Horse Training

Learning the Ropes: Teaching to Head

May 31, 2011

In Part 1 of this series, Brad Lund gives instructions on how to start training a horse to head.

By Brad Lund in The American Quarter Horse Journal

Roping a steer

Training a good heading horse takes time and patience. Journal photo.

When I introduce my horse to heading, I first teach him to “log” by pulling the ground-driven roping dummy around and teaching him where to keep his body position. For the dummy, I like to have an inner tube on there so there is a little bit of stretch, and it better simulates a steer. That way, it’s just not a solid tug. It has a little give to it.

By logging the horse, I am teaching him to also accept pressure on the saddle horn. Sometimes, when you first ask the horse to pull the dummy around, he will get scared  a couple of times. During this training period, I don’t worry about where his body is. I just want him mentally to get used to having pressure on the saddle horn and what it actually feels like to pull something.

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I start out at a walk, and then I’ll start trotting as the horse learns how to take some pressure on the saddle horn. As time goes on, I work the horse in straight lines across the arena.

Eventually, I’m going to push his hip away from the rope. When a horse pulls, his natural instinct is to get his hips or his hind legs underneath the rope. When he’s running across the arena, there’s no way that he can face a steer like that. This can be one of the hardest things for a head horse to learn.

While he is pulling the dummy, I keep his rib cage stuck out to the left and his nose tipped to the right a little bit. That way, when I stop him and ask him to face, he’ll be in the proper position.

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I also take the dummy and lope with it. When I lope off, I’m going to put the horse in the left lead. When I come to the end of the arena to turn, I’m going to push his hip over and make him move over just like I would if I was heading a steer. That pull has got to be the same just like you’re heading a steer.

When you finally introduce the cow, you will be basically steer stopping, just roping the steer, stopping him and then letting the horse get used to the steer pulling on the end of the rope.