Horseback Riding

Follow the Leader

August 8, 2011

Maybe it’s time to re-think the concept of leadership.

By AQHA Professional Horseman Brent Graef in America’s Horse

leading a horse

Be the kind of leader your horse wants to follow. Journal photo.

I often hear people say they want to be their horse’s “leader.” Generally, the way I see people go about trying to attain the “leader” position isn’t really garnering respect; it’s more by intimidating the horse and trying to be a dictator.

Some folks just push the horse around until he gives in, like the bully in elementary school that took the smaller kids’ milk money. No respect there, just the knowledge that trouble would come if he didn’t shell out his milk money. Some folks try to act like another horse and play “dominance” games. To me, leadership is something very different than that.

I would suggest that folks stop working so hard to be the “leader” or “alpha” or “boss” and try more to be a good partner and friend for the horse. Most folks seem to have the idea that the “alpha” has to be the one to make all the decisions and that the horse is not capable of making any good decisions on his own. I disagree. I suggest that we find a way of trying to work with the horse – find ways that help him understand what we’re asking, as well as understanding what he’s asking or offering – rather than just trying to boss him around all the time. I believe the horse can read your intent very clearly, and offering to do things with respect, appreciation and humility will take you much farther than doing things with the intent of dominance.

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If you want to be his leader, be a good, solid and caring leader instead of a dictator.

  • A good leader takes on more responsibility than his subordinate. You have the responsibility to know your horse’s strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, habits and physical limitations. You have the responsibility to become the best rider you can be, provide the best care and handling you can.
  • A good leader listens to the horse, then takes the horse’s feedback into consideration and acts accordingly. He does not approach his horse with a set regimen and expect the horse to fit that regimen no matter what. He understands how to read the horse well enough to find the right exercise, in the right amount of time.
  • A good leader accepts responsibility when things don’t go as planned.
  • A good leader can give the horse support and confidence when the horse gets worried.
  • A good leader is able to observe, remember, compare and make a sensible plan.
  • A good leader is flexible and ready to adjust to fit whatever situation may arise.
  • A good leader will set up his horse for success and make him feel like a winner.
  • A good leader tries to see things from the horse’s perspective. Sometimes, I hear people refer to their horse as being disrespectful. In most cases, the horse is just confused by the human’s lack of clarity. This would be obvious if people could see things from the horse’s perspective.

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  • A good leader allows the horse to think for himself.
  • A good leader is clear, fair and consistent.
  • Through good feel, timing, judgment and skill, a good leader will inspire his horse to want to do his best.
  • A good leader has the humility to know that he cannot appoint himself as a leader – he has to earn it. It is something the horse may or may not bestow on you.