The Reason Might Surprise You
A lively discussion on my online training group evolved recently over the different ways we lead our horses. Some people lead their horses at the shoulder, others lead their horse behind them. We all have our own valid reasons for doing things a certain way.
“I was always taught that you have more control over the horse if you are leading him beside you.”
“I don’t like to lead my horse next to me. If something spooks him, he could jump sideways and knock me over.“
"In the wild, horses follow behind each other, it is their natural way of going.”
“I don’t like to lead my horse behind me. If something spooks him, he could jump forward and run me over.”
“My horse needs to lead at the shoulder because I show him in hand, and those are the rules for the class.”
“If your horse respects your personal space, it doesn’t matter where you lead, because he is not going to run you over no matter what happens.”
The truth is, there is no absolute right or wrong for this issue. However, I lead my horses behind me, and it has nothing to do with control, safety or tradition.
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Photograph courtesy of Billie Fitzharris
I lead my horses behind me for the pure and simple reason that
it is soothing and relaxing for them and for me.
I hadn’t really thought about why it mattered so much to me, until Marcia C. described her experience for our training group:
“On leading behind: I’ve been struggling (internally) with the concept of leading behind due to 30+ years of ingrained behaviour. When I first started [Warwick Schiller’s training program] a couple of months ago, I asked if it was really necessary, and it seems that other “newbies” struggle with this as well . . . I taught my two youngsters “the new way” fairly easily, and was a little surprised how much that change alone seemed to calm the “troubled” gelding.
But I was still hesitating with my broke mare because she really had no space issues, what we were doing was working fine, and we always traveled on a loose line anyway. Nonetheless, I finally decide to get her “on the program” as well, and taught her to lead behind the other night . . . . Wow!
As soon as she realized what I was asking/permitting, that mare ambled along behind me with a lowered head, licking and chewing like crazy!”
* * *
Ava follows Logan
I like to take my horses for walks, usually after a training session. We are blessed to have a beautiful property to explore, far away from traffic, with grassy trails, open meadows, and shady tree lined dirt roads. Sometimes I take my horse down through the center lane between the paddocks and pastures, visiting other horses who she otherwise wouldn’t get to see.
Other times we take a stroll to the north side of the property, where several large monster-hiding piles of lumber are lurking, providing an opportunity to practice being brave. We can even open the gate and go out into “The Back Forty” to visit the herd of Black Angus cows that live out there. All this time, we are ambling. Just ambling along.
Not that my mustang mares are dull or uninterested in all there is to see: the other horses, the scary lumber piles, a tractor in the distance, a herd of curious cows. Sometimes their heads go up – something worries them a bit, we might stop for a minute or so just to soak it all in. But they are always, always willing to go with me . . . there is not an ounce of barn sour, never any attempt to turn around and go back.
I am their leader, and as such they know I am keeping them safe, and this pace we are traveling at is the same pace that wild horses take as they do what horses do naturally, as they trek from one valley to another, following their familiar trails to grassy meadows and watering holes . . . they walk, they amble, their lead mare finds the way, their stallion keeps a watchful eye out for danger, they are at peace in their world.
We live in a fast-paced society. Walking slows us down. So if you can, take your horse for a walk, with no agenda other than to Be Here Now, in the way that horses walk with each other.
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.
The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but Nature's sources never fail. ~John Muir
Photograph courtesy of Mary Cioffi
The wild horses in the photo above live in the Pine Nut Mountains area of Nevada. Please support the non-profit organization dedicated to keeping these beautiful creatures wild and safe; The Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates.
To see more pictures by Mary Cioffi and other talented wild horse photographers, visit the Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates Facebook page.
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