Leading a Foal I With the Halter

Use a butt rope the right way, so you can teach a foal how to lead from the lightest halter pressure.

By Clinton Anderson, 

This month I'll demonstrate how to teach a foal to lead by the halter. The key is using a butt rope in such a way that the foal learns to associate the lightest pressure on his halter with stepping forward willingly. You want him to respond to the halter and lead, not to rely on the enforcement from behind.

Why You Need This

Simply pulling on the halter and hoping a foal will figure out what you want is not the way to teach him to lead. It's scary for a foal to feel that pressure behind his poll, and pulling on the halter without first teaching him what you want (via the butt rope) can cause him to panic and flip over.

On the other hand, people often make the mistake of relying too much on the butt rope, rather than making halter pressure the point of the lesson. When that happens, it doesn't take long for the foal to realize that if the rope isn't around his hindquarters, he doesn't have to move.

My approach focuses the learning where you want it: on a light pressure from the halter, reinforced when need be by the butt rope.

For Best Results...

The foal already should be accustomed to being handled and wearing a halter (refer to previous lessons in this series). ,

You'll need an extra-long lead line or longe line—long enough to go around the foal's hind end as well as serve as a lead, as in these photos. (Or you can use a standard lead plus another rope to serve as the butt rope.)

Work in an enclosed area; ask a helper to hold the mare, or tie her safely to keep her from moving about.

Work both ways, so that you can lead the foal in a large circle going in either direction.

Here's How

Put the foal's halter on him, and attach an extra-long lead directly to the halter. Loop the tail of the long line around the foal's hind end so that it rests just above his hocks, serving as a butt rope. (For safety's sake, be careful throughout that the rope never slides up under the foal's tail or down below his hocks.)

Then, stand directly in front of the foal and as far away from him as the rope will allow. The farther away from the foal you are, the more it will encourage him to come forward toward you, as you'll seem less intimidating to him at that distance.

To ask the foal to step forward, pick up on the rope leading to the halter and apply light, steady pressure. If the foal doesn't immediately step forward, insist that he do so by using your other hand to apply pressure with the butt rope. (Always ask lightly with the halter, then "tell," if need be, with the butt rope.)

The instant the foal takes a step forward, release all pressure. This is his reward for doing the right thing. The quicker you reward him,, the quicker he'll understand that what he did was correct. Start with one step and build from there.

Continue to ask the foal to step forward as you guide him in a large circle. Always give him the opportunity to move from the light halter pressure only, but do reinforce with the butt rope when necessary to get a prompt response.

As the foal gets more confident at coming off the halter pressure, encourage him to take more steps forward at a time. Be sure to work in both directions. □


WATCH IT! To see a video clip of Clinton teaching a foal to lead by the halter, visit Horse andRider.com this month.

This series is adapted with permission from the DVD package "Clinton Anderson Foal Training, Professional Series." For more information on his educational materials, clinics, appearances, training gear, and horses for sale, go to DownunderHorsemanship .com. Watch the "Downunder Horsemanship" program on HRTV, TheNetwork for Horse Sports; Fox Sports Net; RFD-TV; or find it online at the Web site.

January 2013   HorseandRid.er.com