extend your “lead” arm toward the horse in an open flexible position, rather than locking your elbow close into your body. Maintain a loose contact with the longe line so there is slack between your right hand and the halter.

When you are ready to ask the horse to walk, move your right hand forward to maintain the slack in the longe line as you give a “cluck” and the verbal command “walk.” Move with the horse as he moves into the walk. If he is reluctant to go forward, extend the left hand behind you and lightly touch or tap the tip of the whip on the horse’s hip or top of his gaskin. This encouragement will usually send him forward so be ready to move with him and maintain slack in the longe line. Keep your body in proper position as he walks forward.

To stop, ask the horse to “whoa.” Slow your walk to a stop as he stops. Be ready to move the lead hand forward to keep slack in the line in case he pushes his nose forward when stopping. If he does not stop, move forward, closer to his head. Bring your hand in front of his face, like a stop sign, to block his forward movement. Repeat the command to “whoa.”

Practice this lesson along the fence until he is consistent in his responses and stays straight. Add variety by changing speed within the walk and vary the distance between stopping points. When he shows that he understands, graduate to repeating the lesson further away from the fence until you can perform it anywhere in the paddock or ring. Away from the fence the importance of the horse being straight, meaning his body is in alignment from poll to dock, will become more apparent. Only when he is straight will he be the most responsive.

Change directions, adjust the longe line to the opposite side, and repeat this lesson leading from the “off” (right) side. Be patient when working on the horse’s off side. Because we do not do as much with our horses on their right side, they can be more insecure being handled there. Our coordination leading from this side may be less developed, too. Next month we will graduate to teaching the horse to lead at the trot.

My Longevity Training Series, Video #3- “Working in Hand” will show you how to teach a horse to lead at walk and trot, stop, back, turn, set-up square; plus turn on the haunches, turn on the forehand, and leg yielding. Just think how much easier it will be to teach these maneuvers under saddle if your horse already knows them from ground training lessons! Learn more about this video, my Palm Partnership Training™ Halter, and other great training and educational products at


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8/15/05 10:42 PM