Leading a Horse

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How to Lead a Horse

For the same reasons it is not safe to stand in front of a horse, it is also not safe to lead a horse while standing in front of it. If frightened or startled, the horse will likely escape forwards and potentially injure the handler. 

The best position to stand is along the side, in line with the horse’s head, throatlatch and upper neck.

The safest place to lead a horse is along the side of the head, throatlatch and upper neck.

Although horses can be led from either side, they are traditionally taught to lead with the handler on their left side. As a result, most horses will be more at ease when led from the left side. 

Leading with the horse directly behind you is unsafe because: 

  • You can’t monitor the horse’s behaviour.
  • The horse can injure you if they are startled or frightened.


The hand closest to the horse should be on the lead rope, about six to eight inches from the halter, and there should be no tension on the lead rope when the horse is moving as desired. Never wrap the lead rope around your hand. Your other hand holds the rope so that it doesn’t drag on the ground or become entangled in your legs.


The handler’s footpath should be along the side of the horse and one to two feet from the horse’s path. 

DO YOU KNOW enough about horse handling and training to safely demonstrate how to lead a horse? If you are new to horses or inexperienced, work with a professional trainer or experienced adult to learn this horse handling skill. Always wear a helmet when riding a horse.

The handler should face the same direction that the horse is moving. If moving forward, face forward. If moving the horse backward, face the rear of the horse. If moving to the right side, face the horse’s neck and move the horse’s front end to the side. Position should be maintained along the side of the horse. 

A handler should not step in front of the horse’s chest when turning or moving forward or backward. The distance from the handler to the horse should remain constant.

Watch this video by Equitation Science International about how to safely lead a horse:

Pressure should be applied to the lead rope in the desired direction. As soon as the horse moves in the desired direction, release pressure on the lead rope.

Horses should be trained to move without constant reinforcement from the lead rope. The handler should be able to apply minimal pressure to move a horse in a desired direction. 

Watch this video by Equitation Science International on the appropriate use of lead pressure (or negative reinforcement) when handling horses:

Photo Credit: Erica Cheung

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