How to Get Your Horse to Follow You Anywhere
Are you asking yourself, how do I train my horse to follow me? It seems like everyone on the internet has managed to train their horse to do so, yet there’s hardly any instruction out there on how you can get your horse to willfully follow you without a lead. In this article, I’ll share the steps I took to teach my horse to follow me anywhere without a lead.
Here are the steps you can take to teach your horse to follow you:
- Teach your horse that your presence is good by using groundwork
- Make sure your horse can lead with minimal pressure from the lead rope
- Practice directing your horse from beside them without a lead rope
- Teach your horse walking away from you is wrong
- Get your horse to follow you in new environments with different obstacles
I recently taught this to my current horse, a little POA pony named Tucker. These steps made it easy for him to catch on and to understand what I was asking of him. Teaching your horse to follow you is a great thing to do as it requires the horse to think more for themselves instead of to just follow the pressure applied by a lead rope.
Teach Your Horse That Your Presence Is Good By Using Groundwork
The first thing to do when it comes to teaching your horse how to follow you is to give them a reason to want to. Like most animals or humans in this world, a horse is only going to want to be around something that they think of in a positive manner. If they see you in a negative light, they’re not really going to want to be around you.
Before even attempting to train your horse to follow you, take time to bond with your horse and build trust between the two of you. (If you’re wondering how you can bond with your horse, check out our article, Bonding With Your Horse: 8 Simple Tips That Actually Work.)
Once you’ve taken time to build a relationship with your horse, then it’s time to incorporate it into training. I have one exercise in particular that I use to teach horses to stay with me rather than walk off.
This is best done in a round pen where you could free lunge as necessary. What I’ll do is take the horse into the center of the round pen and take off the lead rope. I’ll start brushing the horse and petting it. If the horse makes the decision to walk away from me when I’m brushing it, I’ll immediately send the horse out in a working trot around the round pen.
Once I’ve made the horse work for a good while around the round pen, I’ll stop them and go back to brushing them. If they decide to walk away, I’ll send them back out to work.
My goal here is to teach the horse that walking away from me means that the horse is going to get a lot of extra work. Horses hate extra work. Soon, they’ll associate me with calm and rest and walking away with work. Keep practicing this exercise throughout this entire training process and beyond!
Make Sure Your Horse Can Lead With Minimal Pressure From the Lead Rope
The next thing you’ll want to do in order to teach your horse to follow you without a lead is to make sure your horse can lead with minimal pressure from the lead rope. This means you shouldn’t have to tug on your horse to make them keep up with you or be bracing against them in order to hold them back.
The horse should walk with its head kept by your elbow. It should stop when you stop and go when you go without you using pressure from the lead rope. The horse should be responding to your body language rather than the pressure applied via the halter or lead.
Put a halter and lead rope on your horse and bring along a lunge whip in your other hand. The lunge whip isn’t to hit the horse; but rather to encourage them more in your cues. Lead your horse on a very long lead so that it will be harder to communicate pressure through the lead rope.
Practice starting, stopping, walking faster and slower, turning, and backing up. Your goal is to always have your horse’s head stay at your elbow. Instead of using your lead rope to apply pressure when needed, focus on your body language and use the lunge whip to help communicate what you’re asking.
For example, if you start to walk faster and your horse starts to drag behind, keep up your pace but also wave the lunge whip a bit to encourage the horse to keep up. If your horse tends to walk in front of you, as soon as you come to a halt, stick the lunge whip out in front of the horse and wave it so they know to come to a halt.
Use voice commands to communicate with your horse when to move forward, stop, and back up. Sooner or later, the horse will start to learn that they should be looking at your body language for the command rather than the pressure on the lead rope.
Practice Directing Your Horse From Beside Them Without a Lead Rope
Once you’re confident in your horse’s ability to be led with minimal pressure from the lead rope, then it’s time to try it without the lead rope altogether! This is best done in a round pen or arena just in case the horse takes off.
Instead of totally unclipping the lead rope and throwing it to the side, rather loop the rope around your horse’s neck and tie it off to the other side of the halter. That way, if you need to grab the rope and correct your horse or keep them from running off, you can.
Now, practice what you practiced when you had the horse on the lead rope, except now you’re really going to make sure you’re communicating correctly with your body language. It may take the horse a few minutes to catch up, but consistency is key.
Remember to use your lunge whip to help communicate to the horse what you’re asking of them. Some horses like to slow down or speed up as soon as the lead rope is taken away, so it’ll be important to do many different transitions and movements to keep your horse’s mind engaged and paying attention.
Teach Your Horse Walking Away From You Is Wrong
So you may be wondering what should I do if I stop using the lead rope but my horse walks away? First off, that’s why it’s important to at least loop the lead rope around your horse’s neck for now just so you have something to catch your horse with.
Here’s another reason to stick to a round pen in the beginning. If your horse takes off away from you, you can immediately send them out around the round pen and make them work for a while to reinforce that it’s better to stay with you than run away.
If you can grab your horse by the lead around their neck before they decide to wander off, immediately make them work by getting them to move their hind-end in a circle, stepping one back leg in front of the other. (To see how to do this groundwork exercise, click here.)
The reason I recommend this exercise, in particular, is because it takes a lot of effort for the horse to do. You can use this exercise to correct the horse when the walk away, reinforcing that it’s easier to stay with your rather than try and go somewhere else.
Get Your Horse to Follow You in New Environments With Different Obstacles
A big challenge for horses when it comes to following you without a lead is being brought into a bigger area where they are more apt to take off away from you. However, if you as mentioned above like looping the rope around the horse’s neck and correcting the horse if it tries to walk away, sooner or later, they’ll catch on.
Another thing most horses will find tempting if they’re not on a lead is to graze instead of following you, to correct this behavior, check our article, How to Stop a Horse From Grazing While Riding. In this article, I tell about how I correct a horse that’s trying to graze while being led by the handler.
When it comes time to get your horse to follow you without a halter or a lead, start in the round pen. Next, I suggest just going out to their pasture and working in there. This will be good for them to learn to follow you instead of sticking with their horse buddies.
Start by simply going out to their field and trying to get them to follow you to the gate. You can bring your lunge whip along for encouragement and carry your halter on your arm in case you need it. If the horse refuses to follow you, then it may be better to go back to the basics.
If they follow but lose interest after a while and go back to their buddies, put their halter on and work on leading them throughout the field on the loose lead rope.
From their place in the pasture to the gate is usually a pretty well-known path, so they’ll feel familiar walking it with you. Practice your starting and stopping to keep the horse’s mind engaged.
Training your horse to follow you instead of having to lead them based on pressure on their faces is a great training technique. It encourages the horse to think instead of just react. Another thing you can train your horse to do is to be more confident. Check out our article here about how to build confidence in your horse!