03 Jul Horses that Always Want to Be in Front: Training Guide
When horseback riding with a large group, I tend to find three different kinds of horses; you have the horses that willingly follow the others, but when out in front they balk at everything. There are the horses that simply don’t care where they are in line; they can either lead or follow. Lastly, you have the horses that have to be out in the front, leading the pack; otherwise, they get pushy and agitated.
A pushy and agitated horse trying to run past the other horses and riders can be dangerous. It’s also no fun to have to fight your horse the entire ride. Teaching this type of horse that its OK to behind others will make your ride much more pleasant.
How do you teach a horse that always wants to be out in front that it’s OK to follow? There are a number of ways I would train this out of a horse:
- Whenever your horse acts up to get to the lead, WORK them.
- Practice in a group allowing your horse to switch between leader and follower
- Get the horse comfortable with being ridden alone and in groups
I’ve heard of many other methods that riders have used to correct this problem; these are the methods I use on my horses. It’s great that your horse wants to lead; that means they’re brave and courageous. However, it’s never acceptable for a horse to be able to boss its way to the front of the group.
Whenever Your Horse Acts Up to get to the Lead, WORK Them.
I had this pony growing up that I foxhunted pretty regularly. In foxhunting, you’re usually with a large group of other horses, and this pony would always pitch a fit if she got stuck behind the group. She would jump in place…which I know is weird. I think she was trying to buck but she never fully figured bucking out.
She would not only do this on the foxhunting field but also on trail rides and in the arena. From then on, the only thing I ever did was ride her in the back of the group. I wasn’t about to give in to her hissy fits and let her get her way by being in the front.
When a horse is acting up like this, yes they’re probably mad, but they’re also probably trying to intimidate you or scare you into letting them get their way. This is a sign of disrespect to your cues and a question of your authority as the rider. You can re-establish yourself in your horse’s eyes by making them move their feet and work.
In the wild, if another horse does something that the alpha horse doesn’t like, the alpha will chase them and make them move their feet and work. It teaches the other horse that if they’re going to question the alpha’s authority, then it’s going to be hard work. I use the same concept when a horse is acting up in the back of the group, ignoring my cues.
Teach Your Horse that Bad Behavior Means Work
Here are the steps I would take in order to correct the bad behavior of a horse wanting to get to the lead of a group of horse and riders:
Ask a group of friends to ride out with you for the sole purpose of you having the opportunity to correct this behavior in your horse. From the beginning of the ride, put your horse at the back of the group. Have the group just go at a nice relaxing walk pace.
If your horse starts to act up, immediately start doing a working trot circle behind your friends. The trot is considered the hardest gait for the horse to do and it takes the most effort. Encourage your friends to keep moving forward, and just move your circle behind your friends as they continue forward.
As soon as your horse seems to relax or get a bit tired, go back down to a walk.
If the horse starts acting up again or if they ignore one of your cues because they’re focused on trying to get to the front, then put them back on the working circle. Keep repeating this method until the horse can walk relaxed behind the rest of the group.
Horses aren’t big fans of extra work; if they learn that getting to the front of the group is going to take a lot of extra work, then the idea won’t be so appealing to them.
If a horse is at the back of the group acting up, they’re no longer paying attention to you; rather, they’re focused on getting to the front of the pack. This exercise will help to refocus your horse on you and the commands you give. If you’d like to no more about getting your horse to pay attention to you, check out our article, How to Get Your Horse to Pay Attention to You.
Practice in a Group Allowing Your Horse to Switch Between Leader and Follower
Once you can get your horse to walk calmly behind a group of horses by using the above method, then you can start switching up your group positions with the other riders. Not only will this be good for your horse, but it can also be good for horses that aren’t as brave being out in the lead.
This exercise will be a good test to see how your horse can re-adjust by being put back in the lead and then having to move back behind everyone. Not a lot of horses like this, so you can see some bad behavior emerge once again when they’re moved to the back. If this happens, repeat the steps by making the horse move its feet and trot in a circle until it can behave.
How It Works
This exercise is pretty straight forward. You’ll need 2+ horses and riders for this to work. All you’re going to do is rotate between the leading position and the following position with your horses. To make this exercise a fun challenge, don’t stay in one position longer than one minute.
Besides being great for teaching horses to accept every position on the trail, this can also help to get horses used to walking out and passing one another. This is a great activity for a horse that is known to act out towards the other horses. It’s also a great activity for a horse that may not be so brave to lead the group.
A timid horse can simply find confidence in passing other horses in the group. Just by giving them a minute in the leader spot, you can encourage a horse to be brave and courageous.
Get the Horse Comfortable With Being Ridden Alone and in Groups
Benefits for Riding Your Horse Alone
Horses are herd animals so naturally, their dominance and rank will come out when they are in a group of other horses. Many horses get anxious or wary when on the trail or in a new area, so they will stay glued to the group of horses and riders they’re with. Their rank within the group is more likely to come out if they are unfamiliar with the area they’re in.
Getting your horse used to being ridden out alone, whether out in a big field or even in the ring, will give them more confidence. I’ve noticed that the horses I can ride everywhere by themselves are usually the ones that can be in any position in a group and not mind.
These horses have learned not to rely on the status of their dominance with the herd. Instead, they feel confident no matter where you put them. You can ride them in the back, at the front, or by themselves. This may not be the case with every horse, but I’ve seen the behavior echoed throughout the horses I’ve owned.
Benefits for Riding in a Group
If your horse has a tendency to get pushy to get to the front when riding with a group, one of the best things you could do is to set aside time for a group ride in your routine. Horses learn by repetition, and they get more comfortable by doing stuff over and over again.
Your horse may simply want to get to the front of the group because they aren’t used to being ridden in a group. The more you ride in a group, and ride in different positions within the group, the horse will get more familiar and comfortable with the group setting.
Like with any kind of training, the best thing for a horse is wet saddle blankets. That means that the only way the horse is going to learn is by doing it!
If you’re ready to hit the trails with your group of friends, check out our article, 16 Horse Trail Riding Tips: Ultimate Guide.
I’m a lifelong horse trainer and horseback rider who’s passionate about teaching others about the things I’ve learned. I grew up competing in numerous English horseback riding disciplines and am now a certified equine massage therapist. I currently own three horses.