One of the first thing everyone learns is how to lead a horse correctly. I’ve spent hours with Pony Day children teaching them to walk by the shoulder, stand on the left of the horse, turn the horse away from them, and hold the right hand just below the head and the excess lead rope in the left hand, to avoid trippage. But these are docile riding school ponies who are used to being led around by the ears.
Leading a fresh or excited horse is a whole new ball game.
So what’s the first thing to think about? If I know a horse is likely to play up I automatically put my hat on. Yeah, so what if it’s a 10hh Shetland, my head is very important to me! Gloves are useful too, especially if you will be working with that horse for a while. Holding on to a naughty horse is hard work, and usually hot work, so I check I’ve got the right clothes on. I don’t want to be unzipping a gilet or sweating buckets.
Then you should look at your method of restraint. Is he strong enough that you need a bridle? If you have a bridle are the reins a good length? Would a lunge cavesson be of any benefit? It’s always better to be safe than sorry. There is also the dreaded chiffney available …
It sounds silly, but think about when you’re going to be taking the method of restraint off. If you are, for example, turning a horse out who’s been on box rest for a week, a bridle is a good idea. However, you don’t want together to the field and have to start faffing with the noseband or threading the throatlash through the keepers while the horse dances around at the gate. Ensure the bridle is secure, but at the same time easily undone.
Think about the route you’ll be taking; either to trot the horse up, or turning him out, and do your best to avoid hazards, such as another equally exciteable horse being led around. Another tip is to work in pairs. Another pair of hands to open and close gates, or move hazards, will make the exercise much less stressful.
Yesterday I was about to turn out a pony and another exciteable gelding, who goes to the field like a kite on a windy day. Usually the pair are manageable, but as I was about to get them out of the stable I changed my mind. The week old foal had just been turned out with her Mum, and the pony I was about to take to the field, was cantering around his stable, fretting. I left him there and took them one at a time. I was glad I did too, as both geldings were a handful, and taking them together would be asking for trouble.
Once you are ready to lead your fresh horse (hat on, bridle on), take a moment to calm yourself. It’s easy to get uptight about the potentially scary experience, but the horse will pick up on your angst and behaviour worse. Then sort out the body language; stand tall, shoulders back, chin up. Everything that asserts dominance, that you are in charge of the situation. Hold the horse firmly under the chin with the right hand and excess rope in the left. When a horse is on his toes I try and walk with my right hand outstretched. This shows the horse my personal space. I can see what’s going on more easily, and my feet are out of the way of his dancing toes. Another horse I turn out shows stallion like behaviour – head snaking in an attempt to dominate me. Having him at arms length protects my face. Another thing to try is to have your elbow quite high, so you can prod the horse in the neck if he comes into your space, and if he gets strong you can anchor yourself against him.
Keep moving when leading the fresh horse. Walk purposefully and he is more likely to settle as he’s going somewhere. Walking slowly bores them, and like an under stimulated child at school, they begin to misbehave. Another thing that drives horses mad is being turned in a circle as they are led. It elongates the exercise, which is of no ones benefit, and the handler invariably ends up in he middle of the circle with a more excited horse.
Finally, you should remember to talk to the horse. Soothing tones will help relax him, whilst a firmer tone helps discipline him.
Leading a strong, or fresh horse is never an enjoyable job, but by planning and going in prepared you should feel more confident, which will rub off on the horse and hopefully make him more amenable and the whole process less stressful.