Halter Horse Training: Your Space, My Space

Halter Horse Training: Your Space, My Space

AQHA Professional Horseman Jason Smith offers horse-training tips to teach your horse to respect your personal space while being led.

a male youth exhibitor leads a buckskin mare past a line of judges in a performance halter class at the 2014 AQHYA World Show (Credit: Journal)

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Whether you call it “shouldering in,” “crowding the handler” or “falling into you,” it’s a habit that needs to be stopped. AQHA Professional Horseman Jason Smith of Whitesboro, Texas, has trained hundreds of halter horses to lead politely. Whether you're leading your horse in a show class or leading him from the barn to the trailer, he needs manners. Jason has some advice on teaching your horse to respect your personal space.

The Right Place to Learn

When you have a horse that’s shouldering in on you, you can’t correct it at a horse show. It needs to be worked on at home.

The first time you work with a horse, you need to be in a confined area like an arena or a fenced-in pen, especially with a young animal. If for some reason something happens and the horse gets away from you, you don’t want to be out in the open.

The Handler’s Space

First, you have to understand that your space is from about the ear back to the withers, so you should be standing right behind the poll or toward the middle part of the neck. You want to be no farther than a foot away from the horse, in that space.

You don’t want yourself ahead or in front of the horse because if the horse should rear, you’re going to get pawed in that position. If you get behind the horse's withers, the horse can kick you. I’m not saying you won’t ever get hurt in your space, but if you are in the correct position and the horse does paw or kick, chances are it’s not going to hurt as bad.

When I walk, my position is still the same; I’m still in this area between the ear and the withers. I stay in this same position to correct the horse.

woman leads horse in showmanship class
Keep a safe distance between yourself and the horse when you're leading. (Credit: Journal)

When You’re Leading

When you’re leading a horse, it’s just like riding; you don’t want the horse’s shoulder to drop. You want the shoulder upright, and you want the horse moving squarely.

  • If the horse doesn’t respect its space or your space, the horse can’t be square and travel even.
  • You want the horse upright and square, traveling the way it would if you were riding her.
  • You want to accentuate the horse's movement, just like you would with a pleasure horse.

To keep that horse’s shoulder upright, you have to be going forward.

As soon as a horse shoulders in on me, I’ll give a little tug on the shank to get the horse's attention, and then I will push the horse away from me, either backing a few steps or turning to the right or sometimes both.

Backing a horse up teaches it not to push on me. And turning to the right keeps the shoulder up so the horse isn't shouldering in on me. As soon as you get the horse upright and push it away, the shoulder automatically tilts back up.

If the horse isn't responding, moving to where I want it to go, I push really hard with the chain. As soon as the horse does respond, I take the pressure of the chain off.

Everything I do in correcting that horse is all from my same space.


JASON SMITH owns and operates Smith Show Horses Inc. in Whitesboro, Texas, where he lives with his wife, Julie. Their children are Cooper and Shyanne. Jason is an AQHA Professional Horseman as well as a judge with the World Conformation Horse Association. He has trained halter horses for more than 20 years, and has prepared and shown more than 75 world champions in stock breed associations including AQHA.