Step-by-Step Guide to Leading a Lazy Horse

Lazy horses pose quite a challenge when it comes time to lead them from one place to another. You know they can walk faster, but they don’t want to. They drag behind, and you feel like you’re constantly pulling at the lead rope or reins. Is there a way to get a lazy horse to lead beside you?

So, how do you lead a lazy horse? When it comes to leading a horse that likes to drag behind, you first need to make sure they understand yielding to the pressure of the rope. Next, be sure you’re setting the pace and not trying to match the horse’s pace. Lastly, you can use a lunge whip or a flag at your side to encourage the horse forward. When the horse is walking next to you, make sure you stop pulling on the lead rope or waving the lunge whip.

You may read my answer and think, easier said than done. However, whenever I encounter this problem, I find it relatively easy to correct it with a few simple groundwork exercises. In this article, I will share a step-by-step guide on encouraging your horse forward and getting them leading beside you. Read on!

Leading a Lazy Horse Step #1: Get Your Horse Checked by a Veterinarian

First and foremost, if you have a notoriously lazy horse, I would have it checked out by a veterinarian before trying to require more work from it. While every horse is different, and some have more energy than others, a lethargic horse that doesn’t want to move can be a sign of significant health problems.

When we purchased our miniature horse, Yoshi, I noticed he was very slow-moving. It was hard to get him to do anything faster than a walk. Initially, I thought he needed to gain muscle and weight; however, as time went on, I started to notice neurological signs. He walked slowly because there was something wrong with his body. Trying to push him to walk faster would cause him more pain. Unfortunately, we had to put Mr. Yoshi down.

Yoshi’s example is an extreme case. Many health reasons could cause a horse not to want to walk forward: sore feet, bad saddle fit, and muscle soreness are just a few of the common diagnoses. That said, for your peace of mind and your horse’s health, it’s best to rule out any physical condition that may be limiting your horse’s ability to move.

Leading a Lazy Horse Step #2: Review What You’re Communicating to Your Horse

Another aspect you need to review before questioning your horse is yourself. Horses communicate differently than humans, and because of this, it’s easy for humans not to realize what they are telling the horse. The primary way horses communicate is through body language. They look at your body language to try and understand what you want from them. If you are unaware of your body language, you will send them the wrong information. The reason your horse may be walking slow is because you are unknowingly urging them to do so.

Set the Speed You Want

First, don’t look to your horse to set the speed you want to travel; your horse is looking for you to do that. If you’re walking slower and slower to accommodate your horse, they will probably walk slower and slower as well. Set out at a nice marching walk. Walk with purpose and confidence. This may be enough for your horse to get the hint and walk with you.

Look Where You Want to Go

Horses are prey animals. They are constantly looking around for danger. They look at your eyes to see where their focus should be. If you’re looking down at the ground or off to the side, you aren’t encouraging them to go forward. Be sure to look where you want to go to let your horse know where to focus their attention.

Face Forward

A horse’s shoulders point in the direction they want to travel. The position of your shoulders can confuse your horse if you aren’t aware of how you’re placing them. When leading your horse, be sure to face forward with your shoulders. When dealing with a slower or lazy horse, many people may turn around to look back at the horse or to pull them along. This does not tell your horse that you want them to move forward.

Leading a Lazy Horse Step #3: Teach Your Horse to Yield to Pressure

A horse may drag behind because they don’t know how to yield to pressure. When you pull tighter on the rope or walk faster, their first inclination is to ignore or fight the pressure. The goal with these horses is to teach them to step forward when they feel a tug or pressure on the lead rope.

How to Use Pressure and Release

Pressure and release are the ways you teach a horse to respond correctly to pressure. A horse learns that it has responded correctly by releasing pressure. In this scenario, applying the pressure would be pulling forward on the lead rope. The pressure should be released when the horse steps forward, letting it know it responded correctly.

Many equestrians don’t know when to release the pressure. They keep holding it even though the horse has done the right thing. This makes horses dull to the pressure, so they may start to ignore it. Most lesson horses are often dull to pressure since they work with students who don’t know when to release pressure.

The goal here is to teach your horse to respond to the lightest pressure possible, making them more responsive and engaged with you on the ground. To do this, you will first ask the horse to step forward with the lightest pressure possible. If they don’t respond, increase the pressure to a medium and then a hard pressure.

If you start by asking at medium or hard pressure, you teach your horse not to respond until the pressure reaches that level.

Remember, any time your horse is doing the right thing, your lead rope should be loose with no tension.

How to Apply This to Leading Your Horse

To apply pressure and release to leading, start at a standstill. Position yourself at your horse’s head and face forward as if you were going to lead them. Next, gently pull the lead rope forward with your hand on the lead rope, asking the horse to take a single step. Hold the pressure for a few moments. If the horse doesn’t respond, increase to a medium pressure. If the horse tries to fight you, maintain the level of pressure you are at. From there, it increases to hard pressure and hold. If the horse doesn’t respond to hard pressure, you may have to point a lunge whip towards the horse’s hindquarters to encourage them forward.

As soon as the horse takes a step toward the pressure, release by dropping the rope. Horses learn by repetition, so the more you do this, the more and more responsive the horse will become to yielding to pressure.

Once your horse has mastered this at the standstill, apply it when leading. If your horse starts to drag behind when leading, apply pressure, asking them to move up. Initially, ask with a light pressure, then increase if they don’t respond. As soon as they step up to walk with you, release the pressure. Once they respond correctly, you can even come back down to a halt and let them stand for a moment as a reward.

Leading a Lazy Horse Step #4: Groundwork Exercises to Teach Your Horse to Lead Better

There are other groundwork exercises to help your horse become more sensitive and responsive to being led. Remember, the more you work on this, the better your horse will become.

For this groundwork exercise, you will need a lunge whip or a flag on a stick. In the opposite hand that you’re leading your horse with, carry the lunge whip. Keep it at your side, and the horse’s side pointed down to the ground.

Lead your horse. If your horse starts balking and slowing down, gently wave the lunge whip or flag up and down. If they don’t respond, increase the ferocity of the wave. This queue simulates your leg queue under saddle. If you have a lazy horse under saddle, this exercise is helpful with also making your horse more responsive to your leg.

As soon as the horse moves up to lead beside you, release the pressure by pointing the lunge whip back to the ground. By doing a lot of stopping and starting and walking and trot transitions while leading, this exercise will make your horse much more focused on where you would like them to be positioned.

How to Lunge a Lazy Horse

All of the groundwork exercises I shared in this article will also be effective in lunging a lazy horse. Before you can lunge a horse, they must willingly respond to you, asking them to move forward. Start here, at this article, and practice these exercises. As always, make sure you’re doing things correctly before trying to fix the horse. To review lunging, visit my article Lunge a Horse: Meaning and How to Do It.

Save this article to your “Horse Training” board on Pinterest!


Having Trouble With Your Training?

Learn how to gain and maintain your horse’s respect in my latest course!

Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

Legal Information

This site is owned and operated by Wild Wire Media LLC.

Equinehelper.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

This site also participates in other affiliate programs and is compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.