One of our adored readers – Emily MacDonald – asked me to make this video showing the way I teach my semi-feral horses and foals how to lead on a halter.
You’ll notice that my way is somewhat backwards to the accepted method and in the video I explain why this is.
I also want to share Emily’s video on this same topic as I think her method is pretty great too. Although it is more the standard procedure, it is WAY less obnoxious, the horses don’t seem stressed at all, and she uses far less pressure than is normally used.
Emily also demonstrates here a beautiful way to get your horse accustomed to wearing a halter for the first time – this will be the next step for Juno when we feel it’s right. I tried him briefly with a strap around his poll last month, but he really didn’t like anything touching his face/head. No worries. We will just let him grow, mature, and try again when my gut leads me to.
Low frustration rewards
You’ll notice in both these videos that Emily and I use “low frustration” rewards. I use scratches, and she uses grass chaff (dried grass, or chopped up hay). This gives the horse a positive feeling about the interaction, but doesn’t make them frantic or crazy to get the treat; which I find can actually retard or interfere with learning. We are purposely not using carrots, apples or horse cookies – the higher the sugar level, the more urgency and frustration the horse may experience to get the dang treat!
Of course, because we are at all times listening to our horse, there may also be times when carrots are the ideal reward to induce the horse to stick with us to learn something really difficult or scary.
I am working on a video now that shows Kesia’s method for teaching wildies to pick up their feet and then hold them to have their hooves trimmed at liberty. In the video you will see first-hand how she uses carrots to get my herd really excited about the game and begging to be allowed to be the next one in the paddock with her! As long as we are listening to each horse, in each situation, feeling into their energy and our own gut, it’s all good.
Jini Patel Thompson is a natural health writer and Lazer Tapping instructor. She began riding at age 2 in Kenya, and got her first horse at age 8 in Alberta, and so continues a life-long journey and love affair with these amazing creatures.
7 thoughts on “Teach Your Horse To Lead Using Hand & Voice Signals”
Perfect timing — I was just going to write you for any ideas you have on this topic. I recently adopted a 10 month old filly, Pearl, who has not been handled. The only thing on the internet that illustrated a technique that seemed to fit with the intent I have, was related to Linda Tellington-Jones T-touch. Between your video and Emily’s, which I also found really helpful, I have some tools to start playing with Pearl. Pearl and I thank you!
Oh that’s fantastic! Please let us know how it goes and what you and Pearl think of the process. I REALLY wish WordPress allowed commenters to post pics or short vids, as would love to see some snippets of your work with her. Well, hopefully that is coming soon! Actually, I will search plugins to see if someone has already thought of that…
Love, love, love this!! Thank you for posting!! In working with my two newly adopted (2 months ago) mustangs, I have been doing very much what you are doing in the sense of calling them to me, and wanting to work with them while they are together. However, at the place I am boarding I am reminded I need to “tie them” and I need to teach them to “respect me” so they don’t walk all over me (the young 2 y/o does that). The methods used are yanking of the halter (they were gentled by someone on the way to me, there was no way I could find a boarding situation otherwise, so someone did teach them to wear a halter and lead), and other methods “another horse would do”. The thing is, we are not horses… 😉 So I am grateful to have found this! It validates exactly what I have been feeling and doing…. Thank you!
Hi Vittoria, 3 of mine were semi-feral and 2 had been taught to wear a halter before they came to me. One of them was fine with it, but the other, the “good boy” appeared to be awesome, but he was in actuality, shut down. When he realized he didn’t have to be the ‘good boy automaton’ with me, he rejected ALL forms of contact, touching, etc. But watched me closely. I left him completely (and I mean completely) alone for about 6 months, at which point he then began to initiate contact with me. I taught him to lead all over again, exactly the way I show in the video here. He still has not let Kesia trim his feet (we trim unhaltered at liberty), although all the others have allowed it, and when he came to me he was “doing so well” because he was the one who would let you pick out all 4 hooves. So again, it depends on what you want. Do you want seemingly obedient horses, or do you want full-faceted, deep, intimate relationships where they are allowed full freedom of expression? I think you know what your fellow boarders want!
Still, I know how you must feel. When you are in a group boarding situation and you actually listen to your horse, other people watch you like a hawk! Because they can’t figure out what you’re doing. I remember one barn I was at (with a different horse) my daughter said, “I hate it that people are watching us all the time!” I think they were trying to figure out what the hell we were doing. Because it appeared that we were doing very little, yet after a 2-3 months a few of them came up to me privately and said they couldn’t believe the changes in the horse – she was actually engaging with people when they came to see their horse, and she was showing more spirit and personality with the other horses. The difference between a dissociated, shut-down horse and an enlivened horse that actually lives in their physical body is unmistakable.
We would also do things differently because we were listening to her. Instead of taking her in the noisy barn, we would loop her halter rope around an outdoor hitching post and put some hay on the ground for her while grooming. After a month or so, guess what some of the other boarders started doing? We would also take her out on the roads, off the property – to give her a greater sense of freedom and to get away from the watching eyes. We would walk/trot her far enough away and then let her graze by the side of the road (her ‘field’ had no grass so she was desperate for fresh grass and so thankful). So yeah. In group boarding situations you just do the best you can within the constraints. And don’t give your power away! That’s your greatest challenge 🙂
Thank you so much for writing this out. Yesterday I wrote a long answer to this, and then it disappeared while I was uploading it! 🙁
6 months is such a long time! Love to read that you had the patience and the intuition to just do that. It gives me so much fuel for my journey, and much more awareness of the time and space needed. My boarding situation is temporary as we are looking for property to move us and them on, and Denali and Dakota have definitely given me high motivation!
I appreciate your writing and sharing of this information so much Jini. Bless you.
It’s a lot easier to wait when you have other horses wanting affection, connection etc! But with your two – if only one wants to engage, explore, learn, the other will be learning plenty just by watching. Then when they’re ready, they’ll learn stuff in a snap. The other salient point is that when a horse learns under stress, the teaching has to be repeated over and over. Most trainers will say/write this and repeat it when you go to colt-starting clinics, etc. BUT when the horse/foal learns something in play, lightness and fun – it’s IN there. Even months later they haven’t forgotten. You’re going to have so much fun (and growth!) with your two – what a delightful adventure! And you’re very welcome – anything I can do to spread horse consciousness, I’m happy 🙂
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