Whether you lead a horse with or without a lead rope involves different levels of relationship, trust and choice.
Additionally, where you position yourself in relation to the body of the horse (in front, beside or behind) also indicates how he views the relationship between the two of you. (More on that in the next post.)
Leading with a Rope
Imagine leading a horse. You stand in front, take a step forward and tug on the rope, expecting the horse to follow. Since most horses have been trained to lead along fairly well this isn’t too difficult. If this isn’t the case, it’s not usually too difficult to compel the horse to walk with you because you have a tool of control in the form of a halter.
The key questions I ask my clients about leading a horse is: Are you holding the rope under the chin or do you hold it 4-5 feet away? Each of these hand holds means something different to the horse and illustrates part of your leadership style.
Holding the rope right under the horse’s chin. Ironically, most people are taught to lead this way. They try to control the horse’s head in order to control his body even to the point of micromanagement. I find this ironic when you consider how we hate to be micromanaged.
Leaders who micromanage generally fear a loss of control. The root of this fear is may be perfectionism and lack of trust in their people.
Holding the lead right under his chin also causes you, as leader, to be easily pulled off balance if the horse decides to toss his head or look the other way. Who’s REALLY in control at that moment? Holding right under the chin gives leaders a false sense of control.
Hold the rope loosely and with a good bit of slack in the rope. This is a better way to lead horses as well as people. Because there is literally some wiggle room, it means there is a choice involved. The horse can choose how close/far to follow you. The ability to make choices is empowering for those being led. In his book DRIVE, Daniel Pink tells us that the more autonomy you can give those you lead, the more motivated they’ll be to follow you.
Consider what happens when the horse tosses his head quickly in this situation. The leader is not pulled off his feet, the rope just gets a little tighter. The leader is able to use the length of rope to follow the motion of the horse and bring him back to the original path. The false sense of control experienced by a very short rope is replaced by the freedom to follow and do a good job.
Tight ropes make for tight minds that focus more on gaining freedom than following well. Giving a horse—or a person—some space to choose to follow you will give you better results in the long run because choice trumps force.