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Beginners Guide to Catch, Halter and Lead a Horse

Updated on September 8, 2014
2 horses wearing a halter with lead-ropes attached
2 horses wearing a halter with lead-ropes attached | Source

Learning your way around a horse

After you know how to safely give treats and pet a horse, the next step is

  • to catch a horse
  • put a halter on
  • lead the horse out of the pasture/stall.

A halter is to a horse, what a collar is to a dog. It has a round part where the horse nose goes in, a part which you pull over the ears to keep it in place and a throat band to secure the halter. At the bottom you will find a ring you will attach the lead-rope to.

Hello, I'd like to come home with you, please put a halter on me!
Hello, I'd like to come home with you, please put a halter on me! | Source

Beautiful horses come in all colours, but which do you like best?

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Locate your horse

Is your horse out in a pasture? Then it is time to locate your horse. When you are new to horses, they all look alike. You got "brown" horses, "white" horses and those with different coloured spots! A horse person will describe the colours with confusing sounding names such as bay, chestnut, dun, grey, roan and paint. And we aren't even talking about the names they use for the patterns.

Have someone familiar with the horse point it out to you, and if possible walk with you and help you catch it. If this isn't possible, make sure you know the gender of the horse. You can usually see something hanging down there from a safe distance if it is a gelding (castrated horse). If you don't see anything, assume it's a mare (female horse).

Ask for a simple colour description like dark/medium/reddish/light brown and any markings the horse might have. Some spots on his butt or maybe a star on her forehead.

All sort of coloured horses

Click thumbnail to view full-size
GreyBlackChestnut, Bay, Paint
Grey | Source
Chestnut, Bay, Paint
Chestnut, Bay, Paint

Approach a horse

To get to the horse you have to take slow but confident steps towards him. Approach him from the side so he can see you, and NEVER approach from the back. Do not give a horse the opportunity to kick you, no matter how nice the owner says he is.

It is often helpful to softly talk to the horse while you are approaching him/her so it knows that

  1. a human is around and you don't surprise him
  2. you want his attention
  3. by the tone of your voice you mean well

Your body language and attitude are important. He will read your movements and decide if he will stay or walk away.

Be confident without hesitation, it will inspire trust in the horse making it more likely for him to stay put and wait for you. Confident is: your head held high, your steps big, back straight and your shoulders back. But it's not body language only, the energy you project toward the horse matters as well. However, faking your confidence is usually enough to approach him.

If you are insecure and hesitant the horse might move away, not knowing what you intend to do.

Once you reach the horse, drape your lead-rope over his neck. This makes him think you already caught him. Now it is time to put on the halter.

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Putting on a halter on a horse the right way
Putting on a halter on a horse the right way | Source

Tips and tricks

It can be confusing to figure out which way of the halter is the front and back. A handy tip is to make sure you have the belt buckle of the halter (the long part that goes over his ears) on the left side. If it's on the right, you got it backwards!

Putting on a halter on a horse

As you can see in the photo above, a halter has a round area for the nose called a noseband, and a long belt for over his head called the crownpiece. When holding a halter, hold it in such a way that the noseband hangs down. You will be holding it by the crownpiece.

Hold the halter in your right hand and stand on the left side of the horse facing the same direction as he does. Bring the halter in front of the horse's face on eye level. Use your left hand to guide the noseband around the nose of the horse. While doing this you make sure you keep the halter high with your right hand.

Once the bands are around the nose, you will pull the crownpiece over the horse's ears (you can use both hands now). Sometimes this is a tight fit and you'll have to flex the ears out of the way.

The throat latch is now dangling loose on the right side of the horse's head, grab it and latch it on to the metal circle below the buckle.

Well done, you just haltered a horse!

Halter piece names


Haltering a horse without a Throat latch snap

Not all halters have the snap to close the throat latch. In this case you guide the noseband over the nose, and bring the right band of the crownpiece over the horse's head, behind his ears and buckle it up on the left side.

Summary haltering a horse

Because it is a lot of information to take in, I have made a step by step summary for easy reference.

  1. Hold halter at the crownpiece
  2. Guide the noseband around the nose
  3. Pull the crownpiece over the ears of the horse
  4. Close the throat latch


Click thumbnail to view full-size

Leading a horse

Once you've haltered your horse it is time to lead him out of the pasture or stall. Make sure you are still standing on the left side of the horse and are facing the same direction he faces. Hold the lead rope somewhere in the middle and fold the rest of the rope so you can hold it conveniently. Your right hand "leads" so keep your right hand in the direction you want to go, while your left hand holds the excess rope. Do NOT loop the rope, this can result in nasty rope burns and broken hands.

In order to successfully lead a horse, he must recognize you as a person who is worth following. The key is your body language. Take the first step energetic and full of intention in the direction you want to go. You are holding the lead rope somewhere in the middle and keep it slack. Once the horse feels the rope getting tauter as you walk away, he will follow you to try and maintain the slack in the rope.

Remember: You are leading a horse, not forcing a horse. Do not pull and try a horse to move, he will win!

Some horses will try to walk in front of you. Do not let this happen. You are the boss and the horse must walk besides you or behind you.

Things you can do to prevent the horse from leading you:

  • Increase the pressure on the lead rope to pull him back a little
  • Take a big step in front of the horse and force him behind you
  • Wave the end of the lead rope in front of the horse's chest to claim this space as your own and drive him back

Keep moving in the direction you want. Look at your horse every few seconds to check if his attention is still with you (like the frequency you look in your car's rearview mirror). A horse who has his attention on other things is a horse who will get distracted and stop following you.

Talk to him or make subtle hand gestures to get his attention and keep him moving!

One of the many reason we love horses


Now you know about haltering and leading a horse

That's all you need to know for your first time haltering and leading. There is a lot more to it, but don't stress it. Horses are gentle and very efficient teachers, and before you know it you'll go on auto pilot. Good luck and have fun!


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