☯ Kjrsos Foundation Course | The First Feels - The Lead Rope

Level 3 
Focus:  How you Lead and Trust

A Matter of Trust
Too many riders take a nonchalant view of leading.
We must never forget that every single moment we are with the horses - we are training. Every single moment. We are building in expectations and a way of going for the horse that he will carry over into his riding.
We should look at each moment that we have the horse on a lead rope, we are in effect training we ARE doing work in hand. Very basic level work, the basics that we then carry with us, elsewhere in our work.
What are you teaching your horse when you are leading?
Or possibly what your riders teaching their horses by the way they lead? How do they lead?
Are they relaxed? Where do they hold the lead rope? Close to the halter or farther way? And should it really make a difference?
Often we see riders who  work with their horses and even standing have their hands literally only an inch or two from the lead snap that goes from the lead rope to the halter.

creating issues of trust and respect
This can create problems that we are not even aware of, creating issues of trust, respect, making the horse feel
trapped and physically restricting movement.
1: Trust.. you are in effect saying I don’t trust you. Like a child that you are afraid will run away at any moment, you are in effect saying I have to keep a close hold on you. I don’t trust you to stay here with me and/or I don’t trust you not to misbehave. I have to keep you on a short rope, so I can control you.
If you have to micro-manage your horse that closely then the message you are giving him is that you do not trust him, to behave the way you would expect him to behave.
Letting go, giving up some of your control, on the other hand, is saying that I trust you to behave.

2. Respect.. you are saying I don’t expect you to respect me.
Holding the lead rope short, says not only do I not trust you, but I know you don’t and won’t respect me. Because if you respected me, if you trusted me enough to be the leader in our herd of two, I would not need this lead rope. You are in effect saying I expect you NOT to listen to me.
The shorter the lead rope from hand to halter, the stronger the feel, the more that you are communicating that you feel the horse has no respect for you and that you don’t expect him to listen to you, if not now, at least not in the future.
As when one horse respects another, he pays attention to that horse. He watches. He follows his leader. He takes his cues from his leader whether to be calm or to spook, whether to stay or to run.

3. Trapped - by holding the lead rope so short, you are in effect, highlighting the feeling the horse will get that he is trapped. He cannot get away. That you have a hold on him.
While we may think of this as controlling our horses, we are in effect trapping a flight creature.
The horse has two possible ways to survive and has a strong instinct for survival. He can run or he can fight. Being a flight creature he would much rather run away, then fight.
So what happens when we take a flight creature and you say to him you no longer can run away?
You take away his options. For many horses the more they feel trapped, the more anxious, even fearful they will get, nervous and high strung. The more nervous they get, the more they now feel they need to be able to get away at a moments notice, as their adrenalin kicks in. A by-product of these feelings of nervousness and anxiousness is that the horse is then physically less able to learn or listen to us, because of the chemicals now coursing through his body.
Also, the more a flight creature would feel like it is trapped, the more likely they are to spook, not pay attention to you, and possibly explode at the smallest indication of something amiss in their vicinity, as they prepare to get ready to flee. This is very much their natural instinct, to want to always have a door open for them to get away.
For some rider/owners, this can end up being a vicious cycle. You hold the lead rope short, because you are afraid your horse is going to spook. The shorter the lead rope, the more likely he is to spook, the more the rider/handler feels they need to shorten the lead rope even further to control their horses.
4. Limiting Range of movement: In effect when we lead which we can also think of as work in hand. Preparation for when we mount up on the horse.
The feel that we take up on the lead rope is the same as the feel that we take up as when we ride. The way we hold our reins and the way we hold our lead rope either allows movement or it can restrict movement. [See our series on Training the Rein through the Lead Rope by Wynmalen.]
Limiting or restricting in any way the normal movement and pendulum wave like effect of head and neck, restricts the range of movement of the horse. Thus the shorter the amount of rope or chain between our hand and the horse’s head the more we are more than likely restricting them. As few people do other than hold their hand still when leading. This literally creates a wall for the horse to work behind.
Sometimes perhaps we forget that the horse is a living breathing creature with both a body AND a mind. If we are to respect this, if we are attempting to create a partnership then we must provide the horse with the respect of allowing him to be a partner. Of giving him responsibility. Of giving him the responsibility that he is responsible for. And in our partnership of two, it is his responsibility to follow.
It is his responsibility to follow.
This is an expectation that we must believe so deeply that the horse senses so doubt in us at any time or in any way.
One way we express doubt is by not having the absolute expectation that no matter what, wherever we go the horse will follow us. We can’t be hanging on as if we expect him to disappear at any moment.

Allow him the responsibility to follow
We allow him freedom, knowing that he will fulfil his half of the relationship between the two of us.
With a few simple changes in the way that we hold and handle the lead rope, we can communicate to our horses that we trust them, that we expect this relationship to be based on that trust, whether we are on the ground with them or on their back.


To experience the sensation of touch.

To produce a particular impression through the sense of touch

To be conscious of a specified kind or quality of physical, mental or emotional state.

To seek or explore something by the sense of touch.

To have compassion or sympathy.

To test or explore with caution.

Intuitive awareness or effect.


These are just some of the definitions of the word feel and each one brings a slightly different concept to the word, with each one applicable to what we do with touch and feel with our horses, which begins in that very first moment that we pick up and touch the lead rope.

Feel:  To experience the sensation of touch


Exercise:  Place a lead rope on the ground in front of you.  And then step back and just look at it.  Think of what it feels like in your hands.  What it feels like when you grip as hard as you can.  What it feels like when you stroke it.  What it feels like when you try to lightly squeeze it like a sponge.

Then slowly, carefully and with consideration, pick up the lead rope and repeat. Do the same as you did in your mind's eye moments ago and slowly do each one, closing your eyes and feeling for maximum sensation.  Let it drape over your fingertips, feel the weight that is the lead rope hanging.  

Take your time, and feel for with your palm facing downwards, where you reach a balance in your hands where you don't drop the lead rope but where you use the absolute minimum amount of grip through your fingertips and hands.

Then slowly turn your hand, your palm starting to face upwards and find how that changes things, where your palm begins to take the weight and you can begin to use even less power to hold onto the lead rope.  Your search for the ultimate lightness in feel you will be able to give to your horse.

Describe the sensations, your experienced as you explore this exercise. 

{BreezingForms : LeadRopeFeels}

Feel: To produce a particular impression through the sense of touch.

The lead rope is your very first tactile direct connection to the horse.  The first time you physically connect and move at the same time.  Your hand, his head, the line in-between.  Your first opportunity to make an impression on him through the sense of touch, through your feel.

Think about it for a moment.  More than a moment, close your eyes, and hold up the lead rope in your hand and think, feel for what you want your horse to feel.  What feelings, what impressions can you convey through this first feel.

We do this all the time as humans with other humans.  Think of the all the different ways that we hug, clasp hands, with other people.  Different feels for different people, depending on our relationship with them.

What particular impression do you want to make to your horse? 

Think about what you do that interferes with those feels, the sensations, the impression you are trying to make to the horse.  When you grasp that lead rope you should be saying hello, Hi, I am here,  I am going to take care of you,  This is who I am.

This takes focus, concentration, awareness in the moment.  This means you have to there, completely there in this moment of time and space.

And your horse?  He needs you to maintain that connection.   Don't drop him, as if he ceases to exist, because you go somewhere else in your head, or begin to focus on what comes next, or begin talking to a friend, rather than who is with you right now, in this moment, your horse.  Keep that awareness alive at some level at all moments until you release him back into his pasture.

Feel: To seek or explore by the sense of touch.

When you pick up the lead rope with a question, it creates a very different dynamic.  Saying Hey, ready to come this way?  Is to seek, to explore through the sense of touch.  Your hand slightly asking in the moment a slow closing of the fingers, or drawing into the body, or even by the energy of lead rope, exploring by the sense of touch for the answer.

There are so many different ways to explore feel, the concepts the ideas behind the word, encouraging hopefully all of us, to explore each dimension fully, to realize there is so much more happening then us simply holding onto the end of the lead rope.