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How to Safely Ride and Lead

How to Safely Ride and Lead horses

If you have two or more horses to take care of, you may find that the time you have at your disposal for exercising them is limited. So, knowing how to ride and lead can be a godsend for you, and it can be more enjoyable for your horses compared to the horse walker.

In this article, we look at how to ride and lead safely.

Pairing horses for ride and lead

Before you can even think about riding one horse and leading another, you need to be confident that the two get on well together.

In a perfect world, the horses you intend to ride and lead should be paddock mates. At the very least you should be able to tie the horses up together without the danger of either biting or kicking the other.

Choosing which horse to ride and which horse to lead

You must have complete control over the horse you’re planning on riding. That means you must be able to handle him from the saddle with just one hand on the reins.

The horse you’re leading must be quiet, mannerly, and happy to be led from the right-hand side.

One horse may be a natural leader, always wanting to go first, whereas another may be a natural follower and feel more comfortable walking a few feet behind. Take this into consideration when pairing horses and deciding which one to ride and which one to lead.

It’s much easier to ride a lead when the horses are paired correctly and put into roles that suit their individual temperaments and personalities.

Never try to ride and lead if either horse tends to nap, spook, or bolt!

Ride and lead positions

The led horse should be on the left of the ridden horse and a few feet behind. However, this is not ‘single-file’ and those horses should not be one in front of the other.

Instead, the horses should still walk together as a pair and take up two horse’s width on the road, but as a rule of thumb, the head of the led horse should be next to your left leg as your sitting in the saddle of the ridden horse.

Ride and lead – getting started

First, you should train your horses to ride and lead in a fenced arena or small field, rather than out on the road.

A good way to start is by leading the horses in their ride and lead positions on a small circle and in both directions. That allows the led horse to become accustomed to following another with no confrontation. It’s also easier for you to control the led horse.

Two scenarios could occur here:

  1. The led horse constantly hangs back and is reluctant to follow the leader.
  2. The led horse tries to overtake the horse he is supposed to be following.

You can work on correcting both these situations by using a training halter and working with the horses in-hand and from the ground.

For the reluctant horse, ask him to move forward with even tension on the halter, releasing the pressure as a reward immediately he takes a step forward.

For the horse that’s too keen, increase the pressure on the halter each time he tries to pull away from you or attempts to get past you. Again, reward the horse when he comes back into line by releasing the pressure on the halter. That technique quickly teaches the horse that the most comfortable place to be is behind you and the ridden horse.

Tack for riding and leading

Your ridden horse should be tacked up as normal, as though you was going on a usual hack.

Your lead horse should have on its bridle with either its reins removed or wrapped up safely in its throat lash. You can then thread a lead rope through the off-side bit ring, under the horse’s jaw, and attach it to the bit on the left side of the horse.

If the led horse is a youngster, you can use a headcollar at first, rather than a bridle as pressure from the bit could cause him to panic. An older and more experienced horse should be okay in a bridle.

We also recommend that both horses wear a full set of brushing boots to protect their legs when working so closely together.

How to get on

In an ideal world, you’ll be able to get on your ridden horse and a helper pass you the lead rope for the other horse.

However, when no such helpers are available, here how you do it.

Step 1

Ensure both horses are tacked up correctly and that the girth is tightened and your stirrups are the correct length. The less faffing you have to do when you get on board, the better.

Step 2

Grab a mounting block and place it where you have plenty of room. In other words, don’t have it in the corner of your arena or pushed up against your yard wall.

Step 3

Walk both horses up to the mounting block at the same time, one on both sides.

Your ridden horse should be on your right and your led horse should be on your left, and they should be separated by you and the mounting block, which should now be in the middle.

Step 4

Use the mounting block to get on your ridden horse as usual. The only difference is that as you put your reins into your left hand, you should now have your ridden horse’s reins plus the lead rope for your other horse.

At this moment, your horses should be stood almost parallel to each other with a mounting block in the middle of them. Once you are on, you can simply walk them both forward and away you go.

Another method is to stand your horses at a right angle, rather than parallel. In this method, your ridden horse is stood in the usual position at the mounting block and your led horse is positioned at 90 degrees in front of the mounting block with its head facing the shoulders of your ridden horse. This can be a good method if you need to keep your horses under closer control.

Again, once you have mounted, walk both horses forward and away from the mounting block.

Road safety when riding and leading

If you don’t have the luxury of living close to a network of bridleways, you’ll need to use the road.

Here are a few vital road safety tips to be aware of:

  • The led horse should always be on your left, away from traffic. That position puts the led horse between the hedge-line and the ridden horse. So, if the led horse shies at something, the ridden horse will act as a physical barrier, preventing his companion from swinging his hindquarters into the road.
  • Wear Hi-Viz clothing, even during the day and in sunny conditions. The more you are your horses are seen, the better.
  • Think carefully about the route you’re planning to take. Avoid roads that may be too narrow for a pair of horses and a car to pass safely, along with routes that include gates which need to be opened and closed.
  • Never ride and lead on the roads during poor light such as very early in the morning or at dusk.
  • Whenever you ride and lead, always take a fully-charged mobile phone with you and tell someone where you’re going and how long you expect to be.

In conclusion

Teaching two horses to ride and lead can be a great way of getting them fit and is far more interesting for them than using a horse walker.

Make sure that the horses you’re riding and leading get on well together, and carry out some basic training in a safe environment before venturing out. If you’re using the roads, follow our safety tips above.

Do you ride and lead? Are there any other top tips you’d like to share with fellow readers?

Share with us in the comments section below.

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  1. I have young fella, un-handled till 4yr old – now 6yr (been on hill country with no human contact) he’s become much more settled at home in his paddock – less “looky” and startled at new ‘goings on’ now he’s had a chance to see the world and get some confidence through his road riding buddies. He wouldn’t trot in hand either but he does now that he’s learned to with the road riding (it was a tug of war – I won!) Lot easier to handle and stroppy jumpy types when you are up on another horse than being on the ground having the rope yanked out of your hands every time they leap sideways cause a bird flew out of the hedge. They have a sense of purpose and a job to do which makes taking in the sights (and freak outs) more manageable. We live on quiet wide country roads with courteous neighbours – impossible otherwise.

  2. Personally I feel unless you are on private tracks riding and leading these days is a non starter. We live in litigious times and as flight animals it would be difficult to argue the care and control element were the unthinkable to happen on a public highway.

  3. Hi from the US! A wonderful old cowboy taught me how to pony & I have since done it a lot with a number of different horses. The one thing he harped on was to keep the lead quite short to the ponied horse’s head. If you let it get long & then they swing their head around, that ~100 lbs could pull you off your horse! Keep the ponied horse snugged up to your knee.

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