Teaching a Foal to Lead Properly

Question: I am training my 9-month-old filly to lead. She backs up and falls over repeatedly until she won’t get up. How do I break this behavior? – Johnboy4033

Clinton’s Answer: Since you don’t provide much detail about how you’re teaching your foal to lead, I’m going to assume that you’re putting a halter and lead rope on her and just asking her to step forward. If so, that’s your first mistake. Horses are born with the instinct to pull and lean against pressure; you have to teach them to soften and give to it.

To help a foal best understand the concept of leading, I loosely tie a Handy Stick string around the foal’s neck to guide him in a circle, and loop a second Handy Stick string around his hindquarters to create pressure to get him to move forward. I recommend teaching a foal to lead this way rather than putting a halter and lead rope on him straightaway because it’s safer.

When you first ask the foal to lead beside you, chances are he won’t respond right away or he’ll resist the pressure and run backwards away from it, just as your foal is doing. By having a string looped around his hindquarters, you’ll be able to apply pressure and make him feel uncomfortable for not taking a step forward. With the string around his neck, you can guide him in the correct direction.

However, if you had a halter and lead rope on the foal, the situation could turn dangerous. If the foal ran backwards or panicked and reared, he would feel pressure behind his poll from the halter. Since you haven’t yet taught him how to soften and give to pressure he feels behind his poll, it’s likely that he could injure himself by flipping over backwards in an effort to escape the pressure. At the very least, he would learn that it’s OK to brace against pressure, which is never a good thing to teach any horse at any age.

With the string around his hindquarters, you can easily apply pressure and gradually increase the pressure, if he ignores you, to get his feet moving forward. He is less likely to resist the pressure behind his butt because, since it is well behind his drive line, he will naturally want to jump forward away from it.

You’ll gradually wean the foal off moving forward off the butt rope to wearing a halter and lead rope so that he’ll readily step forward as soon as you pick up the lead rope. But it’s a gradual process. In the Method, teaching a foal how to properly lead is a five-step process.

My best advice to you is to invest in the Foal Training Series and follow the exercises in order. The foundation the series will help you put on your foal now will save you a lot of frustration and time down the road.