Improve the relationship you have with your horse by becoming their herd leader.

Some riders really struggle with the idea of being their horse’s leader. They want to love and spoil their equine friend. Unfortunately, horses work in herd dynamics. Horses will either follow a leader or become the boss in the absence of one. This can be really dangerous when they start challenging you. The good news is you can become a confident yet kind leader.

Think about horses in the wild… an older, experienced mare usually takes on the role of leader. She keeps the herd safe and finds them water and food. While the stallion may collect the herd, the boss mare is trusted, respected, and valued for her wisdom. If possible, we should all strive to be that kind of leader. Your horse instinctively seeks it!

Your horse may have already tried to fill the role of leader if you’ve been neglecting that position. Some signs include stepping into your space or pushing into you, dragging you around, easily frightened, they determine the pace, and threatening to attack you. If you’ve noticed any of these, then your horse may be exerting dominance over you.

women riding horse

How to Establish Leadership

First, stand like a leader- tall and with your shoulders back. Walk your horse with confidence! Your position is important, so make sure you are shoulder to shoulder when leading. Do not let your horse pull you or walk ahead, instead they should match your gait. If you speed up, they should… etc.

Next, draw an imaginary hoopla hoop around yourself. Claim this space as your own! Your horse is not to enter it unless you invite them in. This space should always be protected, so don’t get lazy and let them rub or bump into you. Teach your horse that you mean business too. If they wander into your space, back them up or yield their shoulders away from you.

You must also be consistent and set rules. This one can be really hard to follow. Many people like to make exceptions or get too busy to stay firm. Your horse will be confused if you don’t stick with the same rules on a daily basis. Additionally, each person that handles your horse also needs to be consistent with the guidelines. 

It can be helpful to have a plan when you go to the barn or out for a ride. For example- if you want to walk down the road, then stick to it… don’t let your horse drag you into a trot. Plans help you to focus on what you want to achieve and how you’ll go about it.

Make sure to stay balanced and respectful. The best style is to be assertive, not too aggressive nor passive. You don’t want to let out your anger or frustration on your horse, instead calmly ask for what you want and then firmly enforce it through various steps. You’ll want to give your horse a chance to correct themselves. Your calm and confident attitude will help your horse to trust you better. Remember, your horse is a living creature and should be thought of as such.

The best leader remains flexible and treats the horse like an individual. You need to put their well-being first. Your expectations should match your horse and their abilities. Becoming your horse’s leader will help your relationship with them tremendously. Challenge yourself to be the best rider and handler you can be!

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Emily Fought

Emily Fought discovered her passion for horses early on in life. When she isn't writing about them, you can find her in the barn riding. Although Emily's background is in dressage, she enjoys cross-training and is an avid trail rider. She resides in Northeastern Ohio with her husband and small dog. Together, they own and operate Humblewood Farm. Emily not only writes for but as well!

August 2, 2021