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How to Teach a Horse to Lead and Tie

Updated on September 13, 2010
Alan Wood on the great Australian bucking mare, Curio. Photo taken shortly before Alan regained his seat and went on to make the required time.
Alan Wood on the great Australian bucking mare, Curio. Photo taken shortly before Alan regained his seat and went on to make the required time.
Training Your Foal
Training Your Foal

"Great color photos . . . This is a very useful book that starts at the imminent signs of birth and continues through from foal imprinting to breaking in the young horse as a three-year-old."--Valley Country


The natural instinct of a horse is to fight against anything that restricts the movement of his head. In the wild, they need complete freedom to survey the landscape, see threats from afar and to deal with threats nearby. A horse that needs to run, rear, buck or kick needs to move his head to keep balanced. This means you need to overcome the fear you will create as soon as you try to restrict his head.

A horse will naturally pull back against any pressure on his head. Tying him before he has learned to give to the pressure instead of pulling back will endanger both you and the horse. It is common for a horse to panic if he is not adequately prepared. If he pulls hard enough to break either halter or lead rope, he can easily fall over backward, perhaps landing on top of structures or equipment that is nearby. He may also break his neck just by pulling. As he is pulling, he may also lash out with his front feet, striking whatever is in front of him, including you. Horses have hung their front leg in the crotch of trees and then fallen, hanging by the trapped leg. A horse may also suddenly lunge forward, trying to run over whatever is holding him.

Imprint Training of the Newborn Foal: A Swift, Effective Method for Permanently Shaping a Horse's Lifetime Behavior
Imprint Training of the Newborn Foal: A Swift, Effective Method for Permanently Shaping a Horse's Lifetime Behavior

Dr. Miller experimented with his own foals, maximizing their handling at the time of birth to imprint them. He added desensitizing procedures and later conditioned responses to create "imprint training," a technique that’s now in use all over the world, with all breeds and other precocial species, as well. This book contains Dr. Miller's theories and techniques, including step-by-step procedures involving bonding, habituation and sensitization.


Before a halter is placed on the young horse, he should be prepared by allowing him to sniff or otherwise become familiar with the halter, by having the handler touch, pull or push on his head with their hand, and by having the handler touch, push and pull on his neck. Cues using the halter and lead rope are communicated by pulling or pushing, so preparing the horse to give to these pressure points before the halter is used will help keep him calm after he is haltered. The first haltering should not be a complete haltering. It should only be the first step of placing his nose in the noseband, then taking it off again. This should be repeated until he is calm each time. Then the sides of the halter can be pushed into place by hand, repeating this until all fear and resistance is gone. Only then should the crown piece be placed over his head, again repeating until he is calm. When this is done right, the final buckling should be easy for him to accept without fear.

The halter should never be left on a loose horse because they can get it caught on the fence or, if it is badly fitted, he may even be able to get a leg trapped in it. Either incident will create panic and injury, perhaps even death.

When introducing the horse to the halter, you should work inside his corral. During the process of teaching him to trust you, you can use treats to entice him to take a few steps toward you. When he does, use a verbal command, such as "come." Soon he will learn that "come" means move forward and get a treat. This verbal cue will be handy when you are ready to ask him to lead for the first time.

Foal Training I
Foal Training I

Horses are a precocial species which means they are ready and able to learn shortly after birth. Enhanced Foal Training uses age appropriate games and exercises to help develop a a foal's mind power long before it is time to tap into his horse power. (DVD)


The first thing to teach a horse with the halter is to give to its pressure. There are five pressure points you will use: the poll, under the jaw, the nose, right cheek and left cheek. Before you use a halter, you can prepare him for this task by applying pressure on the last four with your hand. He should move away from the pressure. It is difficult to simulate the same pressure on the poll using just your hand, but you can prepare him for pressure there by rubbing on it and even lightly pushing down.

Once he is comfortable wearing the halter, pull gently left until he turns his head left. Repeat on the right. Turning his head when he feels pressure on his cheek is less threatening than feeling pressure on his poll. When he is comfortable giving side to side, then lightly pull forward on the nose piece, creating pressure under his jaw. If he takes a step, reward him. If he simply extends his nose, reward him. Both are signs he is willing to give in to the pressure under his jaw The forth pressure point is his nose. When pressure is placed on his nose, you want him to give, either taking a step backward or tucking his nose toward his chest. All of these should be well-trained before any pressure is placed on the poll. The poll is very delicate, and he can cause himself severe injury if he fights the pressure there. Some trainers prefer to use a rope to place pressure on other parts of his neck, allowing him to learn to give to that pressure before placing any pressure on the poll.

Spirit Blending Foals Before and After Birth, An Old Way Continued
Spirit Blending Foals Before and After Birth, An Old Way Continued

This book is a reflection of my heritage with horses. It comes from both sides of the saddle, so to speak, because both of my grandfathers were excellent horsemen. One grandpa was Cherokee and rode with the Kiowa horsemen in the early days of Indian Territory. They call it Oklahoma today. He gave credit to the Kiowa people for our unique way of working with a mare in-foal in order to blend our spirit with the foal.


 Some people feel they need to keep pulling on the rope until the horse gives in and moves toward them. This is a fallacy. In many horses, this will simply teach them to fight and to move backward. It is better to pull lightly, asking him to give, then releasing the pressure if he doesn't. Wait a few seconds, then pull again. Repeating this process will teach him to expect the pressure. As he realizes it doesn't hurt, he'll relax and give to the pull a little more each time pressure is applied. Each time he gives, reward him and he will soon look forward to earning the next reward by giving a bit more. Once he takes a step or two forward to earn the reward, he is ready to learn to lead.

The easiest way to teach a young horse to lead is to work him beside another horse he trusts. Have another handler control that horse. When that horse is walked, put slight pressure on the lead rope to cue the young horse to walk. He will probably move forward to stay with his trusted friend. As soon as he does, the other horse should stop, and he should be rewarded. If this doesn't work, another person could be behind the youngster to urge him forward with sounds like clicking their tongue, talking or clapping of their hands, but that person should not touch or hit the horse in anyway. That could cause the youngster to kick or to plunge forward over top the handler. If two helpers are present, they could hold a long rope between them, moving slowly forward toward the youngster. Many young horses will move forward to avoid allowing the rope to touch them, but others might kick, so the helpers should never be within kicking range. Again, the youngster should be rewarded as soon as he takes one or two steps forward.

Before a horse is tied, he must know how to submit to being haltered without fear, how to follow the person holding the rope, how to give to pressure on both the halter and the rope, and how to understand the cues transmitted through the halter and the rope. When he is tied, the rope should never be tied hard and fast. It should always have a slip knot or quick breakaway clip that the handler can pull easily to release him.

The safest way to teach a young horse to tie is illustrated in the video: tied high, with a little slack, and nothing close he can get a foot or head caught in,

A sturdy crosstie is safer than one rope tied to a tree or hitching rack in front of him. Two people can simulate the pressure of a cross tie by having one hold the rope on each side. This added step will help him learn he cannot walk forward, backward or turn his head without endangering him as he learns. 

It is important to plan ahead for an emergency. Have something to cut the rope with and a first aid kit. Try to have two people in attendance. Scout the area for possible hazards and remove them. Rocks under foot are a hazard too. With a little planning, your youngster can learn in safety and without too much fear.


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