Difficult to Lead
Learn your options when you have a horse who's difficult to lead.
October 3, 2016
My horse is very difficult to lead. He tries to grab grass and he will not walk behind me. He is constantly pulling me. How can I change this situation?
Our friends at the American Association of Equine Practitioners provide some solutions:
I attempt to see the world from the horse’s perspective, rather than from the human perspective, which is the perspective from which most of the questions are asked. I want my horse to do this, or stop doing this, you ask. Well, OK, that is simple enough to resolve. First, however, you must do this for your horse, because the message is clear something essential is missing from your horse’s life. So with me, as the equine behavior educator, the questions are human, the answers are horse. I was raised by horses, you know. The horses (and Blackfeet Indians) taught me to see as the horse sees. And then there was vet school!
In this case of your horse insisting to graze the grass he is walking upon, it is clear that you have failed to fulfill your horse’s ancient constant behavioral and physical need to abundantly, if not all day long, graze grass before you attempt to lead him around. Horses require 24/7 access to suitable forage. If they are restricted in this regard, they will graze when and how they can, as grazing is essential to living. Grazing is their most treasured and essential physical need. If your horse is stabled, he should never be without a bite of appropriate forage, please. Your horse is attempting to convey this long-evolved, constant-need-to-forage behavioral trait to you, if only you will listen, please. Horses utilize a gesture language to communicate, and your horse’s grazing gesture conveys to me that he is not getting enough. This is not about training, this is about providing your horse with the simple proper constant forage nutrition he requires before attempting to handle or train him. Horses in natural settings graze 80 to 90 percent of the time, you know, and your horse expects no less than his wild relatives. If your horse is unable to forage any less than those wild mustangs, expect this behavior to continue when he is led over nice, green grazing grass. Your horse should never be without a bite of suitable forage, so it sounds as if he is forage-deprived before you attempt to lead him over the grass he loves. He cannot help himself but graze until you fill his daily need to forage near-constantly. If the grass is green, and he has been offered mostly hay, I tell you he knows what is good for his digestive health. Let him graze the green grass, please. Once you sate your horse’s daily need to walk and graze abundantly, you can expect him to happily and willingly lead at your beck and call. I recommend an hour or two of daily hand grazing before attempting to lead him over surfaces that are barren of forage and grass. Set yourself up to succeed with him in this fashion.
Horses that have guardians who know how to fulfill and enrich their horses' need to graze and forage abundantly nearly all the time, have horses that happily lead when asked.
Get more information on how and why horses are born to graze.
-- Sid Gustafson, DVM, Bozeman, Montana, American Association of Equine Practitioners
*AQHA and the provider of this information are not liable for the inherent risks of equine activities. We always recommend consulting a qualified veterinarian and/or an AQHA Professional Horseman.