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My horse won't lead!!!


Hi I picked up two horses last week in bad health. The mare is awesome and very well behaved but the gelding has a bad problem. He is fine to catch but when I go to lead him anywhere he is either very pushy pulley or won't move.  At first I thought it might have been due to the state I got him in. He is very under weight but I can put his food out and he will still stop and not move.  The mare I got from the same place in the same condition. She is fine she will walk when asked stop when asked.  I am not sure of his age but was wondering if there is anything I can do to help this horse trust me.  When I try to pat him or give him a brush he strikes at me.  I don't want anything bad to happen to him; he is a beautiful horse he's just been mistreated and is lacking trust in people.  If you could please advise on anything it would be great- thanks for your time.

First you will need to establish clear communication when using the lead rope from the ground. When you do something it must MEAN something. Most people work with horses and are hopeful that the horse will figure out what is being asked of them. Instead you will need to offer black and white clarity towards what behaviors your horse offers that work and those that do not.

The gelding's defensiveness towards you is his way of showing his lack of trust and insecurities. You will not be able to force yourself upon him. If right now patting and grooming him doesn't make him feel warm and fuzzy about life, then leave him alone. You first need him to just want to be near you without fear or worry.

Your goal should be to influence your horse's mental and emotionally availability in order to create a physical change. You will start to see how little of an action can create a positive change in how your horse as he begins to trust and respect you will. This will be the beginning of you working WITH your horse, rather than each of you tolerating one another. Timing, awareness, energy, sensitivity and clarity are all things you will need to establish in order to start seeing positive results with your horse.

There needs to be a clarity of physical communication (because when leading him you are using a lead rope, so this a physical way of influencing him,) he needs to understand your energy and literally match that, if you want to move out in a big walk, he needs to too, or if you would like to "creep" along, he needs to make that adjustment to remain "with you." When you stop he needs to respect your personal space and stop immediately, rather than to "fall" into a stop.

Your horse needs to understand when his thoughts work or if they do not. Most times when people catch a horse the horse goes "brainless" on the end of the lead and is literally drug around. The horse may be physically complying but is mentally resistant. The day will come that if there is enough stress presented, if the person working with the horse does not have enough "tools" in how they use their lead rope and a clarity of communication in how they use their rope, the horse will get just as "big" on the rope as if they are loose.

You should be able to ask your horse to think, look and then step in the designated direction (left, right, forward, backwards, sideways, etc.) You should be able to do all of this without having to lead your horse or "drive" him (with a whip, stick, etc.) in order to get an attentive, light, mental and physical response. Remember the goal is for your horse to ask "what would you like?" instead of tolerating being told what to do every step of the way. The more confident he feels that you are listening and helping him when he is having a problem the more he will turn to you rather than coming up with his own way of avoiding what you are presenting.

Once you can ask your horse to first look (to address what you are presenting) and then literally take one step at a time towards whatever you have presented you will then have the tools to help your horse address what you are asking.

For example let's say that you are presenting the gate in your arena. Before you ever get near the gate you need to see how focused (mentally) your horse is on you. If you ask him to stop, back up, step forward and so on is there a delay in his response, does he step into your personal space, and is he walking forward but looking somewhere else? These are all things you will need to address and clarify if there is any delay, lack of understanding or resistance from your horse before you present an obstacle.

Remember that the more you can break down crossing the gate into baby steps the more confidence he will gain in "trying" to address what you are asking. The more he believes he can "get it" (it being whatever you are asking of him) right, the more he will try when you present new things.

By the time you present the gate, grooming, standing tied, etc., you will have enough tools in just using your lead rope, if you can ask your horse to walk up to the gate and stop and address it (smell it, look at, etc.) Then you would imagine that you are presenting an imaginary line that you would like your horse to follow as he crosses the gate. First he has to be looking at this "line." In most cases if he is worried or insecure about the gate he'll try and avoid it by looking at everything EXCEPT the gate. So you'll need to address helping him focus using the aid of your lead rope by being able to establish looking specifically at the gate. He will not cross the gate with a "warm fuzzy feeling" until he decides to literally look at the gate.

Once he looks at the "line" you want him to walk on, you increase your energy (probably using the excess of your lead rope - but NOT driving him or chasing him) across the gate, literally one step at a time. You do not want your horse to "survive" crossing the gate, rather you want him to think and feel confident with each step he is taking as he crosses the gate. As he is on the gate you want to feel that you could stop his movement or pick a specific place that you would like to have go.

After you successfully help him address and cross the gate from both directions (with plenty of breaks and rests in between) you might ask him to focus on something else and then present the gate again later in the session. The slower you can have him think about what you are asking, the better the quality of his performance will be.

Remember, your safety is a number one priority, if you hear that little voice in the back of your head telling you not to do something, listen to it. Too many horse related accidents occur because people are "hopeful" that it will all work out.

Good Luck,


  1. Hi Sam,
    I have the same problem with my young mare. I need to lead her to the riding club to ride, but she won't go unless there is another horse there. She leads well otherwise (ie. around the paddock or barn area) and leads well when we head somewhere she wants to go.

    If I don't drive her with the whip, how do I get her to move? She just stops and backs up. I should say, this is city life compared to her country life, so it's a little busier on these streets than what she is used to, but she shows no fear of cars, bikes, dogs, people, etc.

    Any tips you have would be great!

    1. Hi Michelle... You are correct in saying the horse will not move unless she wants to go somewhere; meaning she needs to THINK before she moves. If you perhaps re-read this post a bit more slowly, I describe all of the small "tools" you'll need BEFORE you present a scenario you know your mare will not like.
      You'll need to experiment with influencing her brain first. Then you'll probably need to reassess how she yields to pressure. Meaning on a scale from one to 10, how lightly can you ask her to either relax her head, turn it, shift her weight (without moving her feet,) then actually moving one foot at a time. Literally.

      Often horses anticipate what they think we want, and once they get moving, we can't really influence them.

      People get caught up with the end goal of "getting somewhere" they don't notice the lack of quality in all the little steps it is going to take to get to where they want their horse to go.

      Your goal should be first, to be able to direct your horse's brain to look at something specific. Then however much energy you offer with the lead rope drawing her towards where you want (without your having to walk and lead her) she should mimic with her movement.

      If she just hangs, leans or pulls on the rope, or stands there ignoring you, you have not been effective in establishing a clear yielding to pressure concept therefor it leads to a game of tug of war when the horse has other ideas than what you want.

      Just like a hot wire, which only zaps you when you are in the "wrong" place, there has to be a consequence any time your horse ignores an aid from you. But often people critique their horse for a long time after the fact, rather than immediately. Each horse may require a different "hot wire effect," but basically, whether it is a slight bump with the snap under her chin any time she leans or pulls on you, and an immediate release the moment she offers a change and gets light on the rope, can often help her break the physical brace in her body that she offers when she doesn't do what you want.

      Again, all this you'll need to do in a non stressful situation first. If you don't have the clearly defined and effective tools to communicate beforehand, you wind up "challenging" your horse to listen, and they will always win in those scenarios.

      I personally don't like to "drive" my horse anywhere; I use the scenario what if you got into a vehicle with a person who only had the gas pedal and brake, but no steering wheel, how far would you get in the drive and how comfortable would you feel? Yet with horses, people get so distracted by movement without thinking about the brain.

      You're not going to have drastic changes with your horse overnight, because you'll probably have to reassess, how, what and why are you communicating what you are conveying to your horse. Often we humans need to make a change within ourselves, before we get the desired change in our horse.

      Good Luck


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