Bryan Neubert’s leading lessons teach responsiveness.
No matter what you ultimately do with a horse, leading is a universal means of communication. Teaching a horse to lead correctly— beside you, rather than dragging behind—saves time and frustration, and sets up the horse for success in other areas of training, according to Bryan Neubert.
With a varied background in cowboying, handling wild horses and working as a clinician, the Alturas, California, horseman finds that teaching responsiveness on the ground saves time and translates to other areas.
“I want a horse that can hit a trot and stay right up alongside me without me having to tow him,” Neubert says. “I come from a ranch cowboy background, and to be an ffective member of a crew, that’s one thing I felt like I needed to have in my horses. Also, I’ve spent a good part of my life starting colts on ranches and for the public, and I could get one or two more horses ridden a day if they would hit a jog between where I caught them and where I saddled them.
“And everything you can do to help him be responsive makes it easier [to teach] the next thing you need him to be responsive about. Every time you lead him is an opportunity to ask him, ‘Can you perk it up a bit and get with me?’”
A horse that doesn’t lead well also tends to be less cooperative when ridden.
“Generally speaking, if things aren’t working too good on the ground, they don’t get a whole lot better when you get on the horse’s back,” Neubert says.
Even though a horse may be halterbroke, he cautions that teaching it to lead better may not come easily for some people.
“At first, if the horse doesn’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish, that would be totally normal,” he says. “Some people expect that they’re going to act a certain way and their horse is going to [respond], but there’s a process they have to go through to teach something. This is something that the horse may not catch onto right away, and people may not catch onto right away. If it’s something new for the horse and the person, it’s normal if they struggle a little at first.”
Neubert’s ultimate goal is a horse that keeps up with him, whether he’s walking or jogging. The horse should be at his shoulder, keeping pace, without either horse or handler pulling on the lead rope.
Here, Neubert outlines the steps he takes to improve a horse that’s slow to lead.
LEFT: It’s obvious this horse doesn’t know how to lead up. I’m livening up, but he’s not. He has his head up a little and the lead rope is snug. He’s not understanding, and he’s trying to relieve the pressure through his head instead of through his feet.
RIGHT: Even though I livened up, I would expect that he wouldn’t. In order to help him understand what I want, I’ll lean forward a little bit and tighten up on the lead rope even though he won’t know what that means yet. These are all indications that I would like him to liven up. There is obvious resistance here and his feet aren’t coming.
LEFT: I’m facing the horse and have my lead rope snug, and I’m tapping him with the rope. I might start out this way [instead of beside him] so he understands how to move away from the pressure. This is important: You have to apply pressure slowly and take it off quickly, and the horse has got to see the warning signs the pressure is coming. [In this position] he can see my hand coming back and then moving in. When I get ready to tap him, I want him to get ready to move. At the start he doesn’t know I’m getting ready to tap him, so when I raise my hand it’s got to be slow. I warn him and then tap him. It might take him a few minutes before he understands, then when he sees me get ready he gets ready. If he moves when he sees my hand come up, I don’t tap him. I’m only going to tap him if he doesn’t respond.
Somebody once told me it’s giving them CPR—cue, pressure and response/reward. As quickly as you can, you want to take the “P” out so you just have the cue and the response.
RIGHT: I’m tightening up the lead rope and my right hand is on the rope, and my left hand is swinging the end around so it lands on his ribs or hip. He’s not responding yet, but I’m coming with my pressure.
LEFT: It is totally normal that this horse went past me, and I allowed him to go past (notice my right hand is opened up), because he’s trying a little harder than necessary here. If you don’t let the horse go past you, he’ll run right into more pressure on the halter. This is a place where most people think something is going wrong, but the horse will find the happy medium. I’m letting him do my thing his way. I don’t want to be too particular. I want him to understand that freedom waits for him out in front. I wouldn’t criticize him for doing too much. That’s an important part of it. If they miss that, they’re going to miss it all. Trying to get it too perfect too quickly won’t work.
CENTER: Here I’m blending in a little of my own life, and he’s starting to get with me. I’m moving right up alongside him. If he goes past me, I’m not going to jerk him back. I’ll let him go out there and just drift with him.
RIGHT: This is the finished product. I have a totally slack rope, I’ve livened up and he’s livened up. He’s got total freedom on the lead rope. I’ve opened my right hand and let the rope go. Remember that I said to apply the pressure slowly and take it off quickly. It’s just as important to give him that slack and let him run right into total freedom. This is what I’m looking for; there’s no pressure on the lead rope and we’re both moving right along, side by side.