Roger Thompson: Horsin’ Around 5-30-11 |

Roger Thompson: Horsin’ Around 5-30-11

Roger Thompson
Fort Collins, Colo.

Leading horses is just as much an art as anything else and folks should practice doing so with many horses. I like my horses to walk along beside me with their head at my right shoulder and not have to drag them along and I want them to want to go the same direction I am going. This way I know what they are going to do by watching their eyes and ears as they walk along. Some times this takes some training because you can’t drag a 1,200 pound horse along so you must convince them to go along.

Some horses are reluctant and want to hang back. They need to be encouraged to keep up with you by having someone shoo them along or with a short buggy whip (the word whip is not a term I like to use as encouragement) to tap them behind to get them to move with you. A good method is to turn their heads right and left to encourage them to step one way or the other. Once they move their feet, then you can walk out with them. The horse has to go where his head goes, so eventually he is going to move. Don’t try to pull him; it never works, even though you see it on old western movies.

Be enthusiastic about where you are going. Horses notice our feelings, they can read what we are feeling and are often curious about something we are excited about and want to see what’s so interesting. But some horses are eager-beavers and need to be restrained. So, a short gentle tug on the lead rope or turning them in a circle (away from your body) will show them.

Always carry the extra length of lead rope in your other hand to be let out as a lunge line if necessary. Never wrap lead ropes around your wrists. I have been drug by doing that in the past. Moreover, it’s a good idea to teach horses to lead from either side, just as they are longed from both sides.

Hand feeding your horse is a bad idea. Now I know I am preaching what I am guilty of doing often myself. But for a beginning horseman it is a dangerous practice to hold grain or a horse cookie in your hand and feed them. First of all you could lose a finger or a thumb. Secondly, you teach the horse to search for hands, since that has been the source of all the goodies.

People who ought to know better, often offer an apple to their pet with outstretched palm thinking it’s safe enough that way. I am guilty of that very thing and have had my finger bitten before. But there are a number of folks who have lost fingers to an aggressive horse that same way. It’s not the horses fault if he takes part of a thumb.

Often this dangerous practice is pictured in horse books and movies. Nature gave the horse a long neck so that he can reach grass down by his feet. That tells us the correct, normal position of the horses head when eating. There are some horses that feel around with their lips before chomping down; in fact most horses do this when eating.

We don’t like horses nosing around our clothes looking for goodies. Nothing is more annoying or harder to break than a horse who constantly nudges hands or pockets. Horses love treats but they should be placed in a bucket on the ground.

The love of horses is strong in many of us but they are not puppy dogs and should be handled with caution in mind. We must always remember that certain stimuli such as sudden noises, quick movement, even strange odors can cause the horse to bolt and run, this is only a natural survival instinct to a horse.


Prior to his retirement, Roger Thompson was a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.

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