Horse Training

Learning the Ropes: Teaching to Heel

June 7, 2011

In Part 2 of this series, Brad Lund gives instructions on how to start training a horse to heel.

By Brad Lund in The American Quarter Horse Journal

heeling a steer

With proper training, you can develop a consistent and dependable heel horse. Journal photo.

Editor’s Note: In Part 1, Brad Lund gave some techniques to start training a heading horse. In Part 2, he explains how to start a horse on the heeling end.

When introducing a horse to heeling, I start him out just like I would a colt. I make him learn how to follow the dummy so he’s not scared of it. I push him out and push him in repeatedly to teach him how to find it and follow it.

It’s very important for your heel horse to learn to follow. He’s got to have confidence about where his spot is. I might rein him to the left, come back to the right, turn him loose and let him find that spot on his own. For me, that is to the inside of the cow where you can see both feet and both horns.

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I have someone pull the dummy, and I ask the horse to follow at a trot. I just want my horse to accept this little contraption in front of him. If my horse gets scared, I don’t punish him. I just let him learn to get up to the dummy, check it out and know it’s not going to hurt him. I’m going to be on a loose rein and let him learn how to follow wherever it goes.

When my horse learns to get locked onto the dummy, I steer the horse away from it and then come back to the cow. I let him find that spot.

As the horse is more comfortable with the dummy, I move him out to the right and get his nose even with the steer. I want him to start reading that cow. I want to control his shoulders so he doesn’t drop his shoulders coming around the corner. Try to keep everything straight, all the way through.

When I think he is comfortable and ready, I pick up my rope, catch and stop.

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When I am training a horse, I concentrate more on my horse than on my roping. When I get close to that cow, I don’t want to focus on catching it right away. I want my horse to learn where to go and be very comfortable and not get uptight or in a hurry.

Horses that learn to head and heel on the ground-driven roping dummy usually are pretty good by the time you introduce them to the cow.

But when you do introduce them to the cow, try to avoid one that is real fresh. When you take hold of the steer, it will go wild, and that kind of spooks the horse. It’s best to first rope on steers that are broken in.

Remember, you want to make this a fun thing for the horse and not something that is stressful mentally.