Leading a Horse Safely

Horses August 11, 2008 Print Friendly and PDF
Leading a Horse

When leading the horse, the right hand should be on the lead shank and a few inches below the snap and knot.The excess lead shank should be held neatly in the left hand.Both hands should be held in a comfortable manner in order to allow the horse to walk with its head held in a natural relaxed manner.

When leading, it is important to keep your eyes looking forward and focused on where you are going.

A person’s body position is very important when leading.The proper position is to walk between the horse’s shoulder and throatlatch. Common mistakes made when leading a horse include:the hand is held incorrectly on the shank and the horse’s head is held up as is done when leading cattle and also the leader tends to get out in front of the horse and looks back at him. These mistakes could interfere with your safety.

Leading a Horse Through Small Openings

Leading a horse through a small opening such as a stall door presents a dangerous situation. Horses may be apprehensive to move out of or into a stall because the areas inside and outside of a stall area can be very different. The horse’s response may be to bolt through the opening or resist moving forward. If uncontrolled, the horse can easily injure a handler because of the proximity of surrounding structures.

Once haltered, the horse should be positioned beside you as the door is opened. The door should be large enough for you and the horse to move through the opening together so you can stay positioned along the horse’s side. However, many openings are too small for the handler to remain along side of the horse. In that case, the best alternative is for you to open the door and position the horse in line with the right side of the opening while you maintain position along the left side of the horse’s neck. If the horse can be stopped or movement can be slowed before going through the opening, you can step through before the horse and then cue the horse to follow. If this is the case, you must move quickly to the side of the opening when leading the horse through to avoid movement of the horse.

Leading a horse through a gate

Many swing or hinged gates are constructed to have wider openings than stall doors. You must keep position along the side of the horse when moving through the gate while maintaining control of the gate and the horse. One option is to swing the gate completely open, walk the horse through the gate, move the horse to the other side of the gate, and swing the gate closed. Pushing the gate away from the horse in this manner can create enough movement to cause a horse to shy from the gate. Also, if the gate swings freely, it may move back toward you and the horse. If you lose control of the gate, other animals in the area might try to move through.

The recommended procedure for moving through a swing gate is similar to other gates.

  1. First, approach the gate with as much room as possible on your side. This area will allow you to step away if the horse moves sideways.
  2. Unlatch the gate while maintaining position along the throatlatch of the horse.
    1. Keeping one hand on the lead to control the horse is helpful, so latch designs should allow for release with one hand. Open the gate as much as possible before leading the horse through while holding the gate with the hand farthest from the horse.
  3. Open the gate wide enough to allow both you and the horse to walk through without injury.
  4. Lead the horse around the end of the gate while holding on to the gate. The area should be open enough so that the horse doesn’t have to be backed up while moving around the end of the gate.
  5. Once the horse is on the other side of the gate, you can push the gate closed and latch it.
  6. Again, the most important points are to maintain position along side of the horse instead of in front of the horse, and use the available space to provide an open area between you and surrounding structures.
  7. If gates are not opened wide enough, surrounding structures can injure handlers and horses.
  8. Another common mistake is to move in front of the horse as you go through a gate. Horses are very prone to move quickly through openings, so this practice is very dangerous.


For more information on the safe handling of horses, check out the HorseQuest Learning Lesson: Horse Owner Survival and the Ground Handling Horses Safely instructional videos.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.