By Susan Acree
A few years ago, I was at a neighbor’s, very nice indoor arena. She was kind enough to let me ride in it to escape the Texas rain and mud in my arena. I didn’t know her very well, but she had several horses and this beautiful ranch, so I assumed she was an accomplished horsewoman. She had talked about showing in the dressage ring and supporting her daughter in horse shows. You know what they say about assumptions….
I had been riding and playing with my horse for an hour or so. I was just finishing up with him when she brought in a cute little paint mare. She had a flat nylon halter and about a 9 foot poly lead rope. As she led the mare around, I could see that she was very fearful of the horse. I asked if I could help her and she quickly handed me the rope. She said the mare tried to kick her as she was leading her. I didn’t notice this as I started walking around the arena with her.
The mare was little pushy and not respectful. The flimsy lightweight lead rope gave me absolutely no feel to ask her for respect. I only had my rope halter and 12 foot lead that was on Bonus. I quickly put him in a corral at the end of the arena and took off his halter and lead.
The halter was a simple rope halter, a little stiffer than some, but an effective tool all the same. The lead was made from high-quality yachting braid. It is smooth, slightly forgiving, will flow through your hands and is a good weight.
I put the halter on the little paint mare and began again to lead her around the arena. This time when she pushed on me, a simple wiggle of my good rope caused her to back off. I was able to move her front end, back her up and have her lead up nicely, within just a few minutes. I worked with disengaging her hind quarters for a few minutes and then picked up all 4 feet. The mare gave no signs of intending to kick. My friend couldn’t believe the difference. I explained that the poly rope had no connection with the horse and the flat nylon halter was very easy for her to ignore. It wasn’t that the rope halter was abusive; it was just a different feel.
Imagine you are standing next to your friend and she pushes on your shoulder with her hand, open palmed. You can lean into her hand and really not be inclined to move. Now, let’s say she pushes on your shoulder with her index and middle fingers. She uses the same amount of pressure as she did with her open hand, but you feel the need to move away from her fingers because it is an uncomfortable feeling.
That is the feeling your horse experiences with a rope halter. So a rope halter is a very important piece of equipment. But, the title of this article is The Most Important Training Tool You Should Use, so even though I believe in using a rope halter exclusively in training for respect, it is not the Most important tack item.
I believe the high quality yachting braid lead rope is. You need a 12-15 foot rope for leading and a 22-24 foot rope for refinement of ground control and to achieve a natural connection between you and your horse.
Now, if I had continued to use her light, short poly rope, even with the rope halter, to try to impel her mare to give to pressure from the halter, I would have gotten very little response from the horse. There is just nothing to those cheap, tack store poly ropes. To be able to allow your horse to feel your intentions through the rope and onto the halter and thus his head and nose, you have to have a rope with some weight and feel to it.
I have noticed that the run of the mill tack stores have jumped on the rope halter band wagon, which is good. I am glad that the rope halters are becoming more common place and readily available. But, it is very difficult to find the good quality 5/8″ yachting braid rope leads. Some of the rope halters have the cheap, poly ropes attached. If real horsemen or women were designing and manufacturing these combinations, they would not use the poly ropes.
I worked with the little paint mare for a while longer, led her to the barn where the owner said she was really flighty and aggressive and put her quietly away in her stall. My neighbor was grateful, which was nice, but I really hope she learned something as well. She obviously had the means to buy the quality equipment, but would she follow up and do so. Unfortunately, I moved away and wasn’t able to continue helping her with her little mare, but I hope our short lesson gave her something to build on.
All of the top Natural Horsemanship Clinicians use high quality leads and halters. To find these and other products visit: http://www.naturalhorsemanshipinfo.com/products/saddles-and-tack/
Susan Acree has been training horses and their owners for over 35 years. She loves to teach her students how to communicate with their horses in a language they understand. Horses become respectful and loyal. Horse owners, with this knowledge, become much gentler, kinder and more confident in the way they handle their horses.
She has been blessed with several wonderful horses and her journey continues, she and her husband live on a little 6 acre, slice of heaven with their horses, Bonus and Baile, dogs, Annie and Twix and cat, Smiley Bob. They have three children and four grandchildren with whom she loves to share her passion for horses.
To read more of Susan’s articles go to: http://www.naturalhorsemanshipinfo.com/