STRIPPED-DOWN LEADING

Working in the arena today with a young horse, a three year old. She's pretty good to handle, always has been pretty good, but what I am exploring, realising and really seeing today is the need to strip it all right down and when I stripped down exactly what was happening I got down to the quality of the leading. By that I mean leading the horse with a simple rope and halter. What I noticed is how much more work there is to do there before I go any further, before I think about sitting on the horse’s back and having the chance to influence her with a good level of conversation…

At the moment she is fine to lead, if you watched her you wouldn’t necessarily notice anything untoward; she isn’t wild or impolite, she doesn’t crowd into my space or try to pull away, but that’s not what I’m thinking about here. What I’m thinking about is whether she walks at my speed with me by her shoulder; what I’m thinking about is whether she stops exactly when I stop with nothing other than a floaty feeling in the rope, without me having to give any real instruction with the rope, and what I also want is that when I think about going from a stop to a walk that she picks up one of her feet and starts to move a split second before I pick up one of my feet and move… When I’ve got all that happening 98% and its almost as though she leads without a rope or halter maybe she’s going to be lovely to sit on and guide from on top of her… and all that quality leading will transfer to the saddle…

What I’ve noticed with the many horses I’ve ridden and owned over the years is that the details of the leading are almost always directly reflected in the way individual horses are to ride: horses that drag behind on the lead rope tend to be sluggish to go forward off the leg when ridden; horses that pull ahead when led tend to rush under saddle; horses that take a few more steps than me and tug the rope when I stop walking tend to pull the rein or push into the bridle when ridden… so here I am stripping it down and looking at the real details of the way the horse leads in hand, not in a retrograde way, not in a way that feels like a backwards step or in a way that feels ‘basic,’ but in a way that feels exciting and interesting because here with this simple rope we’re having a conversation about what kind of ride she will be for the next twenty years or so… wow!


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