Relationship Riding Blog

Apr 6, 2018


By Barbra-Ann King

All horses seek a good leader; in the pasture, on the ground, in the riding arena, on trail rides and on competition grounds.

When your horse trusts and respects you the same way he does his herd leader, he will follow you and want to be with you, whether you are on his back or walking by his side, riding away from the barn and his herd or getting into a trailer.

The Leading Exercise, as taught in the Relationship Riding Method, is a great way to practise your True Equine Leadership skills. Instead of just haltering and taking your horse to the barn, take the opportunity to assert yourself as an equine leader.

Tools: halter, lead rope and short whip (i.e. dressage or carriage whip).

In order to gain respect from your horse you need to respect his/her them and their space too. This works both ways. A horse’s personal space is most vulnerable around their head/neck area, all the way to the point of their shoulder. If you are in the habit of always standing in that space and add to that holding the halter or buckle, you are being disrespectful towards your horse’s personal space.

Ideally you should be standing at their shoulder, with your feet in the same position as theirs. We have a tendency to stand in front of their feet so take the time to look down and see where you are standing. It may seem like a small, insignificant gesture but it will be noticed by your horse as a respectful gesture.

Now that you know your horse’s personal space, they need to know yours. Use the dressage whip to establish the distance between you and your horse when you are walking. KEEP THE WHIP ON THE GROUND. This is very important because you do not want to come across as dominant and aggressive.

Let’s break it down using photos.



1. Stand facing your horse with the whip in front of you, whip touching the ground. If your horse wants to get closer, wave the whip back and forth in front of him. Do not back up. That would be a sure sign that you are not the leader and can be push around.


 2. Walk backwards, your whip is by your side. Do not pull on the lead shank. Allow your horse to choose to follow you. When you stop, your horse should also stop while respecting the distance established between you. If he steps into your space, use your whip to back him up. If your horse gains ground as you are walking, swish the whip in front of him as you walk to remind him to respect the space.



 3. Once your horse respects your space as you walk backwards, without you having to use the whip to remind him, turn around and walk forwards. Keep your whip behind you for the first few tries, waving it when you stop. Your horse should keep the same distance from you. Do not allow him to creep up on you and shortening the distance between the two of you.

Eventually, you will not need to use a whip as a reminder, as long as you are consistent and do this every single time you lead your horse. When that happens and you want to allow your horse to follow closer, (making your personal space smaller), you may do so as long as you do not let the tip of his nose go past your shoulder or else he will be in the lead position. That’s all it takes for him to doubt your ability to be a True Equine leader.

I find this exercise very important because it shows your horse that he is not allowed in your personal space, no matter how big or small you choose to make it. Also, if something spooks your horse, he will not be oblivious to your presence and jump on you, or want to walk through a doorway at the same time as you.

Do not hold your horse at the buckle on the halter. Not only are you intruding in his personal space but you are preventing him from using his head to look around and because he can’t move, he is more likely to jerk his head when held.

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