Leading a horse without a leadrope

I was being lazy and I grabbed Vaquero from the turn out without grabbing a lead rope, something many would consider normal. It has been so long that I had forgotten how it felt to lead a horse directly by the halter. It was terrible. Kinda reminded me of two teenagers trying to learn to dance while stepping all over each others feet.

No, I didn’t get stepped on, but I might as well have! It is sooooo difficult to lead one without any distance or gap that instead of looking (and feeling) like you are moving as one it feels more like you are invading each others space.

Yes, I did keep my arm loose and I didn’t have a death grip but I could still feel all of the….well, feel…being lost between.

Have you ever gotten really comfortable with leading your horse while keeping them at a distance? If yes, have you ever gone back like I did and felt what I am talking about?


  1. Ayla on December 21, 2011 at 10:41 am

    I frequently use just a rope around their neck to lead them. I lead my little rescue Arab mare on the correct side with my hand under her jaw and holding onto the other side of her mane. She dosen’t need a halter anymore =)

  2. Amanda Accordino on December 1, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    I know what you mean! my horse gets uncomfortable and even confused when I do that because I teach her to stay out of my space… so I try not to do that very often haha

  3. sparky on November 24, 2011 at 5:21 am

    Oh ya. I got a glove hooked in a halter one time. Made a lap and a half around the pen before i got control of him. Scratshthe top of ny head wasnt a option for a couple days 🙂 lol

  4. Kelly on November 20, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    I’m with you Paige D. Sometimes, when I was out in the field with my horse, I would lead him around by his mane right behind his ears. I learned not to step on his feet, and thank goodness he was polite enough to learn not to step on mine!

    • d roberts on July 18, 2013 at 3:11 pm

      Leading them by the mane is fine as long as your hand doesn’t get caught anywhere and they remain obedient. If they should take a notion to not, you are at a loss with a 1200 lbs or more animal I am afraid because you will have no control it’s obvious and they will just run away. Then they have learned they don’t have to behave, and you have a new problem to solve and retrain, so why start teaching them that they can misbehave in the first place? Is it that difficult to use a halter and rope for safety and behavior? Just asking. At some point they just might as horses can be undependable in their behavior as we all know sometimes.

  5. Paige D. on November 20, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    My horse just tends to follow me on a loose lead rope or without one. I’ve had him for 4 and a half years so he just knows that he should follow me and knows who’s boss.

  6. Jennifer on November 20, 2011 at 9:08 am

    I have been doing this for years. The only time I ever use a lead rope is when I have to bring in more than one horse. Been doing this since they were yearlings and they just adapted to it I guess.

  7. Bernadette on November 20, 2011 at 9:01 am

    i have one that i can lead simply by grabbing her mane. i never pull on my horses. I push. if i am leading one by rope or mane and they balk, i reach back behind be with the hand furthest from the horse and flick the lead rope at the side or butt. if i am leading by the mane i just reach back with my hand. Again, push not pull. i never have tension on a lead rope if i can help it. when i am leading holding the mane, it is more of a touch than a grab. i can’t remember teaching her this, but i’ll bet i started with a halter and then progressed. i do remember her running away from me the first time i tried this!

  8. Gary on November 20, 2011 at 8:56 am

    I lead my horses with a halter & no lead rope all the time, though I will admit my horses are dead broke. Some times I lead them with a lead rope around their neck & no halter. A few of them I lead with no lead rope and no halter. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else. I have had a friend lead one of my horses around with a halter & no lead rope that ended up breaking 2 fingers when the mare rared up, so it can be dangerous. It all depends on the horse.

  9. Sondra Flesch on November 20, 2011 at 7:19 am

    I know you guys are all about horses,,,, but I just have to put in my two cents; cause it realates so much with what I’m going through currently with leading my sheep. I guess the answer; as all have said and known is to be aware of what the creature may be thinking. Never let your guard down and relax. 🙂

  10. Laurie Eagles on November 20, 2011 at 7:05 am

    A few years ago, I grabbed ahold of a weanling by her halter, figuring we did not have far to go, thought it would be ok. She simply flicked her head up a little bit, and voila….there was me with a broken wrist. You would think I had learned my lesson at that point…for a while yes. Now I find myself going into the field and still grabbing one of the older horses the same way. I teach….lead ropes….lead ropes…lead ropes…..safety……safety…..safety……but we don’t always practice what we preach I guess. LOL

    • d roberts on July 18, 2013 at 3:04 pm

      This is exactly why you always should use a lead rope, no matter what the age any horse can learn a bad habit of bolting, so why start. I don’t care who you are or how well trained your horse is, it only takes on time for them to shy or or something to scare them and come out from the blue to break your hand, once they are loose they don’t forget and now you have a learned error you have to fix along with an injury when just using something as simple as a rope could have avoided.

  11. judith stahl on November 19, 2011 at 7:01 am

    Yes, I have done that. My horse leads nicely no matter what I use, but I completely understand what you mean.

    When trimming, my farrier used to like to tie my little donkey within an inch of his life. I suggested letting him have a few feet of slack in the rope; lo and behold, my little Burrito is now a pleasure to trim.

  12. Jodi on November 19, 2011 at 6:33 am

    Yes, I know what you mean… but not with my current horse. I’ve been teaching Yankee, my two-year-old Rocky, to lead without a rope from the very beginning. He’s very good, but then that horse is amazingly responsive to me anyway. I’ve been having to teach him to respond only to direct cues when in the round pen, not thoughts about what I might have him do next (seriously! It’s awesome but frustrating sometimes).

    Being a youngster he does sometimes slip, but generally all I need to do is touch the halter – or his jaw if he doesn’t have one on – and it brings him back to me.

  13. malinda on November 18, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    I almost never use a lead rope. mine all come running when i call them and their ropes are tied to the post on the round pen. I walk them from the gate to their ropes. i useally only have to use one finger. I use a rope when i load them to go somewhere in case they get scared andc try to run off. At home they know the drill.

  14. Dennis on November 18, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    Mine have gotten so responsive that most of the time I don’t even use the halter. I carry a soft lead rope with no clips that I’ll use around their neck if they’re a little sluggish, but usually a scratch behind the ear and a tickle under the chin signals that I want them to come with me. They walk about a half an arms length from me with their nose even with my shoulder to the left or right of me. If there is more than one horse following, they will form a semblance of an echelon. Another scratch behind the ear and a forehead rub signals that we’re done and they can go back to being horses. We’re working on a double echelon doing patterns in the pasture, kind of like an unmounted drill team. I don’t get to ride a lot, my wife set down a firm rule after I broke my wrist riding by myself, “NO RIDING IF NO ONE IS WITH ME!” Usually I’m by myself with them so we just do a lot of ground work exercises.

  15. Gwen Confalone on November 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    Interesting. I don’t feel this way with my horse at all. In fact there is very little difference in her responsiveness to the halter pressure whether I hold the halter itself or the leadrope at 1 foot or at 4 foot.
    She’s pretty light to pressure. I think maybe its because when she was a baby I did lots of mini-gives with her – first with the halter and later with the bridle. I always started with my hand on the halter/bit, and then gradually lengthened the distance. Probably, its whatever they are used to/exposed to.

    • Dennis on November 18, 2011 at 2:54 pm

      With all of mine, I did just the reverse. I started on the end of the longest lead I had and worked my way closer to them.

  16. Maureen on November 18, 2011 at 11:21 am

    I will do with with two of my three horses as they are very layed back and respectful (and broke to death); however, it is not recommended that we lead without a lead rope, for safety reasons. Quite often it is a matter of “do what I say, not what I do”.

  17. Erica on November 18, 2011 at 10:35 am

    My mare is actually really good with leading with or without a lead rope. She drops her head low&moves off of me. Even when I use a lead rope I can lay it on her back and not touch it&she stays by my side. I’ve even done it without the lead rope, halter on, I stand by her shoulder touch her neck and ask her to walk or cluck, and we do pretty good. But if the 2 boys decide they’re jealous it doesn’t go too good. Because they go crazy&run the fence&whiny their heads off until she’s back in sight! Men!

  18. Janet on November 18, 2011 at 9:59 am

    This reminds me of an experiment I tried about a year ago. I wanted to see if I was accually the leader of the heard. No I don’t recommend this, but all turned well. What I did was took my lead mare out. I had set up an obstical coarse. I had a few barrels set up along with the bridge I use and of coarse a few gopher hole just to add abit of a challange. I halter her up and then blind folded myself. The first little while I did have that feeling you discribed, I found myself bumping into her, was amazed how aware she was of my feet. Once she understood that I was not in control and of coarse really tense she took over it was at the bridge when I realized that she was accually taking care of me. She stop and I kept walking and of coarse I tripped, I decide at that point if I was going to make this work I would have to listen to her body and what she was telling me too do. Once I gave that to her and started feeling instead of leading that the connection came through. Not to say I did fall a couple of times. But I did gain a better understanding of trust in her decision on where we were going. Now I wouldn’t recomend this in a open field, I was in a very small confind area, with a horse I trusted.

    • Dennis on November 18, 2011 at 3:02 pm

      I might try that with my sighted horses, but definitely not my blindie. She did get me back to the house one time after I sprained an ankle one time though. I had to ask her to lay down to get on, but once we got up, all I had to say was “Let’s go to the house.” and away we went. We were in our own pasture which she has memorized.

      • Janet on November 18, 2011 at 3:40 pm

        Like I said before Dennis make sure that the horse you are using is one you can really put your trust in. I found that with this experiment, it was more about the trust, and did I mention I did stumble and fell a few times, before I got it right. And it was more of the silent communication that I was looking for. Good luck and be safe when doing it. I did it with a couple of my other horse, with out as much success so when choosing, be carefull. Take care and have fun thinking outside of the box.

  19. Billy Reed on November 18, 2011 at 9:46 am

    I know exactly what you are saying and feeling here… It is an, out of place feeling.

  20. Terri Anderson on November 18, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Oh, yea! My older mare will not even go like that! It would not be safe to lead her by the halter….:) Vaquero sure does have a beautiful head! I hope all went well for you in Australia, can not wait for you to tell about it…

  21. Stacey on November 18, 2011 at 7:46 am

    Wow, I was taught to always lead a horse by the the halter by the right hand while holding the lead rope in the left hand. This was supposed to prevent the horse from biting the leader’s back and to keep control of the horse’s head to have control of the horse. Was I taught wrong?

  22. cathy on November 18, 2011 at 7:13 am

    I developed a balance (inner ear) problem following antibiotic treatment for a knee replacement infection in 1996. I have to be very careful about the slightest motion knocking me over. Leading by the halter also can put you directly in front of your horses feet should they take their head away from you (and you don’t let go).I gave that up years ago after working with draft horses. Odd how seemingly “little” things aren’t so little anymore when you have disabilities, and how things you might have tolerated from a pony are never tolerated from a draft. I changed the way I “hold” onto any horse I work with and treat them all the same. If a behavior is expected from a 2000 pound horse, I expect the same from a 200 pounder! Or at least work toward that goal. What I learned is, the less you “hang onto them” the more they stay with you.

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