Day 5 Of The Confident Rider Challenge
Today we are going to be working on backing and leading your horse – confidently. But like yesterday, I want to start today’s challenge with a disclaimer. I have been working with horses for the past 30 some years. And the things that I do with my horses and share with you, works for me. I am not a professional horse trainer, nor do I claim to be. I have done a lot of research, had professional lessons, and made a lot of my own mistakes along the way on my own personal journey of being a more confident rider. I don’t push my ideas out as gospel, or the only way to work with your horse. But these are things that I do that have helped me, and maybe they can help you too.
But we are all individuals, and we all have our own way of doing things especially when it comes to working with horses. If I say or do anything that you don’t agree with or would never do, that’s fine. DO what is best for you and your horse. Ok, enough of the disclaimer, lets talk about something fun, working with our horses!
Yep, here we are back at it, and this is day 5 of the confident rider challenge. And this may seem a little basic for some, but for others having a horse the leads well and backs up easily can be a real challenge. And honestly, I think many of us could use a refresher in leading our horses safely. And leading your horse around may not seem like a big deal, but if your horse is pushy, stubborn, or spooky, leading may not be a very fun part of your relationship with your horse.
This is why practicing leading is such an excellent thing to do, even if your horse is well mannered most of the time. And you don’t need a lot of equipment to lead your horse.
The Tools You Need
You need a halter, and a lead rope. And there are all sorts of lead ropes, and halter, that you can use for leading your horse.
I prefer a lead rope that has a snap that is easy to open. I had a friend at one time that swore bull snap lead ropes were the best, and the only kind you should use. So being naïve, and a new horse owner I used one, for a while. And then I decided that just because she liked it, didn’t necessarily mean that I needed to like it. My point is, use what works best for you and your horse. If you love bull snap lead ropes, use that. If you love a scissor snap lead rope, use that. If you love the panic style of snap, well…. You get the idea.
Put your halter on your horse and hook up the lead rope to the center ring, if you are using a traditional style halter, or the lower loops if you are using a rope halter. And presto! Your horse is ready to lead.
Now lead him out of the pen, stall, or wherever you have captured him. And pay attention to how he is leading. Do you have to tug to get him to take a step forward? Or does he willingly move forward for you when you pull on the lead rope?
If your horse doesn’t come willingly when you are asking him to move forward, he could benefit from some practice. But before we work on going forward, we want to work some on moving backward, or yielding to the pressure.
Getting Your Horse To Back
To get your horse to move forward better, it is easier to start with getting him to yield to pressure. When you apply pressure, he should move away from that pressure. You can practice this by applying pressure, your hand, to his side, or chest. When you apply pressure, he should move away from it. Push your hand into his side, and keep the pressure on him until he moves away from it. As soon as he moves away from the pressure of your hand, release the pressure (stop pressing into him.)
Practice this on both sides of your horse. And when he yields (moves away) from the pressure, stop pressing on him. And when he gets that, then it’s time to work on backing up.
To get your horse to back from pressure, hold the lead rope and press it back, while saying out loud “back”. If he doesn’t give into the pressure you are applying, add a little more pressure and again tell him to back. Once he takes even one step backward, release the pressure and praise him.
Repeat this process until he is taking at least 5 or 6 steps back. With practice and consistency, it will not take very much to make him back up easily. And not only does this work on the ground, but it will transition into the saddle as well.
You can also teach your horse to back up by shaking the lead. This is especially helpful if you are working in a larger area, and your horse is crowding your personal space. Having a pushy horse that walks all over you is no fun and can be dangerous. Teaching your horse to respect your personal space is very important.
Standing out in an open area, stand to the side of your horse toward his nose, ahead of his shoulder. Now turn and face him. And out loud say “Back.” If he doesn’t back up, wiggle the lead rope, and repeat the word “Back.” If he still doesn’t back up, wiggle the lead rope with a little more force and say “Back.” And when he takes even one step backward, praise him and stop wiggling the rope. When you stop wiggling the rope, you are removing the pressure. This is his reward for doing what you just asked him to do.
Safety First, Always
Practice this with your horse every day you are with him. You want him to develop the habit of backing up when he is asked to do so. And if he moves in on you, crowds you, and enters your personal space, back him up. I find wiggling the lead rope works the best for this. You may have a horse (Ethan) that likes to test you, to find out how serious you are about getting him out of your space. Every time he test’s you, be sure to get him out of your space, unless you have invited him in.
This is so important to do because if your horse gets frightened, or spooks, he isn’t going to be thinking about your personal space. He is going to be thinking about bolting or getting away from whatever scary object is threatening to eat him. And by working with him to stay out of your space, he will learn that there is a bubble around you, and he should not jump directly onto you!
Now that we have our horses backing up when we ask them too, getting them to walk forward will be a little bit easier. The biggest thing to remember is that YOU decide how far behind you want your horse to be.
If you let your horse get pushy and pull you around from the beginning, he will only get worse the longer you allow that behavior to happen. If he gets pushy, and decided that he is going to lead you, back him away. Shake or wiggle the lead rope, like we did with backing. Turn and face him and let him know that behavior is not acceptable.
When you are ready to lead your horse, increase the pull, or pressure of the lead rope while walking forward. You then release the pressure as he begins to walk forward with you. This is a lot easier with a rope halter, because of where it rests on pressure points of his head and face.
If you have to give him a cluck along with the pressure that’s ok, as long as he moves forward as asked.
Then once you have established the pace of the walk on the lead rope, it’s time to go for a walk. If he is following you willingly continue your walk. You may have moments of correction from time to time, but you will find the more you just walk with your horse on the lead rope, the better he will get at it. It may take a week or so to get him leading correctly, but the more you practice the better he will become.
And I think it is worth mentioning, never ever, ever, EVER wrap the lead rope around your hand. You could get seriously hurt if your horse got spooked. Hold the lead rope with a firm grip in one hand, the hand closest to your horse, and the coiled end of the rope in the other hand.
Confident Rider Daily Challenge
So today, for your daily challenge I want you to go work on these things with your horse. Go work on getting him to move away from the pressure of your hands on his body, then work on getting him to back up. And finally, lead your horse around.
Remember, the more you practice the better you (and your horse) will get. Practice and the consistency of your practice will help you to be more confident on the ground with your horse. So practice well, and practice frequently to become a more confident rider, from the ground up!
And if this is the first time you are seeing this challenge and want to learn more, click here to get your own calendar. That way you can join in on the fun of being a more confident rider!