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How to Teach Your Horse to Follow You Without a Halter

By Karen S. Johnson | Updated September 26, 2017

There is no singular correct method for teaching a horse to follow you without a halter, but there are many things you should never do, such as force or whip your horse into obeying so that he acts out of fear of punishment rather than trust and submission. A horse in a herd will follow the leader without a lead rope. Therein lies your first clue of how you can get your horse to submit to your leadership without being an ogre: Understand how horses learn and communicate within a herd.

Use a Round Pen

Take your horse to a round pen with a long rope, dressage whip or lunge whip inside. A round pen is a controlled and safe environment for a horse to learn. There are no corners for your horse to get "stuck" in, and it's confined enough so that you can stay in control of the training.

Send Your Horse

Instruct your horse to move away from you next to the pen, then cue him to move forward. Your horse may respond quickly with just a raised arm. If he doesn't, ask more forcefully by slapping a rolled rope against your hip, or tossing it behind him. You can do this with a lunge whip, dressage whip or long stick. It is typically not necessary to touch the horse with your sending aid. If he still won't respond, touch him with the lightest possible touch necessary to move him forward.

Keep His Feet Moving

Keep him moving until you notice signs of relaxation. Again, this may take longer in some horses than in others. One of the first signs is licking his lips and making a chewing motion with his mouth. Another sign is if he cocks his ear toward you. With each sign of relaxation, decrease the pressure of your sending aid. For example, if you have been slapping a rolled rope against your hip, simply raise your arm or use your hand. Continue this until you see his neck and head lower, indicating that he is completely relaxed and looks to you as his leader.

Allow Your Horse to Move In Beside You

Once you see your horse lick and chew with a lowered head, allow him to move in next to you, then immediately step away and start walking. If he follows you, you have successfully demonstrated to him that you are his trusted leader and he should look to you for guidance. Allow him to follow you in various directions in the round pen.

A Question of Space

Many trainers emphasize a horse respecting a human's personal space, while others de-emphasize that concept. In reality, the horse-human partnership dictates that you and your horse invade the other's personal space. The key is that you, as his leader, dictate when and where that happens. This is no different than the stallion herd leader -- sometimes he allows horses close to him to rest a head on his withers, and other times he gnashes his teeth and "sends them off."


Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.